Islamic branding: Is Bangladesh ready to cash in?

Mishu Rahman

THE world is slowly but surely realising the importance of the “halal” branding as major companies around the world move in to capture a global Muslim community, where the “ummah” brings together nearly 1.8 billion people around the world.

The majority of those people are in Asia, particularly South and East Asia. It’s also a very young demographic — 52% are under 24. This means a trend-setting, ambitious, and internationally connected market is at hand here.

“The third one billion market” after China and India has attracted a lot of attention given its economic potential. The gathering momentum is obvious with leading international banking giants creating HSBC Amanah and Standard Chartered’s first “saadiq” Visa gold card to Ogilvy and Mather’s May 2010 launching of Ogilvy Noor, “offering expert, practical advice on how to build brands that appeal to Muslim consumers, globally.”

This all shows how the western world and a global audience are taking the Market of Islam seriously.

The Saïd Business School, Oxford University, will host its inaugural Islamic branding and marketing forum in July 2010. The forum aims to bring together over 250 business leaders, branding and marketing experts and thought leaders to discuss the key issues that face this growing market.

According to the Pew Research Center a comprehensive demographic study of more than 200 countries finds that the market for Shariah-compliant products or services totals $2 trillion annually and is growing by $500 million annually.

Only 20% of the 1.8 billion Muslim population belong to the Arab world, with the majority in growing Asian economies that carry Muslim values and are open to adopting hi-tech lifestyles at par with any western country.

No wonder, therefore, that there is massive interest amongst non-Muslim owned companies about how to enter and penetrate this global market, which spans many industries, including finance, food and beverage, cosmetics, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, logistics, tourism, fashion, and others.

The halal appeal, depending largely on core values, calls for consumers to trust the authenticity and cleanliness of the product, and thus, draws on a brand loyalty which will be difficult to shake off — it’s a brand builder’s dream tool it seems!

At the 6th World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) in Malaysia this month, leaders of a diverse political, economic and ethnic arena agreed on the strength of the Islamic branding and the need to cash in on the significant interest it is generating in the world today.

Bahrain’s Ethmaar Bank’s vice-chief pointed out that when the Islamic finance history will be written in the future, two non-Muslim names will be featured as its biggest drivers, instead of any Muslim individual.

One individual is Britain’s former Prime Minister Gordon Brown who pioneered plans to make Britain the most Islam-friendly nation in the world and London a global centre for Islamic finance.

The other is French finance minister Christine Lagarde who announced France’s intentions to make Paris the capital of Islamic finance.

Islamic countries have always worked more than conventional banking counterparts in regulating and tightening the industry specially after a crisis, and in today’s global economy reeling from financial meltdown, the relevance of Islamic finance has gone up in leaps and bounds.

Even the Duke of York Prince Andrew, speaking at the WIEF said that there is no scope to stay aloof and not share ideas and best practices of Islamic finance with a global audience to avoid another meltdown in future.

He also said that the new UK Islamic Finance Secretariat (the first Islamic finance trade body in the UK), was launched at the end of March to promote and develop Islamic finance in the UK further, with 22 Islamic banks already operational, 20 Sukuk issues in the London Stock Exchange and 20 law firms in London providing specialist services on Islamic finance in London.

Bangladesh has seen how the “halal” branding can appeal to our local market when in the mid 90s the halal soap concept threw a leading international soap brand into dire straits.

Islamic finance started off in the early 90s in Bangladesh. However, the industry suffers from a lack of unified Shariah rulings, absence of an Islamic inter-bank money market , absence of courses in universities on Islamic financial products, shortage of skilled personnel who are well-versed in the complexities of this specific sector, and difficulty in identification of Shariah-compliant production and service chains are holding back potential of local financial institutions, local manufacturers, and service providers from signing up on this new economic wave.

Bangladesh has been working with Malaysia’s Halal Development Corporation and other partners of the D-8 (eight developing Islamic countries) for a few years now, without much result.

A halal certification board, whether locally set up or integrated with OIC standards, could bolster our access to export markets. Bangladesh is frequently cited in global summits for its success in micro-finance and the success of economists from Bangladesh in changing the way the global economy will be shaped in the future.

Yet we are failing to set more such success milestones in bringing about great case studies in halal products and services production, marketing and distribution, while Japan, Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, China and India are fast setting up infrastructure, guidelines and facilitative bodies to cash in on the Islamic branding potential.

Surely, the local market and export market combined, and with eager non-residents waiting for investment opportunities that build bridges, our economy needs to arm itself with all necessary platforms and guidelines immediately to move on to “greener” pastures

source : daily star

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