Islamic marketing: targeting the religion-conscious consumer

Marketeers these days are constantly on the lookout for new methods to adapt their communication strategy to the characteristics or behaviour of consumers. One of these methods is  “Islamic marketing”, referring to all the marketing efforts targeting Muslim consumers by using specific resources, skills and tools that are relevant and appealing to this particular segment. Put differently, it is a way of looking at the market and its possible target groups based on a profitable segmentation criteria: Religion.

With the Muslim population now at around 1.8 billion people worldwide, they represent a very interesting market-potential for marketeers. The Muslim consumption industry accounts for no less than 2.2 trillion dollars. However, this market segment can presently  be considered as largely untapped and overlooked by global companies. Recent findings reveal that 98% of all American Muslim consumers are generally feeling ignored by American brands and companies, as they don’t actively reach out to Muslim consumers. This ‘untapped’ buying potential of Muslim consumers can be partially explained by the fact that they have been marginalized for too long (a process that is -most likely- still ongoing). From an economic perspective, Muslim consumers are considered as having a low socio-economic status, being less educated, possessing a traditional mindset, not fully integrated and participating within a prevailing Western consumer culture, having different  cultural consumption values (incompatible with a capitalist consumer ideology), and so on. Altogether, if we follow this line of reasoning, they are often considered not ‘worthy’ of an own, significant consumer market.

For example, one of the most persistent stereotypical image is that of the submissive and ‘covered’ Islamic woman, totally uninterested in leisure and fashion consumption. But in fact, the reality points exactly towards the opposite. Muslim women spend around 200-300 Euros on fashion on a monthly basis, an amount which is well above the average. The point is, engaging in such stereotypical value judgments entails the danger of generating a rather static, oversimplified and undifferentiated understanding of Islamic consumer behaviour. Marketeers should ‘neutrally’ and ‘unprejudiced’ aim to answer the key question in this story: “Who is the Muslim consumer and how to reach him/her”. This interrelationship between marketing theory and religion can be assured by thoroughly understanding Islamic norms and values as a starting point, and consequently gain insights in their religious consumer motives, preferences, needs, habits and  practices. In other words, companies and brands should face the challenge to acquire a deep and thorough comprehension of religious consumer values and of how these values affect their daily consumer decisions. Only with this kind of genuine empathy, marketeers can appeal to and reach Muslim consumers for economic purposes.

For a long time, the marketing industry considered the Muslim consumer as non-existent and invisible. However, in the last decade, we have clearly witnessed a considerable amount of companies and brands including Muslims in their marketing communication strategy by drawing on religious frameworks. As a consequence, we can finally get rid of –at least partially- the marginalization of the Muslim consumer, showing that they are an integral part of the wider community to which they undoubtedly belong. ‘Uniting instead of dividing’… a highly relevant motto, now more than ever in these troubled times. That is what Islamic Marketing should stand for.

References: Aouragh, A. (2014). Islamic branding: Het Mekka van kansen. Amsterdam: Atlas Contact || Hussain, N. (2010). A little empathy goes a long way: How brands can engage the American Muslim consumer: Ogilvynoor.  || Mohd Yusof, Y. L., & Wan Jusoh, W. J. (2014). Islamic Branding: The Understanding and Perception. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 130, 179 – 185. ||  Sandıkcı, Ö. (2011). Researching Islamic marketing: past and future perspectives. Journal of Islamic Marketing, 2(3), 246-258. || State of the Global Islamic Economy: 2014-2015 report. Thomas Reuters.

Written by Brahim Zarouali

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Brahim Zarouali is working as a PhD-Candidate in Marketing Communications at the University of Antwerp.