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Opalesque Islamic Finance Intelligence

The Islamic Window: Young but Disconnected Joy Abdullah

Friday, July 30, 2010

Joy Abdullah, Brand Strategist, has more than 20 years of experience across ASEAN & the Indian sub-continent in developing and managing national, regional and international brands in a wide variety of industries covering Islamic Financial services, tourism, B2b Halal, telecommunications, beverages, real estate, tobacco, hospitality and healthcare.

A recent article published in Marketing Week (see reference link) highlighted that "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. They're young, ambitious and worth at least $2 trillion globally". This however seems to suggest there is something missing from Islamic finance offerings.

There are two key points that need to be scrutinized further:

  1. Understanding the implication of the values" of Islam
  2. Reflecting these values throughout the business model (for an organisation)

For the Islamic finance industry - and in particular the retail segment within it - the question to answer is "how ethical an entire banking brand is. It seems this is the question that needs to be posed to the growing segment of the global Muslim youth. These upcoming consumers want to know (or be reassured) that the financial institution is being run ethically and sustainably. Demographically this is an energetic consumer group, but it is a discerning one as well.  They are far less convinced by an Islamic banking 'window' from a brandname-bank (that runs the bulk of its business on conventional finance elsewhere in the world) or with hefty usage of "Shariah compliant" words on the product documentation.  They seem to be wanting something more (or perhaps something else altogether).

The partial answer to this is not just through mass-media communication or through Shariah compliant labeling but through "actions". Concerted actions such as:

  • Brand Reputation-a planned strategic reputation management plan should be in place  in order to generate "trust" with the consumer. Such a plan would encompass all stakeholders of the (concerned) brand and provide them "information/knowledge" of how Islamic values actually make up the brand's work culture and philosophy and is of benefit to them.
  • Financial management education-for the consumer & the organisation's staff who interact with all the stakeholders (of the concerned brand). This education, primarily, would have to communicate the intrinsic "benefit" of an Islamic Financial product, again, stemming from the values of the brand. And thereby, re-position the entire competitive framework of evaluating an Islamic Financial product vs a conventional financial product.
  • Creating perception: By actively delivering on the values claimed on a daily basis through interaction.
  • Learning through listening: And being in the learning mode by listening to what the stakeholders are saying/asking with regards to their needs and involving them in the brand's development process.

Understanding Islamic values and utilising it in developing a strong brand identity, the growing pride of being a Muslim amongst the young and taking into account their social clout in terms of global connectivity through social media, are key in developing strong relationships with the global Muslim youth who would be the future life-time customers of the Islamic financial industry (see reference link).

Showing a strong understanding of Islamic values at a non-superficial level is vital for any brand that wishes to target Muslim consumers.  Displaying this understanding instead of pushing the brand's own values would aid tremendously in creating brand preference and a base for a strong customer relationship.

Your feedback and comments are very important to us, please feel free to contact the author  via email.

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