Thursday, 24 December 2009

"Blue Ocean Strategy" Da'wah

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

When we speak of da’wah, we are marketing a product.  The product is an ideology, a religion, a faith.  It is Islam.  That being so, it is only logical that we apply some sort of marketing strategy to sell this product.  We believe that we have the best of products.  And so, we must have the best of marketing strategies.  The people we ‘sell’ this product to are the target demographic.  This entails searching for ways to attain market leadership.  There are three types of market leadership: best product innovation; lowest overall cost; and best customer intimacy.  It is recorded in Swahih al-Bukhari that ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Amr (r.a.) narrated that the Prophet (s.a.w.) said, “Convey from me, even if it is one verse.”  This is our duty.

It is impractical to work towards market leadership in product innovation since religion by its very nature has a creed and a foundation for the system of beliefs.  There can be no innovation in fiqh al-‘ibadah.  That would be bid’ah adh-dhalalah.  We can only innovate in the da’wah process to a degree but we must still stay true to the sunnah.  This is Allah’s (s.w.t.) Work.  We are only the Instruments.  We cannot be too smart in this.  The idea of market leadership in lowest overall cost is irrelevant.  Unless we are speaking of the opportunity cost in terms of time and effort.  However, tweaking the conversion process is another issue altogether.  Therefore, the focus has to be on customer intimacy.  This is essentially a converts’ follow-up programme.

Here, we introduce the “Blue Ocean Strategy” of marketing philosophy.  Firstly, it was developed indigenously at INSEAD.  That would make it most suitable for a local market.  Secondly, we are drawn to the paradigm shift of re-looking the target demographic from a different point of view.  Firstly, let us understand several reasons why this is needed.

Over 70% of Singapore is Chinese.  Of those, 40% of them are Buddhist.  Over a decade back, perhaps 70% of the Chinese in Singapore used to be Taoist.  So, who is doing the real da’wah successfully?  These numbers are not secret; they are there on the Department of Statistics site.  And yet, despite this, most of our da’wah training and material focuses on the Caucasian Christian.  The Muslim community has been bound by the colonial mindset.

The conversion numbers have held steady over the last decade since I converted.  In real terms, however, this is a decrease since the population of Singapore in terms of residents, not citizens, has increased tremendously.  From a business point of view, Islam has lost market share.  If we say that 60% of the conversions are non-resident foreigners, this means in real terms, the number of Singaporean residents becoming Muslims is even smaller.  Furthermore, if we take into consideration the fact that a substantial proportion of the non-resident foreigners are already Muslims and are only converting at Darul Arqam Singapore for the conversion card, that means the overall market share drops even further.

Religions by ethnic groups in Singapore, based on the 2000 census

Religious Distribution, 2010 Census

The problem with Muslims all over the world is that they are always talking about how things were.  The so-called da’wah forums spend too much time splitting hairs and trying to do things the old way.  Nothing changes.  It atrophies the mindset.   Islam itself was a revolution and rebellion against the old ways of polytheism, ignorance and tribalism when it came.  Those are the values we should keep - a rebellion against doing things because that was the ‘way of our forefathers…’

“Blue Ocean Strategy” is the idea of creating a whole new market instead of competing in existing ones.  The idea being that in an existing marketing mindset, the Red Ocean, all the sharks are in a feeding frenzy.  Gaining market share means taking it away from your rivals.  It is a zero-sum game.  All the time, the market is shrinking.  By discovering a whole new ocean, we have redefined the entire market.  And that can only be done by re-looking everything.  Not only do we win, but we have to ensure that the customer wins.  Not only must we capture the market, but we must grow the market.

“Blue Ocean Strategy” is a business strategy book written by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne of INSEAD, that promotes creating new market space or "Blue Ocean" rather than competing in an existing industry.  It contains retrospective case studies of business success stories the authors claim were Blue Ocean Strategies.  Unfortunately, they are relatively weak in showing conclusive data with regards business application.  But the strategy fits in with our line of thinking.  And is adequate for what we do.

The second part of the strategy requires creating strategies to ensure that both the business - in this case, the da’wah - and their customers win as the company creates new business terrain.  We have to deal with the notion of maximising the size of the “Blue Ocean” and of creating the greatest market of new demand.  We have to demonstrate unconventional ways to achieve aggregated demand by not focusing on the differences that separate customers, but by building on commonalities across non-customers to maximise the size of the “Blue Ocean”.  After coming up with the means to successfully execute a “Blue Ocean Strategy”, it is essential to ensure that the strategic plans do not fail because of poor execution of brilliant ideas.  It makes sure that after managers invest lots of effort and lots of time in strategy formulation, they do not deliver tactical red ocean moves.

The idea is about creating unconventional success - termed “Blue Ocean Strategy” as opposed to the “Red Ocean Strategy”, the conventional approach to business of beating competition derived from military organizations.  The “Blue Ocean Strategy” tries to align innovation with utility, price and cost positions.  We, therefore, reject the phenomena of conventional choice between product, meaning Islam, and service, meaning conversion, differentiation and lower cost, but rather suggest that both differentiation and lower costs are achievable simultaneously.

Taking a look at our da’wah tools, it is apparent that we have not managed to maximize the market penetration by fully utilising tools Muslim organisations in Singapore have a relatively low web footprint.  They do not have dedicated YouTube channels, no proper use of social networking beyond the rudimentary and little idea how to market themselves, their products and services online properly.  Whilst there are many events since the Muslim community is vibrant, many of them do not actually target to non-Muslims or converts.  There are no da’wah campaigns where events, catchment programmes and follow-up programmes are linked into a cohesive whole.

The product is Islam.  We can be said to be selling after-life insurance.  We cannot be bogged down by the mindset of an established minority that is almost culturally homogeneous.  Muslims do not have the monopoly of Salvation.  I have heard that as a Catholic.  I did not buy it then.  I do not buy it know.  It precludes Allah’s (s.w.t.) Mercy to condemn for an Eternity any soul by accident of the lottery of organised religion.  Allah’s (s.w.t.) Grace is Infinite.  Islam is the best product.  But Christians are the best ummah in terms of good works.  Muslims are too busy claiming they are they are the best ummah to do anything to show it.  And that is the product.

The service we are talking about is the process of discovering Islam.  Islam as the way of life, as a Path in the Road of Return; not Islam as in Malay culture or Arab culture or whatever the culture of the majority.  We are talking about the introduction to Islam as religion, as an intellectual force, a spiritual phenomenon but more importantly, as an enlightened way of life.  The majority of the guides must, of necessity, be of people who have taken that route before.  Converts themselves as far as possible in many cases.  The conversion itself should not be the end of the service.  There is the after service package, our converts’ follow-up.  This is the lifetime warranty.  Converting to Islam is tough.  Staying a Muslim is even tougher.

So, how do we define the market?  We may look at it from two ways.  On one hand, we have the non-Muslims.  For too long, much of our discourses with regards to interfaith dialogue and da’wah have consciously or unconsciously been geared towards addressing the Christian and the Jews.  We still have the colonial mindset.  In some of our talks, our videos, our seminars focus on the Caucasian and the Judeo-Christian religion.  In some ways, we are still banging on the gates of Vienna with the rest of the Turkish hordes when there are so many other open fields elsewhere.

In a Singapore context, the focus should be on the Chinese.  They make up the majority of the population.  They have a history of interaction with Islam going back more than a thousand years.  The Chinese converted to Islam long before Islam came to the Malay Archipelago.  Changing our religion does not mean changing our ethnic identity and rejecting our culture.  So why are we still having talks and seminars talking about the Christian efforts to convert Muslims to the Cross?  Religion is an open door.  It is all about Taste.  We spend too much time worrying about the Christians trying to give us Bibles.  There is a whole, new, virtually untapped market there.  And that is why we have to have more people able to speak Mandarin, Hokkien and Teochew in addition to English.

Also, it is important to note that the majority of people contemplate change in the cusp of adulthood before they become established members of society.  In the Singapore context, this should be between 21 years old to 25 years old.  Any younger and they are not able to make a mature decision and any older and the thinking tends to become ossified.  The agents of change have to be introduced within this period.  Conversion itself may take place later.

Even if people do not convert, they develop a friendship and respect for the religion.  We need all the Karen Armstrong’s and John Esposito’s we can get.  These people are able to speak truths about Islam that a Muslim scholar may not without severe repercussions.  What has been done is put a pulse on the bottleneck.  In every process of change, in every campaign, in every fad or idea wave, there is a tipping point where a wave becomes avalanche.  We have to identify the point where the dam breaks.


4 comments:

  1. Harlequin - there is a religious blue ocean in SG. That would be the 14.8% of the population that have "no religion". This group is bigger than either all the Muslims or all the Christians. There is no need for us to convert Christians or Buddhists away from their current beliefs, there are more than enough people who do not subscribe to any belief. We must re-tweak our messaging towards convincing this group that they need religion, and that religion is Islam.

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  2. Assalamu'Alaikum,

    You're correct. I was going through all the statistics and recalculating the numbers and I missed that part (it was on the back of the sheet).

    Did an extrapolation up to 2010 based on the graph sow e will have a larger Muslim population due to demographic growth and a larger non-affiliated demographic due to immigration and other factors.

    Wassalam

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  3. Assalamualaikum

    I was wondering whether you guys are doing street dawah in Singapore. I would to join and learn from you guys.

    Or do you know of any groups in Singapore doing dawah on the streets?

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    Replies
    1. Wa 'Alaykum as-Salaam,

      Street da'wah would contravene the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act. Hence we have to be creative and do it other ways. There is no real da'wah agency in Singapore. Hence we tend to do it our way.

      Wa as-Salaam

      Delete

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