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  • How Shariah Friendly Is Your Brand?

    Brands seeking to engage the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims need to make sure they’re products and services are “shariah friendly.” As Ogilvy Noor’s Shelina Janmohamed explains, that’s easier than you might think.


    Our latest column is published this week on the awardwinningsparksheet.com

    Image by Ludovic Bertron via Flickr.

    For Muslim consumers, halal is a basic product requirement. But do all products need to be halal, and if so, how halal do they need to be?

    Your product might sit on a spectrum anywhere between shariah friendly, all the way through to fully shariah compliant. For Muslims, shariah means the guiding principles of their life, the code by which they live, something strongly felt in the conscience of an observant Muslim.

    Halal refers to the specific ingredients of a product (for example, animal products that exclude pig-related derivatives, are from animals correctly slaughtered as per Islamic guidelines, and contain no alcohol). Shariah compliance is generally used to refer to non-consumables like finance.

    As part of our research we looked at the relative importance of shariah compliance across a number of product categories. The most significant finding was the role played by the proximity to the body. If the product is something that is consumed (i.e. placed inside one’s body), it is necessarily required to be shariah compliant at the highest non-negotiable level.

    If the product is placed inside the body but not consumed (such as toothpaste) it is only a little less important. And if it’s used on the body but doesn’t go inside it (such as body cream) the importance is lower still.

    Muslim consumers are pragmatic that brands such as hotels or airlines, which don’t cater exclusively to Muslims, may never be fully shariah compliant (because they serve alcohol, for example). However, there are more and more brands in these categories that are trying to be shariah compliant.

    It’s also worth noting that some categories are entirely absent from the category index, including electronics and telecommunications. They did not feature on the list because respondents told us that these categories were shariah neutral. Mobile phones, for example, are not eaten or applied to the body.

    But tech brands would do well to achieve shariah friendliness anyway. That’s because the Muslim consumer, like the wider market, is increasingly conscious of brands engaging in a holistic and socially conscious approach to business.

    Perceptions matter

    The Retaj Hotel chain has declared its intention to build hotels that do not serve alcohol. Image via www.retajhotel.com 

    If brands build up their repertoire of features that directly appeal to Muslim consumers’ aspirations, this will have a direct effect on the perception of a brand’s Muslim friendliness. And perceptions matter.

    This might include a commitment to “dry” services, such as the Retaj Hotel chain, which hasdeclared its intention to build a chain of hotels that do not serve alcohol. Or brands like the Body Shop that avoid animal ingredients and animal testing.

    The good news is that for a brand to be perceived as an “Islamic brand” it does not have to originate in a Muslim country. Empathy and understanding, demonstrated through all aspects of a brand’s behaviour, are much more important than place of origin to today’s Muslim consumers.

    …and so does consistency

    Finally, Islamic branding efforts must be holistic. Consumers want to know that any Islamic branding initiative from a global brand is not tokenistic or simply a marketing ploy.

    Instead, they want to feel that the brand genuinely understands and empathizes with Islamic values in all aspects of their operations all over the world. For example, Lipton scores at the top of the list because consumers see that the product is fully halal, it plays a role in the local community, and communicates its shariah-friendly values at that local community level.

    This is the reason why finance brands like HSBC and RBC that sell ‘Islamic finance’ products and services i.e. those that have been structured and certified by scholars as meeting the financial principles of shariah, rank so low on the index. Consumers are sceptical about whether their full offering – given they still conduct conventional banking – really is Islamic.

    An Islamic bank in Algeria. Image by Magharebia via Flickr 

    It’s also why food brands are generally the most successful. Standards are the most developed in this arena so consumers have a higher degree of clarity about whether a product is shariah/halal compliant.

    The esteem in which the Muslim consumer holds your brand is a combination of some basic factors: Are you making the best efforts to deliver the appropriate level of shariah compliance in your product? Are you being transparent and sincere in your efforts? And are you consistent in your aim to serve the Muslim consumer? It’s as simple as one, two, three.