Critical brand risks in marketing to the Global Muslim Community

Risk scenario planning (visual courtsey http://www.ficsas.com)

The global Muslim community at a staggering 1.57 billion people is a very large market segment that’s intriguing marketers, across product categories, for a variety of reasons. With a rising demand for products and services, fulfilling needs of day-to-day life to aspirational requirements and armed with strong purchasing power, the global Muslim community is a very attractive consumer segment to businesses.

From the perspective of market entry planning for a brand, it’s no different from entering any other market or segment.

  • Identifying the key markets,
  • Researching the impact of the existing product portfolio on the market segment,
  • Evaluating the competitions’ actions to benchmark and obtain best practices and
  • Doing an opportunity cost analysis to obtain earnings and brand sustainability are all part of the basic market entry planning.

But this is where the conformity changes!
Unlike other cultural consumer segments the global Muslim consumer segment is made up of a myriad of sociocultural sets that have been influenced by emigration (of the community)  and adaptation to social and environmental norms of current place of residence and livelihood. Thus producing today’s Muslim consumer who has a strong , individual value system and identity that is based and governed by the core values of  “Halal”(Halal is an Arabic term meaning “lawful or permissible” and not only encompasses food and drink, but all matters of daily life. Ref: isahalal).

An article in the Marketing Week highlighted that “Muslim consumers are a growing, influential and extremely loyal group, making them a desirable market for mainstream brands. But reaching them requires more than launching Sharia-compliant products. Making inroads to this sector takes a deep understanding of the values of this community and building the brand from there. They’re young, ambitious and worth at least $2 trillion globally”. The key words being “deep understanding of the values of this community and building the brand from there”.

Thus, simply communicating and delivering a fulfilling brand experience based on product or service innovations would not suffice for this segment.In order to win the loyalty of this segment the brand has to approach the relationship (with the Muslim consumer from a totally different paradigm). In order to gain the trust of this consumer, adherence to the required standards (halal guidelines) and transparency in (the brands’) operations and activities is a must.

Building a brand in this segment differs (from other consumer segments) in terms of risk and organisational demands.The risks should not be underestimated. They should be thoroughly studied and evaluated on two levels:

  • Product/Brand level– A product and brand risk analysis will consider the impact that targeting the Muslim consumers might have on the organisation’s core global brand if the product is sold in non-Islamic markets.
  • Corporate level– A corporate level risk analysis will take into account a wider view of potential transnational consumer activism, thereby, enabling the organisation to be ready to deal with at least three potential threats— social, political and financial.
  1. Social Risk: by virtue of their numerical strength and purchasing power the Muslim consumer can choose “not to buy”. Such “not to buy” acts are not uncommon. Recall the indignation and subsequently the impact the global Muslim community had over the publication of cartoons of our beloved Prophet (P.B.U.H) in a Danish newspaper. The subsequent lack of political and cultural empathy led to a widespread boycott of Danish products to the extent that even western retailers removed Danish products from their shelves due to fear of negative repercussions.
  2. Political Risk: Given the rising awareness of Islam, and a new-found resurgence of the Muslim identity, governments across Muslim countries have responded with regulatory changes. Malaysia, for example, has created its competitive advantage by promoting halal foods, Islamic Finance and halal tourism. Kuwait, had its first women ministers a year ago (ref:www.guardian.co.uk).
  3. Financial Risk: An existing organisation has to evaluate the potential ‘fallout’ that may occur through alienating the existing consumer base by entering the Muslim consumer segment AND also has to check potential revenue loss from not correctly serving the Muslim consumer. This needs to be balanced out versus the projected revenue growth expected from serving the Muslim segment.

Lastly, there is a risk of a “backlash” if the organisations are seen to be exploiting the Muslim consumer. With the rise of social media, and “interest based communities” being online 24/7, blurring geographical and cultural distinctions, a backlash (on a brand) can spread like bushfire through the global Muslim community in a matter of hours. Thus affecting the brand not in just one specific region but globally across the markets it’s present in. One way to minimise this risk is to ensure that the brands’ and the organisations’ activities benefit the community .

The Muslim consumers seek reassurance that any brand offer from an organisation is not just a “marketing ploy”. They want to feel that the brand genuinely understands and empathise with Islamic values in all aspects of their operations. Towards this, communicating transparently and providing a beneficial and meaningful brand experience will enable a brand to reduce and control risk to a great extent in marketing to the Global Muslim Community.

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