This is my first proper blog entry – so I think it’s worth outlining what I’ll try and use this blog for, and then reflecting upon some of my experiences over the past year or so.
I hope that I’ll be able to type an eclectic mix of thoughts, findings and questions; all designed to fulfil two simple objectives: (1) to capture the moment – preserving those things that pop into my head, and then more importantly, (2) write something which gets others’ brain cells working.
Having plied my trade at branding and marketing, as both a practitioner and academic; I’m hoping that I can balance what are arguably two similar, yet also different professional perspectives. One, which at its heart, attempts to create or satisfy, needs and wants. The other, which doesn’t necessarily have to deliver on either of those – instead seeks to encourage erudition over all else.
The reason that I think both are crucial, especially in connection with any marketing, which has to share a close relationship with faith and religion, is that: there are so many snakes and ladders, and grey areas. And more importantly, if we are practicing what we preach, key elements are outside of our control and in the hands of God. Whilst as a marketer, I’m a believer in creative problem solving, pragmatism and calculated risk-taking; in matters of divinity, treading carefully and saying ‘I’m not sure’ also does no harm.
From this, maybe you’ll sense that I’m not an advocate for ‘one-stop shop’ solutions, or ‘one size fits all’. My feeling is that Muslim Consumer Behaviour, halal Branding and other commercially rooted conspicuous consumption activities: fluctuate, have seasons, fads, fashions; and in short – change dynamically.
For example: Amongst the early Muslims, there was a scholarly difference of opinion about whether making copies of the Qur’an should remain a voluntary activity, or one where scribes should be paid and the copies that they produced could be sold. Concerns were that if all of this became a commercial activity, it would take away from the value of the Qur’an.
In tandem, the landscape has moved much further on and education is something that comes with a price tag – as opposed to idyllic pictures of wise old sages, offering their knowledge to the community, gratis: as charity, a means of spiritual purification, and a safeguard against the tarnishing of knowledge. Now its commonplace to pay in order to study and become qualified in business – as opposed to simply ‘doing’ business. As an extension of this thinking, doing business with Muslims and in an Islamic manner has become a field of specialism within the mainstream. In this past year, I’ve had the opportunity to attend conferences dealing specifically with Islamic Marketing and Branding, and share my work at: Oxford Saïd Business School, University of Malaya, and University of United Arab Emirates. Also last year, Emerald Publishing Group launched the academic Journal of Islamic Marketing, which I was invited onto the Editorial Board for. So, personally I have seen quite a few changes in marketing, over the past couple of years.
Prior to this, many academics and practitioners, in business and management, saw these matters as merely being ethnic, theological, cultural – and therefore perhaps too niche. I would also argue that these observations apply both to Muslims and non-Muslims. Cynically, you could argue that Muslims have now been identified as liking ‘meat and money’ – and so are meal tickets. Perversely, perhaps there is an acknowledgement that these hungry Muslims may turn nasty if we don’t feed their needs. Any which way, there are interesting debates to be had, but ultimately for a Muslim should these matter, if what goes around comes around, and God has the final say?
It appears now that there is a paradigm shift back towards a religious renaissance – where there is more of an acknowledgement that many of these Islamic neo-spiritual matters are intricately woven and inseparable from business. Furthermore, the idea that especially outside of Europe and North America, that religion and national identity are almost interchangeable and uniform constructs, appears short sighted.
As a case in practice, I was watching the Snooker World Championship the other day and saw a glimpse of Rory McLeod. As a self-confessed member of the new generation who watches TV and googles at the same time, I did just that. “Yep, I thought so – the beard was a giveaway”: he’s a Muslim; he’s English, Jamaican parentage; and now lives in Qatar. The press writes about the role of his faith and the challenges he’s faced as the only black professional on the circuit. So, as a marketer I’d tell you that this is all rich and useful data, which provides the bedrock of numerous segmentation strategies.
Now – if you go down the isles of major supermarket chains you’ll see that this sort of phenomenon isn’t just akin to one or two people, there is a sizable portion of consumers with such rich and varied traits. A way of tracking this would be to look at the duplication of certain food products. They could appear on the shelves of the ethnic section, halal section, and mainstream food type section – all at the same time. So I wonder whether this is a clever marketing ploy; or just because supermarkets are hedging their bets? Either way, we are in an age of hybridization and hyphenated-selves. And if you ask any of those hybrids out there, whether they’re easier to please, because they have varied tastes, they’ll probably say ‘no’.
Furthermore, this acquisition of cultural complexity doesn’t appear to be a zero-sum game– it’s wealth creation. So, I would argue that questions such as: ‘British Muslim, or Muslim in Britain?’ or ‘Does the fact that English born citizens, of Asian origin, who choose to support India at cricket, make them less British?’…are pretty much nonsensical, or ill-conceived constructs, from a marketing perspective. People are situation specific and respond to their environment. And, it’s quite probable that people may respond to the same environment in a different way on a different day. This is one of the key areas that I hope to explore in my blog, with future postings.
So, if we look at the Muslim market of hybrid behaviour and hyphenated-selves, the journey I hope to take you on with this blog is: rather than the ‘What is’ and ‘Why’… for me it’s all about the ‘What happens when’ and ‘how it could change the future’.