Published in Mar-Apr 2012
In typical English writing, a square bracket implies that the contained word(s) are part of the phrase. However, in the title of this article, including it this way is not to conclusively imply that there is a ‘Muslim’ consumer and that there is such a thing as ‘Islamic’ marketing. Rather, it is to initiate an exploration into the nature of the ‘Muslim consumer’ and ‘Islamic marketing’.
Recently, in a scholarly article, I came across the term ‘religion-marketing intersection’. This term fascinated me for its implicative context, which has been largely underrated in marketing knowledge and practice. Although neither the term nor the phenomenon is new, it has recently found traction in markets where consumers follow the world’s fastest growing religion: Islam. This article attempts to give some insight into this emerging discipline as well as its potential implications.
The emergence of Islamic marketing
Although the degree of influence religions have on the lifestyles of their followers is yet to be conclusively defined, it can be said with a bit of certainty that Islam, compared to other mainstream religions, has a stronger influence and impact on the lifestyles of its followers. Islam’s influence on marketing has always been felt in different ways, and is most commonly expressed in Muslim consumer markets in terms of food items being halal or not. In fact, halal, has been the underpinning link between Islam, product development and marketing. Recently, with marketing practices becoming more diversified and mature in Islamic markets, the influence of Islam has gone beyond the traditionally assumed areas of its application. Furthermore, although over the course of the last few decades a reasonable understanding of Islam’s influence on marketing and consumers has developed in terms of knowledge and practice, with the recent emergence of Islamic marketing as a discipline, new perspectives and dimensions are being revealed. In fact, there is a concerted effort by different circles to grasp the influence of Islam on Muslim consumer behaviour, including Oxford’s Saïd Business School, Ogilvy Noor and the Journal of Islamic Marketing.
Islamic teachings and the marketing mix
The marketing mix, commonly referred to as the four Ps (product, price, place and promotion), gives a broad framework on which an organisation’s marketing strategy can be planned and reviewed.
This model can also be used to explore Islam’s potential influence on marketing.
To begin with, when it comes to the product, Islamic teachings and rulings (fatwas) have been largely limited to pronouncing food items as being halal (allowed) or not, and almost any product marketer wanting to engage Muslim consumers will find it critical to have the product certified as such. Once certification is achieved, the product is deemed to have crossed the hurdle of being ‘Islamic’ and can be marketed in any way. The label of being a ‘halal’ or ‘Islamic’ product may be used as a communication instrument. The degree to which this instrument is used varies largely, based on regulatory requirements, cultural context and consumer tendency to observe such annotations on packaging at the time of purchase.
With marketing practices becoming more diversified and mature in Islamic markets, the influence of Islam has gone beyond the traditionally assumed areas of its application.
Another area of Islamic product development is interest-free financial products. This area, further popularised by the concept of Islamic banking, is much broader than Islamic marketing itself and has now developed into a parallel stream of banking operations in many parts of world.
Generally speaking, Islam’s influence on pricing strategies is underrated. Islamic teachings do guide a merchant on being principled in charging the right price. Furthermore, any element of deception in pricing vis-à-vis product features is discouraged. Under these basic tenets, different pricing models and practices should be carefully reviewed and revised. A similar set of guiding principles relates to distribution channels, for which Islam prohibits any kind of monopolisation leading to unfair pricing.
Promotion is another area where Islamic teachings and rulings have directed practices. In popular understanding, Islamic teachings apply to the content and characters used in advertisements being socially acceptable or not. What is largely missed is another area which Islam focuses on and which relates to communicating the product’s features in their entirety and without deception. Some of the puffery in advertising, which may be considered part of the creative space, may be questionable if reviewed from the perspective of Islamic teachings and principles. Thus, it can be concluded from this review that the overall potential of Islam’s influence is much greater than what is commonly recognised.
A Muslim consumer?
In the emerging arena of Islamic marketing, a key area of focus revolves around understanding Muslim consumers. In hard core segmentation theory, segments are defined as groups of consumers who tend to act in a similar manner. If this approach is applied and consumers are segmented by religion, Muslim consumers can be identified in any society. However, at the same time it should be observed that their purchasing behaviour is quite diverse. For instance, in Pakistan (a market of more than 170 million Muslims), there are no homogenous consumer patterns anchored in Islam. Other segmentation variables such as, for example, age, economic class and education play a greater role in consumer behaviour. This observation holds true for any market in the world regardless of whether Muslims are in a majority or not. Thus, labelling a consumer class as ‘Muslim consumer’ has to be done more insightfully. In a recent article in the Journal of Islamic Marketing, researchers explored the link of new product adoption and religiosity. The latter refers to the extent to which individuals follow religious tenets and indoctrination. Efforts like these are now helping shape the characteristics of Muslim consumers and will go a long way in making marketing activities in Islamic markets more effective.
This article is not even a primer to the discipline of Islamic marketing and is intended to underline the importance of this emerging discipline. A great deal of academic work and practice-oriented debate is required to help develop actionable practices. Readers may find developments of interest blogged at ogilvynoor.com.
Although the marketing mix can also be defined by models other than four Ps, the four Ps model is what is popularly known as the marketing mix, and this article only reviews the four Ps model.
Talha Salam is a faculty member in marketing at the FAST School of Business. email@example.com