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  • Featured in The National: Getting to know the market

    We are featured today in today’s edition of The National

    Major companies looking to crack large markets usually target countries with vast, rapidly expanding populations such as China.

    But there is one community whose growth is expected to outpace all others during the next two decades. And it is not confined by borders.

    About 23 per cent of the world’s population is Muslim, but followers of Islam could account for more than half of the globe’s inhabitants by 2050, according to one estimate.But how do companies attract consumers for whom religion plays such a pivotal role in their lives? And which brands appeal the most to Muslim shoppers?

    A recent survey of about 2,600 people in four key Muslim markets – Malaysia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan – has provided the answer. And the list may surprise some.Lipton, Nestle, Nescafe and Kraft all appear in the top five, while homegrown brands such as Etihad Airways and Emirates Airline both languish towards the bottom in 77th and 85th place respectively.

    “What was really interesting and shattered a lot of preconceptions was the fact that a brand doesn’t really have to have be Muslim in origin or be an Islamic brand for Muslim consumers to feel close to it,” says Tanya Dernaika, of Ogilvy Noor, a company that specialises in Islamic branding.

    The study also found that the most popular brands are a key source of jobs in the Muslim community.They all either provide employment, speak to Muslim shoppers in a way that resonates with them, or produce products that suit their lifestyles.”I think of Nokia as an Egyptian company … they did research and produced products that suit the Egyptian consumer – they have Islamic values and know how to deal with Egyptians,” said one Egyptian shopper who took part in the poll.

    The study was commissioned by Ogilvy & Mather, an international advertising agency, to serve as a launch pad for the branding consultancy.

    “By applying the findings [we can] advise our clients to come up with better ideas and really break that barrier of fear that a lot of global companies feel sometimes when you say ‘Muslim consumer’,” says Ms Dernaika.

    “The first reaction is let’s be safe, rather than let’s be creative.”

    The first thing brands need to keep in mind when targeting Muslim shoppers is that community comes first.

    “First do something for my community,” she says. “Show me you genuinely care and that you demonstrate universal good practice.

    “First they will judge a brand as they will judge a human being, by their principles and their behaviour, and then they will hear them out.”

    But some question whether it is right to target shoppers based on their religion.

    Sunil Varughese, a director of Brand Indigo in Dubai, says all religions promote sustainable consumption to ensure that future generations can meet their needs.

    “Targeting consumers from a specific religion for example in categories such as food, retail banking services etc merely to enhance consumption in these respective categories and in turn enhance profitability is inherently going against the precepts of any religion,” he says.

    Ogilvy Noor comments: over 90% of Muslims told us that their consumer behaviour is shaped by their beliefs and they wish more companies would take time to understand them.

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