Are Singapore marketers conversing enough with the Muslim population?

The global Muslim population is set to rise from 1.6 billion to 2.8 billion by 2050 and the growth potential for brands looking to engage with Muslim consumers is insurmountable.

According to a study done by Ogilvy Noor titled Building brands for Muslim audiences, 60% of the global Muslim population is currently residing in Asia and as such, it is crucial for brands and organisations in the region to seriously engage with them to further growth. Yet, the understanding and marketing to the Muslim population in the region is simply lackluster.

Currently in a market such as Singapore, more conversation is needed in trying to understand the Muslim population, said panelists at the event organised by Ogilvy Noor.

“Brands need to at least start having conversations with Muslim consumers. The current generation of Muslims are happy and open to engaging with brands and hearing opinions of those different from themselves. Brands need to make use of this,”  Nabilah Said playwright, poet and correspondent at The Straits Times added.

She explained that it was only in recent times, after bigger players globally started paying attention to the demographic, did local marketers start to do so too.

“It was only after more internationally known brands such as Uniqlo and Dolce & Gabbana started focusing on Muslims, then brands in Singapore started following suit. But we’ve been in Singapore for ages, brands just didn’t see us,” Said explained.

Meanwhile Q Akashah, executive director, Ogilvy Noor Singapore said brands are generally either afraid, unsure or both so they prefer to tread cautiously or play it safe. Hence they miss the opportunity to engage with Muslim consumers.  She added:

There are also some brands that have tried, failed and faced harsh criticism. These cases then deter other brands from even attempting to engage with Muslim consumers or being more creative in their approach.

In Singapore specifically, it is a mixed bag because some may be apprehensive to market to the Muslim population, while in other industries, it may not make commercial sense to focus on Muslim consumers given how small the Singapore market already is, she explained.

According to Shelina Janmohamed, Ogilvy Noor’s vice president, there is a huge opportunity for brands to target this upcoming segment of Generation Ms. The folks of Generation M, she described, are those who put both the values of faith and being modern in high regard. She added that a slight tweak in campaigns, can go a long way in helping brands come across more relatable to this generation of consumers.

Melvin Goh new Muslim, serial entrepreneur, and CEO of Have Halal Will Travel, said that brands don’t quite understand Muslims enough to communicate with them. But at the end of the day, Muslim consumers are not all that different from the non-Muslim ones, he explained.

“Marketers and brands don’t understand what we are thinking. They have this stereotype or this idea of a Muslim but it is the idea of Muslims that is influx right now,” Goh said. Goh added that brands need to realise that Muslim consumers in Singapore are just like any other demographic.

“As a Muslim consumer, I still watch Netflix and I don’t pray all the time like how others perceive me to be. Between praying there are other aspects of life which makes us the same as other non-Muslim consumers. At the end of the day I too am a citizen of the world and brands need to realise that,” he added.

What can be done?

Goh said the first thing a brand should be doing is identify the barometers needed to engage with Muslim consumers. One way is doing so is looking towards key opinion leaders who are able to predict trends such as publications and influencers.

“They are ahead of the game because they see and evolve faster than anyone else. Listen to the topics these key opinion leaders are talking about and understand the context. From there, a brand should reconstruct their communications strategy to be part of the conversation,” Goh added.

He also added that just as brands should not be clumping Asia as a whole, they should also not be clumping Muslims as a whole. In Asia, Muslims are present across the region.

“I feel Singapore and Malaysia Muslims are more aligned in terms of products and what they consume. But when we look at Indonesia, it is a completely different ball game. People there consume products differently and dress differently from close neighbouring states such as Singapore and Malaysia,” Goh added.

Akashah added that brands that will be most successful are those with confidence in their understanding of Muslim consumers and the nuances that come with the territory. This knowledge allows brands to capture insights that can lead to well-executed campaigns.

“There is a finesse that comes with delivering work that connects with these consumers without coming across as contrived and disingenuous because once you alienate them – particularly the young, savvy, well-educated Generation M – it becomes especially challenging to win them over,” she said.

Nura J, online influencer and founder of Pearlista, a hair salon for Muslim women, brands need to first and foremost understand that marketing to Muslim customers is not about selling Islam.

“It is as simple as understanding that there is a big population out there whose needs are not catered to yet. You need to study and analyse and know what Muslim consumers need and want,” she said. She added:

Larger brands have the marketing and branding expertise. Unfortunately they lack the cultural knowledge on how to penetrate the Muslim market.

This is where they are being beaten by start-ups, she explained.

Being halal is not just a ploy for you to jack up prices

Marketing to this population doesn’t simply mean putting a sticker on a product and calling it halal to jack the price up, warned  Janmohamed said.

“Authenticity is also key, that’s why a lot of the startups which cater to the market are doing so well because they were created from an area of need to have products that serve their requirements,” she added.

Agreeing with Janmohamed is Said, who added that like many Muslim consumers, she too is always sceptical of brands trying to jump on the halal marketing bandwagon.

“If I find that a brand is just trying to get a share of my wallet without actually putting much thought into it, I won’t pay attention to them. It is easy to tick the boxes when it comes to marketing and producing products which are meant for Muslim consumers, but handling the different nuances of each Muslim community is a whole different story,” Said added.

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