A guest at the American Muslim Consumer Conference speaks to a Saffron Road representative in the vendor area. Saffron Road handed out coupons for its halal frozen food line. Photo courtesy of AMCC.
American Muslims have a spending power of $172 billion, and are the 4th largest multicultural segment in the U.S. On a global scale, the halal market alone represents $3 trillion globally, and Muslims make up 10% of total travel expenditure. With notable statistics like these, the annual American Muslim Consumer Conference serves as a platform to address the needs of this growing consumer community by raising awareness and encouraging dialogue ways that brands can engage American Muslims.
This year’s conference was held on October 29, 2011 in New Brunswick, NJ. Even as snow fell in the region, the conference drew approximately 250 attendees, with most attending for the first time, and featured companies as diverse as the American Muslim consumer itself, from food to finance to clothing to entertainment. A live twitter feed with the AMCC hashtag was often shown on the screens, featuring the breadth of the audience and the high level of interest and engagement from the audience.
The morning started off with a presentation from a research and advisory firm focused on emerging Muslim markets, Dinar Standard. CEO Rafi-Uddin Shikoh presented the results from the American Muslim Consumer Advocacy Survey, providing insights on the demographics of American Muslim consumers as well as their demands, satisfaction levels and consumer experiences.
The study highlighted the diverse demographics of American Muslim consumers, the majority being young, middle class and first generation immigrants and also found that to increase brand loyalty among this consumer segment, companies should increase access to halal products and acknowledge Muslim holidays.
The next morning session, titled, “Segmenting the Multicultural Market for Targeting Precision: Focus on the American Muslim Consumer” featured a vibrant panel including marketing representatives from high-profile brands, such as Best Buy and Wal-Mart.
The panel used examples from marketing to other multicultural groups, such as Hispanics and African-Americans, to draw parallels with the emerging Muslim consumer market. Manny Palomo, strategic marketing and communications director for Best Buy, talked about the company’s outreach efforts to Hispanic consumer and in particular, engaging the matriarchs of the Hispanic family, the mothers and grandmothers, in product marketing.
Also on the panel was Sarab Al-Jijakli of Ogilvy and Mather, a worldwide marketing and communications firm, home of Ogilvy Noor, the world’s first Islamic branding practice, that sponsored the conference last year. He highlighted research from Ogilvy & Mather on Muslim consumers. Using a “chicken soup” analogy to counter the popular melting pot and salad bowl descriptions of American society, he voiced the need for brands to understand the sub-groups that make up the American Muslim population in order to effectively target and market to this population.
Gwen Kelly, senior marketing director at Wal-Mart encouraged brands to be more open and curious and applauded the efforts of those who have begun to reach out to Muslims. She also acknowledged the rich potential of American Muslims and stated, “There’s nothing minority about a consumer market that adds value and billions of dollars to consumers. The only color that matters is green,” she said, to much applause from the audience.
Representatives from Halal food companies made up the next panel focused on Halal food and finance, including Adnan Durrani, CEO of American Halal Company, which makes Saffron Road products. Durrani spoke about the Whole Foods-Saffron Roads partnership, specifically their rapid response efforts in reaction to Islamophobe backlash to in-store Ramadan promotion this year. He mentioned that even in the face of dissent from racial bloggers, Whole Foods did not “turn the other cheek” and back down. As well, there was a public outpouring of support for the Ramadan promotion from non-Muslim Whole Food shoppers. “We picked a retailer that identified with the consumer,” Durrani said. “We don’t even say the word Islam or Muslim on the packaging of our products – we want to be welcoming and inclusive.”
The conference also featured the presentation of the Multicultural Award, presented this year to Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide and received by Nazia Hussain, Director of Cultural Strategy, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide and Head of Strategy, Ogilvy Noor. The award was presented in recognition of Ogilvy Noor’s landmark report, “A little empathy goes a long way: How brands can engage the American Muslim consumer,” authored by Hussain. “Last year, we said we needed empathy. This year, I think what we need is courage. We need companies to have courage…to have the courage and the confidence to deal with the backlash that may incur,” she voiced.
The afternoon session focused on the Muslim lifestyle market – moderated by Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, author of Green Deen, and featuring Kamran Pasha, a screenwriter and director in Hollywood. Pasha recounted his experiences entering the acting field and Hollywood, and much to his surprise, the reticence and criticism he received from fellow Muslims. Even when faced with bigotry in Hollywood, Pasha encouraged the audience to persevere to continue to break into the entertainment industry; one guest asked whether Hollywood was ready for a hijabi actress.
Another panel member, Maria Embrahimji, Director & Executive Editorial Producer at CNN Worldwide Ebrahimji and co-author of the book, “I Speak for Myself,” recounted her childhood growing up in the South, including facing an identity crisis. She encouraged entrepreneurs and attendees to engage in storytelling and to “own their own narrative” especially when pitching to media. Also on the panel was Fazal Bahardeen, founder of Cresentrating.com, a rating system for Halal-friendly travel, who encouraged Muslims to speak up and ask for Halal food and other accommodations when travelling.
As is tradition at AMCC, the final session was an entrepeneurship showcase, where emerging Muslim companies present their business plans in front of a panel of judges. This year’s showcase featured Good Earth Potato, a Halal healthy fast food franchise, Natruseential, a direct sales company of earth-friendly, health and wellness products, Modern Eid, an online resource for party and gift products for the Eid holiday, and Salik Productions, which develops Islamic applications for mobile devices, including the popular MyQuran app.
For more information on the conference, visit http://americanmuslimconsumer.com/.