Young, connected and Muslim

Muslim consumers are a growing, influential and extremely loyal group, making them a desirable market for mainstream brands. But reaching them requires more than launching Sharia-compliant products. Making inroads to this sector takes deep understanding of the values of this community and building the brand from there.


  • For more expert opinions on marketing to Muslims from leading Muslim business people click here
  • To read HSBC Amanah’s head of global marketing Mohammed Ismaeel’s viewpoint click here
  • To explore the halal brand, Chicken Cottage’s case study click here
  • For Muslim consumer facts click here

They’re young, ambitious and worth at least $2 trillion globally. A new Muslim consumer called “the futurist” is set to change the face of business.

The futurists are crucial to marketers because they are so influential, have considerable spending power and are more “connected” than their older more traditional counterparts. They are also willing to speak loudly and proudly about their identity. They simply cannot be ignored by brands any more, according to Ogilvy Noor, a new Islamic branding practice.

Mohamed El-Fatatry, founder of integrated marketing agency Muxlim, says the Muslim consumer is predicted to account for 30% of the world’s population by 2025. As such, ensuring these consumers are spending could help nations repair some of the damage of the recent recession.

“The financial crisis has accelerated the need for finding new markets,” says El-Fatatry.

But brands can’t simply chase the Islamic pound without genuinely understanding what Muslim consumers want, he says, adding: “You have to go after people in their own language and think about that consumer’s needs.”

Nestlé is an example of a global brand that has already identified the potential of the Islamic consumer. It generates a SFr 5.3bn (£3.2bn) turnover in halal products – acceptable according to Islamic law – globally. It sees Europe as a target market to expand its halal range further.

But Nestlé appears to be a rare example of a global brand getting it right for this market. Ogilvy & Mather says it launched its specialist branding practice focusing on Muslim consumers because so many international brands need guidance in how to attract this market.

Many businesses now realise the potential in this area. Ogilvy & Mather Global director of cultural strategy Nazia Hussain says: “Muslim communities tend to score highly on Hofstede’s collectivism score, which means they are societies in which word-of-mouth and in-group recommendation and recognition are of enormous importance.

We tell marketers not to use overtly religious messages. Most Muslim consumers are very mainstream. If you target the religious minority, then you will be targeting a niche within a niche

Mohamed El-Fatatry, Muxlim

“These consumers can be among the most loyal in the world. When they discover something that’s right for them, they feel it’s their duty to pass on the word – for young connected Muslims today, this is done at the click of a mouse.”

Khalid Sharif, founder of halal food company Ummah Foods and The Muslim Paper, agrees. He believes that British marketers should pay special heed, because if you target the community correctly in Britain, it could propel your brand to a global status. “The UK community is so well connected to the rest of the Muslim world,” he notes.

But the Muslim consumer is a complex one. Many choose to eat halal food and follow the principles of Sharia law, which is laid out in the Koran and governs how people should live, covering topics from diet to economics.

Many financial services companies have adapted their offerings to suit Sharia law. Mainstream banks now regularly provide specialist products for Islamic customers.

HSBC Amanah is a division of the international bank HSBC and its head of global marketing, Mohammed Ismaeel, says he sees young Muslims as a very attractive target market for the institution.

Muslim consumers are much less convinced by an Islamic banking ’window’ from a global bank that is known to operate on non-Islamic lines everywhere else

Nazia Hussain, Ogilvy & Mather

Ismaeel says HSBC Amanah attempts to use aspirational advertising in an attempt to be reflective of its target audience. “The Muslim population is a younger, more progressive segment of the population. Clearly, our goal as a bank is to help this segment achieve their aspirations.” (See viewpoint, below.)

Ogilvy’s Hussain warns, however, that Muslim customers are becoming critical of banks with separate divisions that are Sharia law-compliant. Citibank, Standard Chartered, HSBC and RBS all underperformed in the agency’s Global Branding Index – a list of brands that have been rated for their Shariah compliance by Muslims living in Muslim-majority countries.

Hussain argues that the futurists are demanding more from businesses, noting that Muslim consumers are now questioning how ethical an entire banking brand is, not just its Islamic arm. This reflects the demands made by a wide range of consumers of mainstream brands who want to know that a company is being run ethically and sustainably.

“Muslim consumers today are much savvier and ask more questions than before. They are much less convinced by an Islamic banking ‘window’ from a global bank that is known to operate on non-Islamic lines everywhere else in the world,” she says.

Understanding Islamic values at a non-superficial level is vital for any brand that is thinking of targeting Muslim consumers. Dr Paul Temporal, associate fellow at Said Business School, which is running a forum on Islamic branding and marketing in July, says this is where Nestlé is succeeding. He thinks the brand shows it “understands Islamic values and is not just pushing its own values onto Muslim markets”.

Mohammed Ismaeel, head of global marketing, HSBC Amanah

The Muslim population is a younger, more progressive segment of the UK population. Clearly our goal as a bank is to help this segment achieve its aspirations.

Amanah is the vehicle used by HSBC to make the bank relevant to young Muslims. It is the ultimate expression of what we mean by the brand philosophy of “the world’s local bank”.

It’s taking everything that is positive about HSBC and making it relevant at a local level for a Muslim consumer. When you look at the brand attributes of HSBC, we think it’s a brand that values different cultures and backgrounds.

In Malaysia, for example, a large portion of our customers are Chinese. So those particular consumers are attracted less to the products for their Sharia law aspects but more so for the financial structure of the products.

The challenge with many Islamic food brands is that non-Muslim consumers believe that halal is simply not relevant to them. The concept of halal preparation is not well understood among a non-Muslim audience, so Chicken Cottage has chosen not to highlight it as part of its in-store marketing. Instead, the word “halal” is incorporated into the store’s logo.

That way, both Muslims and non-Muslims are attracted to the restaurants, argues Kazi. “A lot of our competitors promote halal everywhere, but we don’t do that. It’s incorporated into the logo and that is it, and we don’t see the need to double advertise it. Everyone who comes into Chicken Cottage already knows that we are halal.”

While other halal takeaway brands choose to promote this aspect of their business, Chicken Cottage focuses on the food. This investment in product development allows the chain to keep ahead of the competition, argues Kazi. New products are introduced on a regular basis.

This strategy has allowed the franchise business to move beyond the UK. It now has outlets scattered around the globe including Pakistan, Canada, Saudi Arabia and Slovakia.

Any chains that do open in non-Muslim areas have to compete with other food brands on price and product, argues Kazi. Because of this, the brand is not trapped by being seen as a niche player because it plays a role in the highly competitive takeaway sector.

The success of Chicken Cottage has not gone unnoticed. Mainstream global brands such as KFC and McDonald’s have themselves introduced a halal offering in highly populated Muslim areas.

This is an area ripe for expansion, thinks founder of integrated media agency Muxlim, Mohamed El-Fatatry, who says that food brands need to do more to appeal to a wide audience.

“We need to work in both directions. Mainstream is going halal but I also feel that halal needs to go mainstream.” It seems Chicken Cottage, the Islamic high street takeaway, is already ahead of the curve.

Marketing to Muslims

Our experts offer their branding and communication advice on how to reach this often underserved audience

Mohammed Ismaeel, head of global marketing, HSBC Amanah:

“There is this term that our Shariah scholar, Sheikh Nizam Yaquby coined – ‘COBM’ – which means ‘cost of being a Muslim’. Muslims are telling us that they should not be penalised for being a Muslim. More importantly, they should have a choice on who they can bank with; and they want the same pricing, quality of service and treatment that they could get from conventional banks.”

Mohamed El-Fatatry, founder and CEO, Muxlim:

“We tell marketers not to use overtly religious messages to market their products. You don’t need to do that. Many mainstream brands don’t want to associate themselves with religion or a religious celebration.”

Nazia Hussain, director of cultural strategy, Ogilvy & Mather Global:

“There is no such thing as a Muslim brand because brands can’t have a religion but they can align themselves with the values of that religion. Don’t divide people along simplistic lines

of religious devoutness. Muslims today are deeply proud of their faith and see these distinctions of devoutness as superficial. Start with their values – core Islamic values – first. And then build brands around them to appeal to them. Not the other way around.”

Khalid Sharif, founder of The Muslim Paper and Ummah Foods:

“Rather than just talking at the Muslim community, businesses need to consider investing in the Muslim community.”

Dr Paul Temporal, associate fellow at Said Business School, and

project director on Islamic branding and marketing:

“One of the opportunities for building Islamic brands in Britain is to cater for these niche target audiences. If [Muslim brands] do not do that, then the big brands like the Tescos of this world will do so.”


Muslim consumers: the facts

  • Most Muslims feel ignored by mainstream brands, according to research carried out by agency JWT.
  • Halal is worth $634bn (£432bn) which is 16% of the global food market, according to Nestlé.
  • There are 1.57 billion Muslims living in the world today, according to the US’ Pew Business Center.
  • There are about 1.8 million Muslims living in the UK.
  • Islamic products and services that conform to Islamic Law are worth $2 trillion (£1.3 trillion) annually.
  • 74% of Muslims aged between 16 and 24 define themselves by faith and not race, according to Home Office research carried out in 2004.
  • Nestlé has a SFr 5.3bn (£3.2bn) turnover in Halal products globally.
  • In Europe, Nestlé’s sales of Halal food reached SFr 55m (£33.3m) in 2008.
  • l Muslims are predicated to account for 30% of the world’s population by 2025.



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