Islamic branding Reaching out to the untapped billion-customer- group -By Habib Ullah Mesbah


According to Al Ries – author of ‘Positioning: the Battle for Your Mind’ – “A brand is a singular idea or concept that you own inside the mind of a prospect.”
Branding is a phenomenon that was popularized during the late 19th Century by soap bars sold in packaged units with a distinct logo. Since then, different brands have tried to attract their target group in many ways to win the battle of the mind of the consumers. But all this while, they had been ignoring a large segment of the global population, the Muslims until recent times. They are now trying to understand the delicate needs of the growing Muslim population and design campaigns to comply with the Muslims and their religious principles (Shar’iah). A new race has begun among the global brands to capture the mindshare, heart share and most importantly, the wallet share of the emerging Muslim consumer group.
Ogilvy Noor, the Islamic Branding wing of world leading advertisement firm Ogilvy and Mather, defines Islamic branding as “branding that’s empathetic to Shar’iah values, in order to appeal to the Muslim consumer, ranging from basic Shar’iah-friendliness to full Shar’iah-compliance in all aspects of a brand’s identity, behavior and communications.” According to this firm, core Shar’iah values and its compliance resonate with majority of the Muslims irrespective of their geographic location, age, gender, culture or degree of religious practice. Shar’iah is not limited to fiqh (law) only, but also includes values such as: honesty, respect, kindness, peacefulness, purity, discipline, modesty, unity and dignity which are an integral part of the Islamic faith.
Although in recent years, China and India have captured the attention of the world’s marketers, a quiet but enormous business potential lies largely untapped in the global Muslim consumer market today, justifying a shift in focus to what is known as the ’3rd one billion’. Currently, Muslims make up almost one-fourth of the world’s population. The global Muslim market now stands at approximately 1.8 billion and is projected to grow by about 35 percent in the next 20 years. The halal market alone is worth a staggering US$2.1 trillion a year which is greater than the entire GDP of India, Russia, Canada or Australia respectively. Not surprisingly, marketers are rushing towards this group as it is increasing at US$500bn each year due to the enormous growth of the global Muslim population.
Majority of the Muslim population is from the South and South-east Asia (62%) region followed by the Middle-east (20%) and Sub-Saharan Africa region (15%). Most global enterprises, whether from the West or the East are starting to notice the N-11 countries (coined by Goldman Sachs investment bank) where 53% of the population are Muslim. Muslim population are some of the youngest in the world with more than 750 million under the age of 25, representing 43% of the global Muslim population, and 11% of the world. This population and economic growth has been accompanied by an Islamic renaissance sowing its seed through the rise of new generation of young Muslim think tanks, business professionals and entrepreneurs.
Most of the marketers face two main challenges when it comes to addressing the Muslim consumers. First, most of the global brands operate on a geographic basis, but the ‘Islamic conscience’ is something that is a more universal concept. The best way to capture this is to move from localized management, to a universally focused product management function to transfer the Islamic brand and its meaning into the core products. Second, Muslim consumers are not a segment that differs by one variable from the norm. We have to understand that Muslim consumers are an alternative norm where the starting point is their Islamic identity, and everything else fits into it. Muslims’ own belief in the significance of Islam in their lives is pervasive, and for them, this ‘sincerity’ is key in marketing practice of any company.
Part 2 of this write-up will throw ideas on the potential sectors for Islamic branding, few case studies, and finally how to design a sustainable Islamic brand.
Modern Muslim consumers are considered by many as the single largest market in the world that has been overlooked by many brands in the past. The population currently stands at 1.8 billion and by 2050, the Muslim population is expected to grow to 2.6 billion representing nearly 30 percent of the global projected population.
Most marketers have missed the mark so far by addressing only the emotional drivers in order to build brand personality and image for the global consumers. As for the Muslim consumers, the story is a bit different. One just cannot play around with the emotional drivers only, understanding the core value system on which those emotional drivers are based on is also equally important in order to create a ripple through the mind of the Muslim consumers. If a company understands that an Islamic brand is primarily based on the ethics and values of Islam, they have won half the battle.
The purchasing power of this group is immense, growing at a rate of almost US$ 1.4 billion daily (US$ 500 billion annually) which is why most of the global brands are fighting over unlocking this genie from the bottle and unfold the treasure that was hidden all these while. There are 780 million Muslims under the age of 25, which is 43% of the total Muslim population and 11% of the entire global population. They are young, confident and proud of their identity with freedom and ability to purchase what they desire. The following grid will help marketers prioritize their focus and device a game plan for the global Muslim consumers.
Fortune 500 companies like Unilever, Nestle, Citi NA,McDonalds, Tesco, Coke are all taking this market seriously and have made significant investment in order to provide Halal (acceptable to Muslims, in accordance with good practice) products in specific Muslim countries. World’s leading advertising firm Ogilvy and Mather has understood the potentiality of the market and has opened their Islamic branding wing Ogilvy Noor which publishes Noor Global Brand Index to identify and rank Muslim friendly brands.

On the flip side, there is also a huge risk for brands if they isolate the Muslim Consumers. One can explain them with the excerpt from Apple’s poster “You can quote them, disagree with them…But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.” In 1998, Nike had to recall 38,000 pair of Nike Air shoes when the logo was declared by the Council of American Islamic Relations to be offensive to Muslims as it resembled the word ‘Allah’ in Arabic (See image below). After Denmark published the distorted photo of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), their annual export volume of US$ 2.6 billion to Muslim countries literally disappeared. Even global tech giant Google was given a run for their money when their online video portal YouTube was banned in many Muslim countries for hosting the controversial video “Fitna” that disgraced Islam and the Prophet in recent years.
To avoid such instances, brand owners can develop a strong brand based on the ethics and values important to Muslim consumer group. The Ogilvy Noor report reveals how a successful Islamic brand can be created circling around the Muslim consumers and complying with the Islamic values by focusing on the following eight factors:
A brand’s role in the community: including all aspects of a company’s corporate citizenship
Product: including both the range of offering, ingredients and manufacturing process
The brand story and its PR strategy: focusing on the tactics brands can employ when talking about themselves, to better appeal to the new Muslim consumers
Corporate business practice: every aspect of how the business is run internally
Visual identity: the specific needs of the Muslim consumer when it comes to visual information and appeal
Brand communication: how and what a brand is communicating to its audience
External endorsement: who to partner with and who to avoid
Customer service and delivery: why getting this is so important and how to do so
Muslim consumers must be targeted through a core product brand that stands up across a variety of markets. For this, it is important to develop a comprehensive range of products that are universally accepted by all Muslims. Moreover, the Halal market is not confined to Muslims only. It has also attracted the Non-Muslim consumers due to its perceived quality and health benefits. Non-Muslims are also inclining towards the Islamic Financial system because its core values – just equitable sharing of risk, and discouragement of excess leverage.

In conclusion, Islamic values can champion the cause of corporate social responsibility in both the Muslim and Western worlds. Values such as transparency, discipline, humility and purity are universal in their appeal. Islamic branded products offer a better future for all, as they are based in the values of goodness and justice. Value propositions should be designed in a way that will appeal to both Muslims and non-Muslims alike to move the addressable market from 1.8 billion Muslims to the full global population of 7 billion.

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