Is your brand speaking to the listening of the Muslim Consumer?

The global Muslim community is an intriguing market segment for brand marketers and their organisations. When one looks at just the numbers it’s enough to make a savvy marketer salivate imagining the potential growth. 

Yet, inspite of the segments’ purchasing power and potential opportunity for a brand to have strong regional and global footprint, quality brand experiences seem to be missing.

Are brands simply not listening to the Muslim consumer?

The global Muslim population is often cited as a ‘global community’.  It actually is not a homogeneous market segment that can be qualified by one primary differentiator such as age, language or skin colour, or through attitudes and behaviour that are in accordance to that differentiator. 

 Unlike other cultural consumer segments the global Muslim consumer segment is made up of a myriad of sociocultural sub-sets that have been influenced by emigration and adaptation to social and environmental norms of current place of residence and livelihood.

 This adaptation has resulted in today’s Muslim consumer who has a strong, unique, individual value system and identity that is based and governed by the values of Islam. Muslims’ own belief in the significance of Islam in their lives is pervasive. Coupled with the pre-dominantly young age of the segment and one has a market segment that is begging to be listened to properly and catered to.

An example– Mipsterz

Visual Courtesy: JWT

Visual Courtesy: JWT

In The Name of Faith and Fun”—a JWT Intelligence MENA report published in April 2014, JWT’s Brand Intelligence takes an in-depth look at the growing culture of young and hip Muslims who are bringing forth an integration of faith and fun.
Quoting the report—“ Their social minds, ethical consumption patters and fervor for a more inclusive community, poses opportunity for brands to integrate the Mipsterzs’ needs into a wider strategy that accommodates their spectrum of Muslim values, which are in fact desirable by any societal measure”.

 The Mipsterz sub-culture is not only in the West but in MENA and Egypt fueled by young, progressive, tech-savvy Millennial Arab.

 This profile of progressive youth who are tech-savvy and millennial are soon to become the mainstream of the global Muslim community as more and more of them enter the workforce around the globe.

 For a brand, given the sheer numbers of this community, it becomes critical to understand the logic and psyche of this group which have been boldly self-expressing in order to create experiences that endears the brand with the individual and creates a strong relationship.

What’s the correlation between relationship marketing and the Muslim consumer?

As competition heightens brands, operating in the Islamic economy space and primarily targeting the global Muslim community, need to adopt more strategic customer-centric approaches to meet the pace of change. Enhancing personal relationships with customers is very important in attracting and retaining customer loyalty and to secure competitive success.  Whilst brand advocacy is a much used tactic in mainstream brands, Islamic brand advocacy is in a nascent stage.

This is where marketing to the global Muslim segment differs a great deal in comparison to other consumer segments. A strong emotional attachment needs to be formed. In order to do that brands have to listen and listen well to the individual cultural statements being expressed by the Muslim consumer and create experiences around that in order to resonate and engage the individual.

Be human and emotional

The way forward to establish a strong brand in this community is to understand the experience the brand needs to provide. This experience can be developed through:

  1. Understanding the cultural background of the consumer depending on their sociocultural background and their physical environment For e.g. whilst the core brand values and message may be the same across different market points globally, the service approach and brand interaction experience will have to be tailor-made.
  2. Commonalities of values has to be clearly communicated and perceived. For e.g. the core values of the brand should be aligned with the value system of the consumer in a particular environment and the experience should strengthen that.

To do the above a critical element in the business operations is the employee.

The way an employee represents the brand, creates the experience and the perception. This is where, most often, the drop occurs!

Businesses tend to focus on technical competencies, regulatory adherence and on pushing sales oft forgetting that business today has changed a lot. Today business is conducted by two human beings with a lot of emotions driving their respective actions

With more and more global forums now focusing on how the Islamic economy can step up and aid the global Muslim community, the question that goes begging at the moment is—are brands listening to the Muslim consumer?

Listen to employees if profit is your goal

A recent business review meeting brought home the fact that business is all about getting to the  revenue target. It’s a process. A process that’s been in place, for most organisations, for some time and has delivered results.

 But if we keep doing the same things that we have done how do we get a different result?

Goal setting and target achievement is a process. There are times when processes need to be evaluated in light of the environment in which a business operates. Such an evaluation takes place by listening to the front line managers for the ideas they bring forth in such meetings. 

Are we listening?

Most of the times, the senior team desires a good outcome and executes activities that they believe will help them get to their goal.
Note the emphasis on “executes”! This can either, be a tick in the box or attempting a new approach that could be successful or not.
But in the process of execution only what’s affected is the strategy development and deliberation process which gets left out in the
eternal rush of execution.

They can’t seem to hear the advice that will help them get to their goal in a strategically planned way. Environmental pressures, legislation, competition etc all add to the rush to simply do ‘something’! As a result the activities become ad hoc and lack direction and end up being akin to shooting in the dark.

Is it possible to change this existing pattern of thinking and approach ?

There is. Here’s how:

1.  Approaching the issues simplistically and listening to find the right solution.

2. Being open-minded and receptive to listen to new ideas and kick those around. Not kick them out!

3. Bringing the right attitude to the table.

People caught up in the “No. It’s not possible” line of thinking mistakenly think that having done the same process for years, it will still deliver and no change is needed. Unfortunately, this is a disguised form of negativity and negativity sabotages the chance of success by keeping the team from seeking a solution.

It creates an extremely unhealthy environment which in turn simply kills the process of ideation and thus any innovative approaches.

An attitude of being  willing and able to listen, discuss and evaluate simple, cross industry practices and strategic options can enable growth and profitability. Which, in turn, would lead an organisation in having a motivated, passionate, engaged and objective oriented team of employees who would be iconic brand ambassadors for the organisation simply through the delivery of their day-to-day activities when in contact with the stakeholders.


Engaging perception through customer-centric CSR initiatives

Most organisations undertake CSR programmes as having to fulfill the corporate duty of giving back to society. Often the development of the program becomes the responsibility of the marketing team and is tied to the brand being seen in good light.


Here’s my article on this, published in the Islamic Banker Asia:

The cultural mask of an organisation is its brand identity

visual courtesy:

visual courtesy:

For an organisation, culture is defined by the behaviour of its leaders, its people and the processes.

  1. People—People are diverse. When they come into an organisation they bring, along with their technical competencies and skills, their individual behaviour with regards to leadership, team-work and communication ability.
  2. Processes—Processes impact on how the employees carry out their activities. Either the processes aid daily work or they hinder and as a result be the source of a tremendous stress.
  3. Business Purpose—Leaders need to clearly articulate the vision of the organisation or and what it is they need to do to ensure the organisation is sustainable.

A mix of these three creates the organisational cultural mask.

This mask, knowingly or unknowingly, is the behaviour of the organisation on a daily basis and impacts on its brand identity. In today’s globalized era organisations operate multi-cultural teams on virtual and physical basis. As organisations reach their brand to various parts of the globe, this cultural mask goes along as an image and identity.

This is the brand image, personality and identity.

Physically this identity manifests as a logo and the people representing the organisation and the contents being offered.

But interestingly, the external manifestation of the brand is totally dependent on the value system that the organisation believes in and alignment of the same with its employees.

Coming from different corners of the world, individually, we carry with us our own baggage of diverse cultural beliefs into work. Whilst most self-development books and managers’ guides tell us to operate, in what’s possibly, two silos– a personal self and a professional self– in reality that’s a tough call!

Tough because we are governed by our emotions and our emotions come about due to the habits we have.
Habits are behaviours that we project every minute of the day.

Throw into this mix the impact of behaviour from the leaders and you end up having a pretty heady concoction! 

The importance of behaviour from the leaders cannot be understated. What the leaders, knowingly or unknowingly, display sets the behavioural indicators for employees who then emulate the same. This has serious implications on the day-to-day functioning of an organisation, on the emotional (and physical health) of the employee, and finally on the organisation’s culture, brand image and reputation.

In developing a culture leadership is a key lever that needs to be pulled & pushed!

Depending on the industry sector and the organisations’ position within that sector and its mission, leadership is the only critical element that will either build or destroy the organisation. Leadership can impact on the organisational culture positively or negatively.

Based on my personal experience, of having worked across industries, countries and developed a few multi-cultural teams, an effective work culture comes about from developing a collection of beliefs and the resulting behaviour from it.

These beliefs come about from processes and leadership. For example:

  1. Monthly management meetings are used to track progress against strategy and is not a ‘work-in-progress’ management update meeting.
  2. The way senior management manages these processes i.e. the individuals own work-style personality that is expressed in the meeting is an indicator of the leadership at-work.

The processes, impacted by the leadership style results in certain behaviours which, directly impact employee motivation and engagement, as well as the quality of work output. Overtime this set of behaviours, becomes the unwritten norm for the organisation in terms of:

  1. Interaction within colleagues  i.e. internal brand representation &
  2. External interaction with stakeholders i.e. external brand representation

This behavioural environment represents itself as the character of the organisation through staff and becomes the organisational culture.


People first if you want to drive organic growth

Whilst Islamic finance is in growth mode it’s sad to note that Islamic banking only caters to 38 million of the total global Muslim population. That too this number is spread over 7 countries only!

Is there something lacking?

Given the significant changes in consumer behaviour, as the effect from the financial crises & recession of the past decade, perhaps Islamic banking needs to take into account what people want & need.

Here’s my article on this topic published in the Islamic Banker Asia:

Emotions drive business actions


Empathy or showing the understanding side of our human selves is often confused as a ‘weakness’ by many a leader.

Lack of empathy comes about from a pre-determined effort to keep emotions out of work related issues.

Yet we forget that at the core of our being, emotions are an extremely strong driver for all our actions.

A lot of literature is available on this. The purpose of my post is not to belabor this point but to highlight how lack of empathy in the leadership style of an organisation directly impacts on a brand’s’ reputation.

Most organisations operate on the classical 6-styles of leadership (Visionary, Coaching, Affiliative, Democratic, Pacesetting, Directive). They often tend to miss out on the all important aspect of empathy.

These styles, whilst good in their own way, come from a management school of thought where achievement (at any cost) was the primary objective. Today much work has been done in aligning these leadership styles with both, technical competencies and behavioural attitudes, or in other words marrying logic with emotion.

Organisations have realised that employees are creatures of habit. Habits that were formed much earlier in their lives before they became employees.

Changing habit is a huge task and oft fraught in failure.

By using the right leadership styles combined with key behavioural attitudes and technical competencies, behavioral changes impacting on work flow processes can be influenced. Over time the methodology of an activity workflow results in the employee behaving in a planned way so as to provide the desired customer experience.

The way I have written it may seem to make the task, of having the right leadership style laced with the right behavioural attitudes, simple.

Whilst it is simple, the devil lies in the detail and the extent of granularity that an organisation would want to go to.

The flow chart depicts the reality that takes places:

Lacking empathy outcome

With a fragmented reputation the stakeholders interacting with the brand would be cautious of increasing their interactions. This results in a few ‘lows':

  1. Externally there would be lower referrals & lower sales
  2. Internally there would be low employee engagement, low productivity, creativity and low revenue.

End of the day resulting in shrinking profits and market presence up until the point where sustainability of the entire organisation is at stake.

A sure way to avoid this in today human-to-human interface in all facets of life, not just business, is to be able to empathise with your audience and your team and build engagement from that to be sustainable.


(This post was published in Linked In on Aug 14,2014.)

Developing sustainable brands in post-colonial Asia

A couple of weeks ago I had a delightful chat with Jon (Dr. Jonathan A J Wilson) on my career experience & the work I do involving employee engagement & brand sustainability.  The interview is in the “maestro” section of the Indonesian based marketing magazine– ‘’ magazine.

The discussion provides some industry insights that aid companies in developing sustainable brands.