Understand a market before trying to engage it

Don't leave a chip on your Muslim market's shoulder
7/20/2015

A recent gaffe by UK retailer Tesco generated the kind of buzz you want to avoid when setting out to engage a niche market. Both Pringles and Tesco had the best of intentions with a “Ramadan Mubarak” POS display at an East London store. A minor oversight, however, lead to the display being stacked with “Smokey Bacon” flavored Pringles. For those not up to speed, Ramadan is the holiest month of the Islamic lunar calendar. The consumption of pork is explicitly forbidden in Islam. While some could argue the chips are artificially flavoured and are therefore suitable for vegetarians, many Muslim consumers— clearly the target for this POS effort— weren’t as impressed. It’s a classic case of retailers trying to engage a market before truly understanding it. In the case of Canada’s Muslim market, however, the need for greater understanding is as dire as it is lucrative. Few markets have consumption patterns as clearly defined by religion as the Muslim population. The Islamic “Halal” code influences the purchase of a vast range of consumer goods, from food to cosmetics. Furthermore, as is often the case with religious populations, the market spans a broad range of ethnicities: mainly Arabs, Persians, Africans and South Asians— some of the fastest-growing immigrant populations in Canada. It is partly why Islam ranks as the fastest growing religion in Canada, with over a million Muslims residing in the country. Advertising to the Muslim community allows for broader, cost-effective targeting across ethnic and language-based groups. The fact that clusters of Canada’s Muslim population can be isolated geographically (over half of them live in Ontario), also allows for more effective ad spends in geo-targeted neighborhoods. Before setting out to connect with Muslim consumers, however, it is apt to consider if your business is even right for the market. Businesses that rely heavily on alcohol sales (bars, pubs, liquor stores) or eateries that feature pork products are obvious rule-outs. In some other cases, small tweaks to your product can make it apt for Muslim consumers. Fast food outlets such as Popeyes Chicken and Hero Burger have attracted Muslim patronage by sourcing their meats from Halal-compliant sources, while financial institutions, such as RBC, offer Islamic Banking products, which consider alternatives to interest income (forbidden in Islam). For products that are a fit for the market, Halal certifying authorities such as HMA and ISNA allow for greater assurance to consumers when purchasing your product. Being certified Halal also allows you to leverage greater word-of-mouth within a community that’s always on the look-out for Halal product options. Most importantly, it is critical to educate your front-line about the market that you’re selling to. This includes waiters, financial advisers, CSRs, social media community managers, anyone that speaks to consumers on behalf of your business. Equip them to answer basic questions about ingredients and process, which products are suitable for Muslim consumers and which ones aren’t. Not only will this avoid faux pas like Tesco’s “Ramadan Mubarak” POS error, your Muslim consumers will be more likely to trust your brand and tell others about it, too. It is at this stage you are most likely to generate optimum efficiency from any mass advertising to this population. Ramadan/Eid campaigns are a fantastic way to garner goodwill with a rapidly growing market, but as with any niche, it is only worthwhile once your brand has laid the groundwork to truly engage the people you hope to attract as customers.

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