Reaching out: Muslim market

The global Islamic economy serves a huge audience of both Muslims and non-Muslims, and how brands engage with those audiences is becoming increasingly important

The international Muslim community currently stands at over 1.6 billion people, which is approximately one quarter of the world’s population. But who is today’s Muslim? Who is catering to the Muslim consumer’s needs? And, importantly, how are those brands that are operating within the global Islamic economy engaging with consumers – both Muslim and non-Muslim alike?

It is in the interests of multi-national companies to cater effectively to the Muslim market, with the halal segment alone worth US$2.1tn, and growing by US$500bn annually, according to Ogilvy Noor

Shelina Janmohamed, Vice President at Ogilvy Noor, the world’s first consultancy specialising in building brands with Muslim consumers, says the Muslim segment is growing rapidly and smart brands must recognise that this is where the future lies.

“For Muslim consumers, brand engagement is not coming fast enough and they are crying out for products and services,” she says. Certainly, it is in the interests of multi-national companies to cater effectively to the Muslim market, with the halal segment alone worth US$2.1tn and growing by US$500bn annually, according to a study from Ogilvy Noor.

Complex challenges

But with these opportunities come challenges. Navigating what has been coined the “global Islamic economy” can be fraught with complexity, which is why only a small percentage of multi-nationals have thus far attempted to do so.

There is also a growing awareness of the crossover potential of the Islamic economy. “Islamic values are gradually but steadily transcending the religion’s boundaries to signify relevance to a broader base of discerning consumers who seek ethical trade and wholesome experiences,” states the introduction to the State of the Global Islamic Economy Report 2013 by Thomson Reuters, an ambitious 200-page research paper backed by the Dubai government.

In order to reach out to all consumers, companies must consider issues surrounding sharia and halal standardisation and compliance, in addition to supply-chain integrity, consumer education, global positioning and operational excellence.

Shelina Janmohamed says, “Muslims are seeking brands that are empathetic to their aspiration to live a Muslim life-style. In our research, we found that the kind of values that appeal to Muslim consumers based on their Islamic values appeal more widely to consumers in general. These are values like transparency, honesty and purity. All these make good business sense for any brand that is seeking a long-term relationship with its consumers.”

John Grant, author of Made With: the Emerging Alternative to Western Brands, says that halal is about provenance and authenticity – much like successful Western organic and fair trade eco-labels – a message that it is important to convey.

“Halal cosmetics are vegan, and eco-brand clients of mine like The Body Shop and Natura Brazil have had a similar philosophy at the product level,” he adds.

It is clear that the Muslim brands which will become globally successful will be those that effectively market their eco-benefits to the wider world. The key is to take the focus off religion and promote Islamic values that naturally translate to a wider audience.

Saffron Road is one such success story. The US-based food brand is halal certified and also embodies Western ideals of ethical consumerism; all of its ingredients are sustainably farmed, all-natural, antibiotic-free and supplied by family owned farms. In July 2010 it launched the brand with a range of multi-ethnic snacks, ready meals, desserts and sauces, sold through the US Whole Foods supermarket chain. Today, its goods are stocked in around 6,000 different outlets across the US.

Values and lifestyle

Mennah Ibrahim, Head of Brand Intelligence at JWT MENA, the Middle East and North African network of the international marketing communications brand JWT, says looking at the consumer from a religious point of view as opposed to a “lifestyle, relevance and behavioural mindset” is one of the biggest mistakes you can make.

“The brands that have got it right are ones that are not seeing it as an identity struggle but are instead creating the fusion between Muslim values and a modern lifestyle,” she says.

Muslim consumers are a growing and influential group, making them a desirable market for mainstream brands. But reaching them requires more than sharia-compliant products. Making inroads to this sector requires a deep understanding of the values of this community. Grant says that just as different kinds of “western” brands grew up in Japan rather than America, the Middle East region is seeing genuinely different kinds of brand successes, both local and imported, emerging in the region.

Reaching out: Muslim market
OnePure taps into the desire for high-end cosmetics among Muslims and non-Muslims

OnePure is a halal cosmetics range created by Dubai-based Canadian Muslim Layla Mandi, who was able to carve a niche in the highly competitive luxury cosmetics market by formulating high-end, great-looking halal beauty products without the use of alcohol or pork fats. In doing so, OnePure subtly fused a consumer need and Islamic values.

US companies such as Walmart and Whole Foods have also successfully targeted the Muslim demographic by meeting the consumer need for authentically sourced halal products. In 2008, following two years of extensive research, Walmart opened a supercentre in Dearborn, Michigan, carrying products that specifically appeal to the city’s Middle Eastern and Muslim communities.

Walmart also promised to not undercut small local merchants and agreed to be scrutinised by a “community advisory board” that was made up of local Arab American leaders to ensure it was delivering in harmony with local stores.

From a segmentation perspective, it is important to understand that Muslims share commonalities across geographies, pointing to an adherence to Islam that is global in its world view.

Anitha Smith, Middle East Director, Strategy and Innovation at Aegis Media, says: “The first pitfall is to brand a Muslim consumer traditional or old-fashioned because of their spiritual beliefs. They are ahead of the curve in terms of technology adoption, they have a heightened sense of fashion and style, and their aspirations are global.”

The quest for the Muslim consumer’s affections is a nuanced one, but with the growing power of the loyal international Muslim community, it is a marketing journey strewn with potential rewards.