An interview with Saptarshi Mukerji, Global Senior Manager of Digital Marketing at INFINITI Motor Company Ltd.

THE KERNEL OF INSPIRATION

Saptarshi, you have a quite diverse consultancy experience and client portfolio. Tell us about you and your passions.

Originally I am from New Zealand. I started my career with IBM across multiple industries, involved in digital transformation projects in New Zealand and Australia. One of the first things that people noticed about me is my deep background in technology, as an end-to-end architect building digital solutions.

Tech has the charm of acting collectively to solve problems. It invites me to challenge myself in solving difficult problems. Sometimes the cost can be a sleepless night thinking through a new business model or a different way looking at the problem.

One of the key things for me is to understand the consumer mindset. What do consumers think? How to reach out to them and make their lives easier? How to reduce the pinpoint and create a seamless customer journey?

Personally I am an entrepreneur. I have two start-ups in the health and wellness sector in Hong Kong and I am excited to see the opportunities that have been created in the Hong Kong market.

What made you join Infiniti and what’s your role?

Coming into Infiniti since last year November has been my migration into the automotive industry. I am the global senior manager driving digital innovation including data and CRM. One of the starting points I looked at was to define a digital customer journey from an end-to-end point of view. Currently we are in the process to measure the success that will help us to create a seamless journey.

I am in charge of the digital innovation within the global marketing team. Part of the core focus is to build up capability for data-driven marketing and furthermore empower consumer personalization to the marketing space. For a long time, especially in the automotive industry, everything is done in a “one size fits all” approach. On multiple channels including website, ads, campaigns, and so on, customers are exposed to one single message. We want to move towards a more personalized approach powered by data. Their decision will be enabled by automated chat box in the new virtual world of Infiniti.

The difference is storytelling. The virtual world opens with the videos of campaigns and helps to narrate that story of the cars much easier. For a consumer at the moment, he goes to google page and looks for a car with no interaction. We aspire to become more enticing to the consumers by having an instant conversation guiding them to know what they need.

THE NEXT GRAND CHALLENGE

How would you describe Infiniti’s current digital challenge? And how does it impact retailing?

The perspective of Infiniti is at the moment dealer-driven. Putting that into digital landscape, we are on the lookouts finding how we can innovate that business model. An interesting concept can be similar to an experience center while at the same time consumers can purchase cars online. They can do their financing online, configure their cars online and then there’s a digital touchpoint to the offline where they can feel the car and book a test drive.

Advanced dealership model is already starting on this transformation journey and much more importance will be attached to the repositioning of our dealerships in a way that bridges up the physicality of the retail world and the virtual world, and iron out frictions along the transition.

Could you give us one key word of retail tech landscape for the future consumer?

Consumers today know what they want to buy, but they must first survive in the information jungle. They use an extensive variety of sources – social media, website, friends they know - to configure in mind their ideal models with the trims, with the colors, with the wheel etc. But when they actually go to the dealer, the whole journey starts all over again.

Dealers often get just one chance to strike lucky. Dealers don’t know who are walking in, what they want to buy. So we want to personalize the consumer journey. I think last time at the 2018 China car-symposium breakout session we were talking about hyper-personalization. It is right.

When the customer enters a dealer store, we know who they are and give them the assistance, advising them to buy the right car, showing the relevant content to them, giving them more experience for doing the test drive when they are looking around and touching the car. It’s not one fits for all message. It’s a continuation of customer journey rather than the first day. From the very pre-sales stage when the person walks in, empowered by hyper-personalization, dealer will spot out if it is a hot lead, the kind of car they have and most practically their budget range.

THE ERA OF “NEW RETAIL”

How do you picture a frictionless smart retail experience for automotive end-customers?

From a consumer’s perspective, it will become more conversational. If I want to buy a car, rather than going in researching, and spend 5 months to find out what the car is that I really want, I can ask someone and they give me all the info I am looking for. Everything will be handled by the digital assistant who will send me personalized choices based on who I am, where I am from, what I like, what’s my budget range.

It puts me to think how I can streamline and digitize the process reducing that time spent in the online research as well as in dealership today. To the next step, we can aim at shortening the time of purchase and give consumers information at their fingertips through using technology such as AI.

One of the things we are also looking into is how we can combine our e-commerce model to the retail model. The partnership between Alibaba and Ford in March this year inspired us and provided a solution to recognize who walks in the car vending machine. Obviously there’s a challenge regarding the personalization and how to get all the data. In China it might be easier to implement where everything is connected with WeChat or Tencent.

How do you tackle with this revolution in the next phase of automotive digital transformation?

I think it’s a very interesting question especially with all the laws around GDPR. The core of it is asking the consent from consumer if they want to disclose their personal info.

We did a lot of research and found out 60% of all the consumers that we have interviewed (through the range of 1000 to 2000 people) are ok to give their information. Let me give you an example. If you go on google, Google knows who you are and people are fine with Google, because the company is giving the information they are looking for.

It’s the concept to serve the consumer in the right way. It’s not compromising their data security, but providing them relevant info they are requesting with their consent.

Now the challenge is not technology. Maybe 10 years ago, the development was still coming up. The question ahead is business process connecting people together and it challenges us to observe things around. OEM and technology are excitingly merging together. Working with people from different backgrounds means the upcoming of new retail concepts. I am looking forward to bringing different business models into the market and solve the problem of car-buying process.