WHS: Marketing halal as a global phenomenon

download-150x98When a Muslim or non-Muslim consumer thinks of “Halal”, what immediately comes to mind? These are the types of considerations a business owner may ask.

Though it is crucial to a brand and a business, marketing in the Halal sphere is still considered to be behind the curve as compared to conventional marketing strategies.

At the fifth session of the Academics Forum, World Halal Summit (WHS 2015) held here at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, this issue was brought to fore to identify what could be done to change this; to encourage Halal to be marketed more effectively within the mainstream food market and to the world in general.

Describing Halal as a phenomenon, moderator Dr Jonathan (Bilal) A.J. Wilson from University of Greenwich said, “There is guidance from the Quran, the Hadith and our forefathers. But in this age of social media and hyper-interaction, things are changing at a speed much faster than before. We have to take that leap forward.”

“When you think of Halal, it’s now more than just about meat – it’s a global phenomenon; because the concept is applied to things beyond food,” added Dr Jonathan.

Halal Marketing is considered as something so new that most have never experienced it before. One of the panelists, Saber Khan, CEO of Ethnic Focus (UK) attempted to define Halal Marketing.

“Halal as a concept should not be seen as just transactional; it is actually transformational,” said Saber. “Halal certifiers can contribute to changing people’s lives. As such, we should be striving to convert Halal Marketing from merely a consumer branding exercise to one with a more lasting impact.”

To do so, he suggested looking at global brands as a yardstick, and see what is lacking in Halal Marketing. “Halal marketing does well in visibility and credibility for Muslims, but it falls short to engage-ability and resonance. So there’s much to be done,” Saber said.

Though Muslims believe “Halal is for everyone”, not everyone necessarily agrees. According Liow Ren Jan, Founder and CEO, AYS Sdn Bhd, simply marketing Halal products for Muslims will not guarantee sales.

“I worked with the No. 1 Halal brand in Malaysia, and thought it could be transposed to a neighbouring Muslim country, Indonesia,” recalled Liow. “We brought the product there and thought it would be an overnight success – it wasn’t. We missed out because even

though it’s a Halal product in this specific market, we didn’t apply the fundamental marketing mix.”

“Even within Muslims, there are segmentations,” added Liow. “Do you want to appeal to the conservative Muslim or the mass Muslim? If it is the mass, then apply the basic marketing principles.”

On this point, Saber explained that there is no such thing as a homogenous Muslim consumer, and there is no “one size fits all” solution even within the construct of Halal products and the Muslim market.

“Understand your consumer base,” said Saber. “Not everyone is going to buy into the Halal promise, even the Muslims themselves. See if there is a gap in your market, then see if there’s a market in that gap.”

On that point, he qualified it by saying: “Sometimes you cannot make too much of an effort in engaging Muslims; it can backfire when a company is trying too hard.”

He cited a study in the UK, where Muslims there were okay with a vegan or vegetarian logo placed on a renowned chocolate brand. “There is no substitute for research, as well as careful discussions with stakeholders and posing questions,” he said.