Hello Jonathan. Can you share with us a little bit about yourself, where you’re based at and your role in the company?
I have been with iCar Asia for just over a year and I oversee all aspects of consumer and customer marketing and branding. My role is to assist and advise each of the countries that we are in, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, to meet their KPI’s and objectives.
Prior to taking on this role, I had a similar role with the iProperty Group. I have also worked in advertising agencies in New Zealand where I am from.
I am currently based in Kuala Lumpur and have called it home for nearly 6 years. I’m married to a Malaysian and before moving here, we have been coming here for 11 years for holidays and to see my Malaysian family. I have 3 daughters and would be an avid golfer if I had the time to be.
Congratulations on your working anniversary in iCar Asia. Can you share with us how’s your 12-month journey like?
It’s been an amazing journey so far, and I’m sure it will continue to be. It’s an absolute pleasure working at iCar Asia with an extremely talented team. We have big ambitions and I want to help play my part to make them come true.
At iCar Asia, we are passionately committed to building a business that has a definitive impact on the automotive industry in the ASEAN region. We are now working to accelerate our growth and further explore the potential to expand into new markets.
Our ultimate aim is to connect buyers and sellers and to be present throughout the entire car ownership experience of buying, owning and selling vehicles.
iCar Asia is hardly known, but people are extremely familiar with your consumer brands such as Carlist.my, One2car.com and Mobil123. The strategy, is that on purpose?
iCar Asia is the parent company of these brands. It’s a corporate brand that is listed on the ASX. Our local brands are very strong and well known in each of the markets we operate in. iCar Asia also gives us some leverage when it comes to running campaigns not only across the countries we are in but also across the ASEAN region. We did this successfully last year with our ASEAN Car of the Year which got consumer votes from all 10 ASEAN countries.
These three brands are taking over Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia respectively when it comes to the automotive websites. They even beat those incumbent brands, which existed longer than yours. What do the people see in these platforms that others don’t quite there yet?
The brands we have in each country are well established and some have been around for many many years. We do have a lot of returning visitors to our websites so there is definitely some brand loyalty that has been built. Because of that establishment it would be difficult for new entrants to come in and acquire market share.
We provide a platform that has a potential to connect more than 600 million car buyers and sellers throughout ASEAN. Our website network currently enjoys more than 8 million unique visitors from car buyers and enthusiasts each month.
Competition is heating up; how do you plan to rise above the noise this year?
We love some healthy competition. To rise above the noise, we concentrate on what we know works best, and the rest we innovate, whether that is via new product offerings, consumer promotions or even technology. It’s constantly changing and evolving and that’s the exciting part of being in this industry.
How do you see the industry’s growth 5 years from now?
Automotive will continue to change with the introduction of Electric, Hybrid and more fuel-efficient vehicles. Plus, the technology that is now coming along inside your car with safety features, navigation or whatever it is will continue to evolve. As an online company we are very well placed to help the industry innovate and meet the growing demands of our consumers and customers.
Ride-hailing brands, do you see them as a major threat?
No, not at all. In fact, we have done collaborations with Grab for driver recruitment, discount vouchers to our events and many other things. New Car sales in each country we are in are still pretty solid so even if ride hailing brands continue their growth they are still going to need cars to drive.
How would you define a marketing success?
We have very defined KPI’s across various metrics so that is the easiest way to define marketing success. We also conduct regular consumer and customer research to ensure our brand values in each market are showing positive signs, and if they are not, then we take action to try to move them in the direction we want them to go in. So very simply a lot of what we do is very measurable, but there is always a part of marketing that is more gut instinct than science and I encourage my teams to go with that if they think it is the right thing to do.
Your marketing team is doing a great job in bringing the brands out there. Are the marketing stunts being done in-house?
We do most of our work in-house. I have a digital team that looks after each country in terms of Unique Visitor and Leads targets that we have. We do however on occasion work with external parties depending on the objectives and tasks at hand.
How do you manage to get the best out of them?
Very simply I try to empower them. As a CMO I try to be more of a consultant than a boss. I want them to come to me for advice, not looking for solutions. I want them to make critical decisions on marketing activities on their own, or with a team consensus, rather than me telling them what to do or even how to do it.
It seems that large brands are taking back the control of their marketing stunts from the agencies. Do you see this development as healthy to the industry especially here in part of the world?
Being an old advertising guy, I fully believe there is still a place for specialists in different fields, like branding and storytelling etc. Sometimes having resources in-house is to do with control, and speed to market, and even cost management. For us it is a little of all of that and we do use other specialists (video creative/production, media buying) depending on what we are trying to achieve. It is very adaptable if you have a stable and solid team doing the basic KPI’s, and then experiment and bring in who you need, when you need them.
Do you still see traditional marketing and PR as one of the must-have strategy in this era?
In some circumstances yes. Even as an online company we still use traditional above the line marketing and PR as ways to build a brand. For us we can measure the effectiveness directly with the way our traffic shifts. I think there will always be a place for it, it’s a matter of how the overall mix is.
ASEAN people is pretty much a hybrid type. It’s the culture that makes them embrace modern way of doing things moderately. Do you think AI can play a major role in this region?
I love the ASEAN region and the diverse mix of people who call it home. Even the differences between Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia are huge and that requires different ways of marketing. I believe that AI can play a part in any role that is based around customer communication. The key to it is localness (local language, or conversational language), this is what we ourselves are doing with our own AI called ARI. She is learning that very thing and soon will be able to help consumers right through the entire car buying process.
Do you mind sharing your marketing wish list for this year? Share with us your top 5.
I don’t really have a wish list – except for achieving our company KPI’s for 2018. How we get to those is something that we will continue to evolve and experiment with.
The best way to contact you?
Anything you wish to share with the readers?
Having lived through the digital age (I’m quite old, but young at heart), and the rapid changes that happen I can surely say that marketing is the most challenging and interesting field to work in and I love every minute of it.