ICIT Marketing Strategy

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The purpose of this shura is to collaboratively develop a marketing strategy for ICIT. The approach here will concentrate, at least in the formative stages, on strategic thinking that will ultimately shape the specific planning directed to various target markets. Going forward, it is expected that once we identify our target markets, each of them will require a plan specifically tailored for a market's peculiar characteristics, but nonetheless shaped by and conforming to the key decisions we make in our strategy. Whereas plans will be differentiated by the individual markets they target, they will be unified by the considerations we codify in the overall strategy.

In other words, our strategic approach to markets, media, and other venues — which could either utilize ICIT assets and services or publicize their availability — will be the same, but the way in which various types of media and available markets are penetrated and then saturated will differ pursuant to the challenge each offers to a new player in the domain. Therefore, even though it may be premature to draw this conclusion at this early point in our discussion, we should start thinking less in terms of numbers of volumes, bound books, e-books, audio books, and the like sold, or the number of hits on various pages of our web and social media presence, than in how we expect to initiate penetration and achieve saturation within a target market. The thinking here is that once penetration is achieved on the way to saturation, the numbers will begin to take care of themselves. And so, the question then becomes, how do we tailor ICIT services and assets to accomplish the above task and how do we measure our performance on the way to achieving this objective?

To begin to answer this question, strategic considerations call for us to think in terms of how ICIT is positioned to reach out to its target markets. As ICIT moves expeditiously toward producing The Ascendant Qur'an translation, it has been projecting this translation as the gateway to The Ascendant Qur'an tafsir, meaning that the salient and distinctive features of this particular translation ought to motivate readers to seek more extensive explanations in the tafsir. But what is the gateway to the translation? There are already scores of other translations of the Qur'an available in the public domain, the media landscape, and on various Qur'an apps, easily accessible on desktop computers and smart mobile devices. Why should someone make a choice to look at The Ascendant Qur'an, especially one who is unfamiliar with ICIT's "progressive" and innovative thoughts on Islamic engagement in the world at large? More particularly, one of the target markets ICIT is very motivated to approach with its services and products is emerging leaders — and so, why should such people be interested in a new translation of the Qur'an? More fundamentally, as it is well-known that those who lead more effectively read more prolifically, how will they know that a new translation of the Qur'an — which brings to light the social consciousness fabric of the Qur'anic ayat and challenges new leaders to adopt this directional course of prophets for transformative social change leading to social justice for all — is in the market to begin with? These are the type of questions that positioning is expected to tackle. Marketing strategy deals with positioning (how people, regardless of market, perceive ICIT as an organization); marketing plans deal with markets (how specific consumers perceive ICIT's products and services).

ICIT has assets… but they are dormant: that is, its assets have potential, but no momentum; they have potency, but no leverage. If ICIT's most important asset is its thinking, which has been presented in various forms from Crescent International to the tafsir — and on various platforms — then it has done a poor job of leveraging its probing new ideas for producing transformative change, for shaping the behavior of emerging leaders, and for aligning them to an Islamic directional course. In short, even though ICIT's name (Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought) intimates the necessity to lead, it has not led. So far ICIT's approach has been to make large volumes of information available, and should elements of its target market fortuitously bump into it, then so much the better — basically a hit-or-miss approach. In a motivated sense, ICIT has not identified its target markets, gone after them with tailored products and services, and physically put its assets in their hands, as it were, so that they can use their own momentum and motivation to leverage this new knowledge and information for the purpose of positive Islamic change on the ground. Positioning the organization properly in the market space may begin to stir up this historical inertia.

One thing that immediately comes to mind when we speak of positioning is that even though the print editions of ICIT products will have their importance, going forward will require us to put a much greater emphasis on the more kinetic forms of integrated media and the products that are tailored as such. An e-pub version of the translation that is liberally cross-referenced with the tafsir and other ICIT multi-media presentations will be much more useful to emerging leaders than a print version in which much of this is not possible, especially within fingertip reach of the user. To acquaint new consumers with ICIT's desire to persuasively position itself in the market with tailored products and services, it is expected that the Publisher's Foreword to The Ascendant Qur'an translation will have to be reworked to reflect what ICIT hopes to achieve with its marketing strategy. Putting together an e-book that employs state-of-the-art technology with animated graphics, timely hyperlinks, and easily accessible cross references to other ICIT material will require the services of professionals that are qualified in this area — services that ICIT cannot currently pay for. However, it is important to recognize that even though what we produce out of the box will have little resemblance to what these publications will look like ten years from now, they will have to be part of our vision today.

As part of this vision, ICIT branding as well as cover design for the various versions of the translation (print, e-Pub, audio, CD, website, advertising, etc.), and other products and services to follow, will have to be tightly integrated to project a consistent brand, regardless of whatever product or service is being promoted in a particular market. ICIT will probably have to commission the services of an ad firm to properly accomplish this task. Despite the fact that a cash-strapped ICIT will need resources to execute on these details, it must realize that such resources invested today will produce tomorrow’s revenues. Even so, coming up with the financial resources as a first step is the wrong way to start. Unleashing our creativity and innovation will generate the resources we need… if we are careful to do things the right way, if we learn along the way, and if we are purposeful in avoiding shortcuts. More fundamentally, the liquid resources of tomorrow depend on our resourcefulness today.

A second important thing that comes to mind as we think about positioning ICIT is the issue of censorship on social media platforms, in mass media, and in academia due to a narrative that associates our work with terrorism and hate speech. How do we position ICIT in the market space given that the nature of our work and ideas, and their exposition in the public domain, will antagonize the dominant power culture, which will rely on censorship as a means to prevent public consumption of said material? It is far better to deal with this problem strategically, than react to it as circumstantial exclusionary incidents begin to multiply on a regular and consistent basis when our media profile begins to attract more attention. 

Finally, by virtue of its name if nothing else, ICIT is expected to lead in whatever venue it chooses to enter. What’s more, why should emerging leaders pay attention to ICIT if it provides no evidence of its capacity to lead, demonstrable by real-time initiatives it took from conception to maturity? Currently, ICIT is in no position to lead in this marketing domain, but if it starts in a measured and considered fashion, it may give itself this chance within the larger domain of Islamic organizations and associations. For ICIT to be able to lead effectively in this domain, it will need clarity (seeing the way when no one else can) and credibility (the cachet to inspire confidence in the listener when ICIT speaks) — neither of which it has at the moment.

Credibility comes from actually conceiving a solution to a problem, launching an initiative, and then putting it in the public domain to be challenged by the broader audience of actors and interested parties. Such challenges can only be welcomed by those who have no ego invested in their initiatives; they know that the best solutions to problems emerge out of the deliberative process that constantly challenges, tests, and reshapes until the best idea rises — a collaborative and complementary effort that would have been unachievable had it not been for public engagement on the issue. Clarity comes out of the acquisition of domain knowledge, the consideration of wisdom gained from experience in executing various domain initiatives, and filtering both through the Qur’an and the practice of the Prophet (pbuh) while keeping focus on the ultimate objective of the whole activity. In the end, all choices and decisions that are not subjected to an overall goal are meaningless.

And so, for ICIT to lead in this venue or any other, its strategy moving forward must be founded on pillars of clarity and credibility. To get started in formulating a marketing strategy for ICIT, let us begin to acquire some domain knowledge and learn from the wisdom of those who have already tread this path before us. I believe that starting with somebody else’s insight will begin to unlock some of our own creativity, and then we can begin the process of tailoring what we learn to the solution of our own problem. Attached are two short articles about marketing and strategy; they are just teasers. But to really get our feet wet, I suggest that we read the book, Good Strategy, Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt.


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