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economy
September 20, 2020

A new era for Muslim consumers

Young, tech-savvy, and aligned with their faith, Generation M has changed the face of the Islamic Economy. But how can global organisations truly connect with this diverse group of global Muslim consumers?

In recent years we have seen an incredible evolution within the Islamic Economy, with a new wave of products, services and experiences being developed that cater to Muslim audiences in authentic and genuine ways.

Led by tech-savvy and ambitious Muslim millennials – or ‘Generation M’ –  these high-quality brands have not only helped to build an innovative and dynamic creative environment, but have also appealed to Muslims on a spiritual level, representing their faith, ethics and values, while also paying heed to the global community’s cultural diversity.

As the trajectory of the Islamic Economy continues upwards, increasing numbers of multinational organisations are searching for ways to engage with the market of 1.8 billion Muslims and it’s discerning middle class. But for many, this has been a challenge that’s proved difficult to surmount.

It’s no surprise that companies want to attract Muslim consumers to their products, services and experiences. This growing middle class, driven by a huge youth demographic (two-thirds are under the age of 30) has increasing wealth and buying power. And businesses are alive to the rewards that this can bring.

In her book Generation M: Young Muslims Changing the World, Shelina Janmohamed writes: “The Muslim middle class, with greater affluence and sophisticated tastes as well as pride in their religion, are likely to triple from an estimated 300 million in 2015 to 900 million by 2030 … The Muslim middle classes are driving a boom in products and services aimed at Muslim tastes.”

Muslims are certainly spending more within the Islamic Economy than ever before. Figures from the State of the Global Islamic Economy report 2019-20 (which we helped design with our partners Dinar Standard) show that US$2.2 trillion was spent on the global Islamic Economy in 2018, with growth of 5.2% year on year. Spending on halal food is expected to go up 6.3% between 2018 and 2024, modest fashion 6%, media and recreation 5.8%, Muslim-friendly travel 6.4%, halal pharma 6.5%, and halal cosmetics 6.8%. 

In respect of this new paradigm, businesses have sought to better understand the various needs, expectations and nuances of modern Muslims, 

One example is Nike, whose Pro Hijab generated countless headlines when it was launched in December 2017, promoted by US Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad and Emirati weightlifter Amna Al Haddad, among others. Not only was the Pro Hijab listed as the seventh most wanted item in the Lyst Index Q1 2019, Hottest Women’s Products, it was also dubbed one of the most important designs of 2017, winning the General Excellence category in the Innovation By Design Awards, run by Fast Company magazine.

The move wasn’t without its criticism however, with some Muslim shoppers and modest fashion labels upset at the attention given to Nike, despite local brands already producing similar hijabs for some time. Question marks over Nike’s labour practices also created misalignment between the brand and many Muslims on an ethical level, reinforcing the notion that Muslim consumers are guided by their faith.

Muslim consumers 101

Given our focus on Muslim-centric brands, our presence in countries as diverse as Australia, the UAE, Indonesia and Lebanon, and our work building Like-Hearted communities around the world, we have a strong understanding from an authentic perspective. We have also come to learn what non-Muslim organisations need to appreciate if they are to engage authentically. 

Through our Heart-Centered Design approach, we talk with, listen to, and empathise with everybody involved. This is a given for us, and is why we have been able to launch our own in-house brands Salam Sisters and 5Pillars, partner with Islamic Economy pioneers such as crowdfunding platform LaunchGood, and worked with internationally acclaimed organisations such as Greenpeace. 

If you’re looking to develop your understanding of Muslim audiences, here are some basics that you need to be aware of.

  • Diversity: Despite the common ground on a faith level, the global Muslim community is as varied as it gets on a cultural level. From language and food to habits and traditions, businesses must get to know their audiences’ differences if they are to truly serve their needs.
  • Excellence: Many Muslims today - especially GUMEES (Global Urban Muslims, Educated and English Speaking) – have increasingly high expectations of the products they buy. And not just in terms of their quality. They also have to mean something to them and meet their spiritual aspirations. 

    Speaking at the inaugural Oxford Global Islamic Branding and Marketing Forum back in 2010, the then CEO of Ogilvy, Miles Young, said: “The standards that Muslim consumers expect from companies and brands should be the drivers of enlightened Western practice: brands should be sincere, honest, friendly and committed to improving life.” This is even more the case today. And if big companies can’t create these brands, Muslims are increasingly prepared and equipped to create them themselves.
  • Connection to faith: Sincerity, faith and values count a lot for Muslims, not just in their practice, but in their spending choices. Research by Oglivy Noor also showed that more than 90% of Muslims worldwide said their religion affects their consumption habits in one way or another. 
  • Know Islam: Crescent moons and geometric patterns can’t be the limit of your outlook on Islam. Take time to find out what halal really means, when prayer times are, and why the act of giving is so important. Learn why ethical and environmental issues matter so much, and start to adopt them in authentic ways, rather than as a marketing strategy.
  • Key markets and sectors: If you haven’t already, familiarise yourself with the leading Islamic economies and their socio-economic nuances. The SGIE report puts Malaysia at the top of its Global Islamic Economy Indicator Ranking, followed by the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia - all very different markets with very different audiences.
  • Muslims are makers: Organisations need to appreciate the creative spirit of Muslims; they aren’t just consumers - they are makers. A 2016 report by HSBC highlighted that the Middle East in particular has embraced the start-up culture, with the youngest average age of entrepreneurship in the world, 26. Nearly half (46%) of the region's entrepreneurs decided to become entrepreneurs at school or college – also the highest percentage of any international region. Businesses should be prepared to work with them, not just sell to them.
  • Talk to the experts: There are some high-quality organisations and resources within the Islamic Economy that you can - and should - benefit from. As well as strategic design experts such as Gould Studio, literature such as the SGIE report and Arab Youth Survey, and events such as the Global Islamic Economy Summit are excellent ways to start understanding Muslim markets.
  • Encourage: With the rise of Muslim-made brands, don’t think competition. Rather, think co-opetition. The best results come when working together and growing symbiotically. Encouraging and supporting vibrant and creative young Muslims isn’t just important to the Islamic Economy, it’s important to the world, whose problems they are looking to solve.

As our founder and Chief Design Officer Peter Gould says in Janmohamed’s book Generation M:

“We need to dream big, be bold, and spark the imagination of millions of young Muslims around the world. We must shift our mindset from reactionary projects and pessimism to raise a generation of creative thinkers and innovators solving the many, many problems we have. It’s ambitious, but I believe we have the technology, energy and drive to make it happen, insha’Allah.”

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