Over 22 years of being a marketing specialist in the Middle East, I have frequently found myself wondering why some aspects of marketing, particularly the annual events and celebrations, haven’t really evolved much in terms of creative approaches and innovation.
Case in point: Ramadan campaigns. With the season fast approaching, now is a good time to consider some ‘common sense’ fixes – and even some uncommon approaches – that, as a business owner, CMO or marketing executive, will hopefully get you to see Ramadan marketing in a new (moon)light.
It goes without saying that the ninth month in the Islamic calendar is of great spiritual, cultural and social importance to Muslims around the world. Of course, as with anything of such significance, businesses rely greatly on the patronage of those celebrating the Holy Month’s cultural and religious aspects – ironically, however, little effort is made to differentiate their offerings, or even to market themselves intelligently. Seasonal campaigns tend to rely heavily on stereotypical approaches that are often outdated and fail to resonate with modern, well informed and innovation-hungry customers. From the excessive use of gaudy moons and lanterns to generic images of Arab families sharing traditional meals, it is often hard to distinguish one campaign from the other or to find offers that truly inspire and engage.
This unfortunate lack of creativity and originality indicates a gap in understanding the many interesting facets and traditions of the month, and the ‘unexplored’ sub-sections of the larger audience. Today, I want to focus on moving away from obsolete approaches by discussing:
- Ways to effectively incorporate the ‘spirit of Ramadan’ in your offering
- Ways to differentiate your Ramadan marketing strategy, and stay away from typical and overused approaches
- Targeted marketing to audiences that are not top-of-mind, potentially even some ‘new’ ones
It’s that time of year again, before you know
Businesses most often develop Ramadan marketing campaigns reactively, mostly due to last-minute planning that leaves little room for careful consideration of the crucial details. Avoid falling into this trap, and think in advance about the time of year Ramadan will arrive – and that’s the really easy bit. It’s important to take the time to come up with an offer or promotional idea that aligns with your brand values and marketing strategy, so that it doesn’t seem disconnected from your brand and your other marketing initiatives.
Set aside enough time to think through your strategy and execute it. One way to make this happen is to ensure you are tracking the year-on-year progress of your Ramadan campaigns. For instance, you might use tools such as Hubspot and Hootsuite to assess the social media engagement, patterns, trends and insights from past years, and to separate what worked from what didn’t. This allows you to be more intentional in the development of your Ramadan marketing, focusing on your strengths rather than simply assuming scenarios, or reacting to what you think customers expect or to what ‘everyone else’ is doing.
Let ‘value’ align with ‘values’
A useful way to gauge the attractiveness of any marketing strategy is to consider this: does the value that you are offering align with your customers’ values? Also, does it align with your own?
An important value that many businesses overlook is giving, or generosity. Since fasting itself is (in one way) an act of solidarity with the poor, Muslims during this month especially reflect on their contributions to the less fortunate during Ramadan. Embrace simple initiatives, like donating part of your sales to charitable causes such as Emirates Red Crescent, or if you are a restaurant, commit to minimising food waste and donating the excess to charity. This could speak directly to your audience’s values – especially the values of millennials, who tend to have a high degree of social consciousness.
The focus on tradition and community are also important to consider. For example, does your retail store offer customers dates and water or traditional beverages to break their fast? Does your travel agency consider Eid packages for Muslims to destinations that are close to historic mosques? Does your event venue allow families or friends to gather and socialise in an inviting atmosphere that allows easy conversation? As a restaurant, can you incorporate any modern interpretations of traditional dishes in your menu? If yes, what are you doing to communicate this? Isn’t this fodder for your social media calendar?
Finally, a lot of campaigns struggle to balance the celebratory aspects of Ramadan with its more solemn aura. An extravagant tone should be avoided, because it’s important to consider religious sensitivity. Also avoid being overtly sales-y, which might be perceived as being out of sync with the season’s deeper significance.
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Don’t be afraid to be different
For example, if your restaurant traditionally serves Asian or European cuisine, how can you market that in Ramadan when many customers in the Middle East prefer – and expect – traditional Khaleeji or Levantine meals? Perhaps you could create a fusion of ingredients and styles that put a new twist on Iftar and Suhour dishes. Consider ‘Iftar and Suhour fatigue’, which has many consumers tired of consuming the same cuisine every day; they’d obviously welcome something different. In fact, another way to be more appealing is to offer something different every day – think Moroccan on Monday, Tunisian on Tuesday and so on – or if that is not possible, perhaps market a different culinary theme every week, to give your patrons a reason to return.
To succeed with this approach, your campaign should aim to build excitement and intrigue around what sets you apart, ideally like an unravelling story that’s related across social and digital media. Importantly, your visuals and copy should, as much as possible, interpret Ramadan in creative, innovative and new ways, rather than lazily resorting to using the moon and lanterns, and unimaginative old ways of describing the season’s significance.
Be accurate and consistent
Losing your customers’ trust by using inaccurate depictions of your offering is obviously ill-advised. If the setting of your restaurant’s Iftar meal is not defined by ornate lanterns and Persian carpets, steer clear of such visual and language depictions, no matter how ‘authentic’ they might seem. Don’t use a colour palette or style in your visuals that differs significantly from what customers will experience at the point of sale or at the point of the promised experience. Translated materials, which are especially important in countries such as those in the GCC, where many languages are spoken across expat and tourist populations, should be carefully developed to ensure that the offer or promotion is accurately and evocatively communicated.
Broaden your horizons
Often, Ramadan campaigns appear to appeal to some notion of ‘typical Muslim’ who, honestly, doesn’t exist. While it is important to engage a Muslim audience, there can be value in connecting with the diverse sensibilities of Muslims, from the traditional Ramadan foods they tend to enjoy (which differ from country to country), to the kind of familial experiences they seek.
Moreover, especially in a more diverse cultural context, it can also be a good strategy to target non-Muslim residents and tourists who may be keen to experience the cultural side of Ramadan. Explore opportunities to target these sub-sections of your larger audience, through targeted initiatives via limited but focused campaigns, ideally translated in the most widely-spoken languages in this segment. Using statistics on the local population and tourist traffic can also help determine who to target.
There’s a lot more that can be done differently, no doubt, and I’d love to hear your own views and ideas on how to market Ramadan more intelligently. If you found this post helpful, connect with me for similar thinking and insights on marketing with real meaning.
About Leonard Rego: First as creative director and key strategist at various international agencies, and then as Founder and CEO of Eleven777 Design & Advertising since 2007, Leonard has been a tireless torch-bearer for marketing with meaning. While organisations and brands are happy to (often inexpertly) leverage the ‘next big thing’ in marketing, Leonard asks what lies at the heart of those motivations: mere profit and growth for growth’s sake, or the nurturing of a true connection with their audience – the only real marketing legacy there is. He firmly believes that brand integrity, and not brand equity, should be the goal, because the latter is the result of the former. Integrity ought to lie at the core of any marketing effort, because that alone is sustainable in these rapidly evolving times.
At Eleven777, Leonard is actively engaged in overseeing various key branding and marketing initiatives for Emaar Hospitality, Emaar Properties, 3M Middle East, Messe Frankfurt, dubizzle, Hertz and a number of other regional and international brands. His unique ability lies in being able to identify, very rapidly, a brand’s ‘why’, and in then expressing it as a story that wins hearts and minds.
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