The consumer of the future is arguably a millennial Muslim.
Islam is the second largest and fastest growing religion in the world:
- by 2050 there will be 2.8 billion Muslims globally, more than a quarter of the world’s population
- halal products are expected to reach $58.3 billion by 2020
- the Muslim travel market is predicted to be worth $300 billion by 2026
Young Muslims are affluent and digitally engaged. They value honesty, sincerity, and a commitment to improving life. Muslim women are driving change in gender relations.
But many brands miss the mark when it comes to relating to Muslim consumers, leaving a massive market untapped or, worse, alienating themselves with sloppy or stereotypical marketing.
There are countless examples of brands demonstrating a complete lack of cultural sensitivity. And once consumer trust is compromised, it’s extremely difficult to win back.
Islamic Markets and the Muslim Consumer
As Islamic markets have matured and diversified, so has the influence of traditional Islamic teachings in the marketing mix.
Islamic marketing is inherently “designed to be empathetic to Sharia law, which governs, or at least informs, every aspect of a Muslim’s life. This is a complex area, and some Muslim countries follow Sharia law more strictly than others,” writes Arindam Bhattacharyya, head of strategy at Mediacom Indonesia.
So while Muslim consumers share commonalities, they also have very different purchasing behavior and expectations depending on whether their religious views are conservative, New-Age, liberal, or socially pragmatic.
In her book, Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World, Shelina Janmohamed writes:
Their faith affects everything, and they want the world to know it. This is what sets them apart from their non-Muslim peers. It’s the single factor that will shape them and a world that they are determined should cater to their needs … They are a tech-savvy, self-empowered, youthful group who believe that their identity encompasses both faith and modernity.
Indeed, researchers are looking closely at links between product adoption and religiosity, or the extent to which individuals follow religious tenants and indoctrination.
“Efforts like these are now helping shape the characteristics of Muslim consumers and will go a long way in making marketing activities in Islamic markets more effective,” writes Talha Salam, a faculty member in marketing at the FAST School of Business.
Initiatives by Oxford’s Saïd Business School, Ogilvy Noor, and the Journal of Islamic Marketing are contributing to actionable practices for Islamic markets, including modest fashion, halal food, Muslim-Friendly Tourism, and interest-free financial products.
Even so, a lack of international halal certification standards makes matters more complicated; Islam has different schools of thought and religious scholars have differing opinions.
And even though many countries enjoy government support for halal products and the establishment of internationally recognized standards, the agencies responsible often change along with their governments, slowing the implementation process.
Lessons from Asia
According to the Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) 2018, Malaysia retains its top spot for the most Muslim-Friendly destination in the world.
Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, was also named a prime Muslim-friendly destination along with Thailand, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
So what can brands from non-Muslim majority countries learn from Asia?
- Brands have reacted to Islamic fashion with YouTube channels and other content portals that feature special ‘hijab’ sections
- Behaviour-based online targeting is highly effective at meeting Muslim consumer needs
- Ramadan and festivals like Jakarta Islamic Fashion Week offer enormous opportunities for brands to reach Muslim consumers with Islamic marketing messages
- Google and other brands have fully embraced Ramadan with live broadcasts of daily prayers from Mecca
- Sunsilk speaks to Muslim consumers year round with its new shampoo specifically targeted at hijab wearers
- Dove, Persil, Pril and The Body Shop feature Muslim women in their campaigns
- McDonald’s sells halal-approved ice cream in the region, which has cut into Haagen-Dazs’ market share of non-certified products
- HIJUP was one of the first Muslim lifestyle companies to receive funding from global investors
- Saaf Cosmetics and Colgate-Palmolive follow Sharia law throughout every stage of their business process, from manufacturing to branding
In fact, the most successful global brands in Indonesia have adapted their messages to conform to Sharia law in some way, even though it isn’t enforced throughout the entire country.
“The most compliant brands are also giving themselves a chance to extend their messages beyond Indonesia into other Muslim territories. But to work elsewhere, of course, they will need to be sensitive to the specific beliefs and behaviours of Muslims in those target markets,” says Bhattacharyya.
International brands must still do a better job at promoting Islamic products and services on a global scale.
Like all markets, age, economic class, and education play a role in consumer behavior, but in order to design products and services for Muslim consumers, brands must consider the needs of various, and often quite diverse, segments according to their faith, local culture, and how they interpret information.
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