It's two weeks into Ramadan and I've had the pleasure of being asked countless times the somewhat poetic question: "Not even water?" Ahh, it brings joy to my soul (for those still a little confused – no, not even water).
So far in the most important month for more than four million British Muslims, my expectations of poor brand engagement have been confirmed. I've seen Ramadan initiatives across sectors from food to fashion fall short of potential, missing out on the huge opportunity during this massive moment in the British calendar.
It's important to remember that Ramadan, although characterised as a month of self-discipline and fasting, is also a month full of festivity. Shopping centres report footfall increases of up to 47% and supermarkets see this month driving multimillion-pound incremental value. And while brands are all too keen to capitalise on this opportunity and tap into the £35bn-plus "Muslim pound", their efforts more often than not look like a poor scramble or afterthought.
The reality is that brands are ignorant of their Muslim customers and their actual needs and demands. This ignorance results in half-hearted efforts that deliver a lukewarm impact, yet marketing or product teams feel pleased with themselves for executing a diverse campaign or initiative.
There is so much that can be done to engage with the ever-evolving British Muslim population and create a lasting relationship. So, with that in mind, here are my five top considerations for brands to heed before their next efforts at Ramadan or beyond.
1 Move beyond the 'immigrant' stereotype
Don’t get me started. Would you believe me if I told you half of the Muslim population is under 30, who are predominantly second- and third-generation Brits? Yet the majority of Ramadan initiatives seem like they’re talking to my aunty who came from Bangladesh five weeks ago (she didn’t, but still…you get my point).
The majority of a brand’s Muslim audience is most likely young with ambicultural identities that are both very strongly British and very strongly Muslim. Deep green colour palettes resembling the Pakistan flag should be a thing of the past, and countless lanterns or Arab-inspired illustrations are losing distinctiveness. To connect culturally during Ramadan and beyond, brands need to be clued up on the new cultural context of British Muslims and not just fall back on stereotypes.
2 Don’t be scared to represent
To really connect with Muslims during this period, be proud of them and represent them in all Ramadan touchpoints. Mainstream representation of Muslims is narrow and the regular Muslim is very rarely the face of public perception. This makes real and authentic representation much more important, because they’re hungry for engagement that really understands them. So, when it comes to casting, for the love of Allah, please include some representative models.
Getty Images did this when it teamed up with photographer Nina Manandhar on a photo series called The New Mods, capturing the next generation of Muslim women (pictured, above). And, this year, for our first M:LIFE project (a strategic division of ODD specialising in Muslim audiences), we helped F&F launch a social "Modest series", showcasing a modest take on F&F’s existing fashion lines. In less than a week, it became one of its top five most-engaged posts of the year and started a massive conversation by Muslim and non-Muslim women alike, with people applauding F&F for authentically engaging and taking steps to diversify its communications.
Muslims are ready and waiting to be spoken to, and with the right help and crafted narrative it’s a no-brainer and a guaranteed win.
3 Useful content that actually adds value
Brands don’t need to reinvent their wheel. Typically, Muslims are buying the same things as everyone else (providing it’s halal), but their customer journey can be drastically different given their religious requirements. Brands should look to alleviate those tension points not only to benefit from the commercial value, but to also become a trusted source for inspiration and solutions. This is where they can up their content game on social or in-store.
But one thing that’s really important to remember is that Muslims are not a homogenous group. Previously, brands have created content with no appreciation of the cultural diversity of Muslims across the globe, resulting in these efforts being labelled uninformed and ignorant. Any brand can become a real asset, from food to fashion to finance, but understanding its role and how and what to communicate is crucial.
4 Take your Muslim strategy beyond Ramadan
Earlier this year, we launched our study Modest Fashion: The Industry’s Best Kept Secret, and from our research we found a consistent theme of frustration that the Muslim conversation is isolated to Ramadan:
"We’re not just Muslims at Ramadan." Female, 19, Manchester
The bare minimum a brand should be doing is a Ramadan campaign, but Muslims want and expect more, since their lifestyle doesn’t exist for just one month a year. There’s so much a brand can do to engage and build rapport with Muslims, from content and inspiration to product development, and the current landscape presents a golden opportunity for brands to get ahead of the curve with their efforts.
5 Don’t go it alone
This is less of a consideration and more of a prerequisite. Brands need to understand that to communicate to an audience they’ve never effectively spoken to before, they need to look beyond their own four walls. To go it alone would be akin to asking a builder for medical advice. They need real insights and real consulting to understand the role of their brand in the Ramadan conversation and beyond, and how to communicate in a way the brand has a right to do. It’s not hard to get it right, but it’s very easy to get it wrong.
Arif Miah is a strategist at ODD