IT has been a while since I have eaten supper at 11pm. To the western foreigners, supper in Malaysia means another full meal after dinner. The habit of having supper was prevalent in the old days when family dinners was usually done by 6pm hence being hungry again to have the last meal for the day, supper at late night hours.
Like old times, my childhood friends, Jon, Leo and I had a late supper of hokkien mee and oyster omelette in Paramount Garden. After explaining to them about the potential of the halal market, our discussion veered towards our Malay school friends. Ashraf with the untidy afro hair, the neatly attired Razak with the Arabic facial features and Abdul Hadi, one of our top badminton players in school. All three of our “cool” Malay buddies speak and write perfect English.
When I was in Form 6 Arts, half my classmates were Malay. As I was poor in memorising facts, I avoided History and Geography and took up English Literature and Malay Literature (which had only two Chinese students).
Iskandar Zulkarnian was the only Malay student to take up English Literature at STPM level and he was given a scholarship by ITM to study English in the US when he had a principal pass. Such was a rare Malay talent in the English language some 40 years ago.
My other classmate Mus Chairil was like me, a La Salle PJ thoroughbred (of 13 students) who studied from Standard One to Upper Six. The last I heard of Mus, he was working as an Editor with either Utusan Melayu or Berita Harian. I have lost all contacts with most of my Malay classmates since we left school.
It is kind of funny now to call them Malay friends as I remember back in school, I only know of them as Ash, Razak, Iskandar and Mus. We were all race blind and it did not matter what race you were.
You will be subject to ridicule because you were fat, skinny, short, tall, slow or dim-witted and not because you are a Malay, Indian or Chinese.
The only racial slur that I suffered was when my English Lit teacher, Mrs T.T. Chung admonished me for speaking like a Chinaman in her English class. This reprimand did spur me to study hard and thanks to her, my distinction in her paper helped me secure a place in Universiti Malaya.
Despite La Salle PJ being a Catholic school managed by Christian brothers, I was never pressured in school to join Christianity. Every week, we would have a class where Christians attend bible studies, Muslims attend Islamic studies and atheists like me will attend moral class.
The only compulsory tenet that all students had to learn was Rukun Negara (National Principles). We were drilled non-stop to memorise the five principles of Rukun Negara and I never realised the significance of the philosophy behind this tenet until now. How the Rukun Negara helped this multi-racial country achieved unity and harmony.
Being a marketing student all my life, I have been taught to segment markets by age, income and race. Racial profiling in marketing is important as there are distinct consumer behaviours due to cultural differences and communication strategies involve multi-language campaigns.
Back then consumer profiling based on religion was normally restricted to halal food and beverages.
There has been a tremendous shift in consumer profiling in recent years. Since 65% of our population are Muslims, religion and race have been given more weightage in marketing strategies due to the increasing Islamisation in consumer behaviour. Demand for halal products have extended beyond food and beverage to apparel, headwear, cosmetics etc.
Travel services for Muslims have experienced exponential growth similar to takaful insurance, syariah banking and syariah-compliant investment products. Mass market entrepreneurs should heed this major market shift if you want to stay relevant. Sustainability depends on coverage of total market where halal and syariah-compliant products will have a dominant share.
The other major shift is language of communication. Over the last 20 years, our school education system has evolved into three distinct vernacular model. The national type school graduates speak only Malay, Chinese school graduates speak only Mandarin and the private schools in urban centres produce English-speaking graduates.
As these three types of schools are mutually exclusive in terms of language, you will have to communicate separately with each market in their vernacular language. E-commerce sites will have to be duplicated in the three languages if you do not want to miss out on any market segment.
Astro and Media Prima have been investing in unique and original entertainment programmes in both Malay and Chinese. As their English programmes will be disrupted by Netflix and other digital media, their future success will depend on their ability to communicate and entertain the local population in their vernacular languages.
Recent events of businesses like the launderette restricting services to Muslims only makes no commercial sense to me.
Just as I urge non-Muslim entrepreneurs to not miss out on the vast potential of halal and syariah compliant segments, I would advise the Muslim entrepreneurs to not neglect the non-Muslim segments. Business is business. It should be race blind and religion inclusive.
It gets more difficult for entrepreneurs when race and religion are politicised as the consumers become confused and irrational in purchasing behaviour. These are testing times for marketeers. Will the good old times return to this beautiful country we called Home?
Suddenly I am feeling nostalgic. Looking back to 1970 when Tun Abdul Razak as head of the National Consultative Council formulated the five Principles of Rukun Negara:
> Belief in God
> Loyalty to King and Country
> Upholding the Law and Constitution
> Rule of Law
> Good Behaviour and Morality
Perhaps we should go back to school and inculcate these values to our young, focusing on unity, preserving democratic way of life, sharing prosperity in a just and equitable manner, guaranteeing a liberal approach towards our rich and varied cultural traditions and building a society that will make use of science and modern technology.
Wise words from a wise man and still relevant after 47 years. Let us all hope for the best.