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Shedding light on Islamic branding in the marketing world

Shedding light on Islamic branding in the marketing world

By Nazia Hussain, Director of Cultural Strategy, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide and Head of Strategy, Ogilvy Noor.

Noor means 'light' in Arabic. It evokes openness, peace and learning. It is in this spirit that Ogilvy Noor was recently launched as the world’s first bespoke Islamic Branding practice. A specialist unit within Ogilvy & Mather, Ogilvy Noor aims to offer expert guidance on how to build brands that appeal to Muslim consumers globally.

In doing so, the practice aims to shed light on an area that has been fraught with much confusion to date.

The Muslim consumer market is, at almost 1.8bn people, is one of the largest consumer groups in the world – 20% of the world is, today, Muslim.

Yet to date, marketers from the non-Muslim world have often stumbled in their attempts to connect and engage with this group – falling into traps of oversimplification, stereotyping, or just plain prejudice. Ogilvy Noor seeks to redress the balance, and, for the first time, provide a guide to marketers that’s based on what Muslim consumers themselves want.

Radically simple in approach, Ogilvy Noor focuses single-mindedly on Muslim values. By understanding a consumer’s values, you prove you’ve taken the time to understand them as people first, and especially when those values are shared consistently amongst Muslims across the globe, that’s a most promising starting point for exploring consumer behaviour.

And that’s why our definition of Islamic Branding is simply branding that is empathetic to Muslim consumer values. What this will lead to, we hope, is an equal and respectful relationship between global brands and the Muslim consumer.

The size of the opportunity isn’t in question - the halal market alone is worth US $2.1tln and America’s own 7 million Muslims have a combined spending power of over US $ 170bn. The real challenge is in cracking the market knowledgeably and sensitively in order to be profit sustainably in the long term.

Ogilvy Noor was launched in July 2010 with a publication, ‘Brands, Islam and the New Muslim Consumer’. Built on a bank of rigorous global research conducted by TNS, the study delivers practical guidance on successful brand-building to appeal to Muslim consumers.

It includes probing investigations of brands who are getting it right in consumers’ eyes – like Lipton, Nestlé and Nokia. These are some of the brands that rank highly in the Noor Global Brand Index 2010, a ranking of how ‘Muslim-friendly’ certain global brands are perceived to be by Muslims themselves. The brands that succeed do so because they align with Muslim values at heart.

So what are these values and how is success to be achieved? We believe that Shariah values, that form the core of Islam, are shared by all Muslims, and they include such things as trust, honesty, humility, peacefulness and community.

A Senegalese, American or Indonesian Muslim will believe equally strongly in Shariah values, which is why Ogilvy Noor’s practice focuses on helping brands understand and empathise with core Muslim values first, before then tailoring that understanding to specific Muslim markets.

Ogilvy Noor’s advice is also to consider the entire spectrum of brand building, not just advertising – the brand’s story, its community role, its product offering, its customer service, its visual identity, its communications, its endorsements, even the fundamentals of the company’s business practices.

As the Noor Index demonstrates, provenance matters much less to Muslim consumers than the product itself (quality and Shariah-compliance) and the values embodied in the brand’s entire approach. Emirates, despite being of Middle Eastern origin, appears in the bottom ten; one of our respondents referred to the airline as ‘a bar in the sky’. Brands that are perceived to embody Shariah- friendly values appear higher on the Noor Index, and are fast becoming an imperative in order to genuinely connect with the global Muslim community.

In America, today’s evidence suggests that Muslim consumers are yet to feel well-understood, respected and specifically catered for by most brands and companies in their lives. Yet there is also evidence on the fringes to suggest that companies who are getting it right with these consumers, such as Best Buy, are gaining enormously through increased loyalty and positive word-of-mouth circulation – many of our respondents have cited their Ramadan activations as examples of a brand that’s getting it right.

Younger, savvier consumers actively seek out brands that demonstrate real understanding and engagement like this – the kind of consumers we call ‘The Futurists’. They are young, educated, and deeply proud to be Muslim. Unafraid and unashamed, they challenge, ask questions, demand better.

To them, genuine empathy matters more than anything else. They are the consumers who demand that brands understand them, first and foremost, before trying to sell them a thing. Once convinced, they are loyalists for life.

It is a shared focus on tomorrow that has led Ogilvy & Mather to sponsor the upcoming American Muslim Consumer Conference in New Brunswick on the 30th of October 2010. At this event, Ogilvy Noor will present a point of view on how American brands can step forward into this new field, and build enduring relationships with the Futurists.

Success will means that enormous benefits can be enjoyed not only with Muslim consumers, but with all consumers who want a fairer, more ethical, honest relationship with brands.

This article has been written for publication by Utalkmarketing. No part of this article may be reproduced elsewhere without permission.

AJR
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