In the race to tap into emerging economies for growth, many brands seem to have overlooked an opportunity that’s just as big, if not bigger: Muslims. Long perceived as a marginal subset of the global market, the emerging Islamic identity—centered less on politics and religion and more on a shared purpose and lifestyle—is quickly changing perceptions about Muslim consumers.
Considering that over half the population of the “Next 11” countries is Muslim, it’s time for global brands to start paying more attention to this $2 trillion potential market. Moreover, the Arab Spring of 2011 proves that Muslims are willing to stand up for universal aspirations of freedom, individuality, fairness, and equality that religious extremists repress.
Muslims are more global in attitude and outlook than we think
The majority of Muslims is bound together under a common imaan or Islamic faith that defines not only their lifestyle and beliefs but also their attitude toward consumption. The adherence to and interpretation of imaan spans a wide spectrum across geographies and economies: from conservative and devout to ultra-liberal. Muslim liberals, a fast-growing majority, are often younger and more affluent, broad-minded, independent, assertive, and not very concerned about dated traditions that could keep them from living a cosmopolitan, globally relevant lifestyle.
Overall, brands should focus on speaking to and connecting with the moderates and liberals who are poised to greatly influence the future of the global economy.
Communicate a higher purpose
While many consumers around the world have started to pay attention to substance, purpose, and a sense of greater good in a brand’s promise, this philosophy is part of Islamic teachings, and Muslims have long ascribed to it.
The Body Shop, for example, has enjoyed considerable success in the Middle East mainly because of the brand’s ethical business practices that resonate with the teachings of Islam. Interestingly, HSBC Amanah attracts an equal number of Muslims and non-Muslims in Malaysia not just because its products are sharia-compliant (conforming to Islamic law), but because its conservative approach to financial management is supported by Islamic laws and resonates with anyone looking for safe investments.
Invest in your brand promise
Nestlé has become the biggest halal food manufacturer in the world with $3 billion in sales annually. What’s the key to Nestlé’s success? Nestlé has invested in understanding the\ segment’s unique needs, has become part of local communities and created real operational changes by modifying 85 of its factories for halal certification.
Some localization goes a long way
In the Middle East and Africa, Nokia introduced phones loaded with a number of pertinent applications, including an Islamic organizer, prayer alarms and Islamic e-books.
Global brands should make a serious effort not to offend any particular consumer segment and be mindful that Muslims not only have great purchasing power but also the power to boycott.
Seize the opportunity
Muslims form a quarter of the world’s population, are the fastest-growing consumer segment in the world, are becoming more global in nature, and have desires and unmet needs. Brand managers must work to understand Muslims’ beliefs, values, and lifestyle—and they may be pleasantly surprised at the crossover potential for Muslim-directed products and services. A few simple strategies will reap big rewards.