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EP #26: Mastering Personalization-led Digital Innovation Like Cignal TV

About this Podcast

 

As we move from reeling to reflecting on the disruptions caused across industry verticals due to the COVID-19 pandemic , the most impactful path towards regrowth is data-driven personalization. And, to lend greater credence to that reality, particularly in the media and OTT sector, we caught up with JC Medina, VP for Digital Innovation at Cignal TV, Philippines. Founded in 2009 , Cignal TV is the largest DTH company in the Philippines. Recognized as a gamechanger in its vertical in Southeast Asia, they have recently extended their offerings across OTT platforms as well. JC Medina accentuates the following:

  • The need for organizations to be inherently agile to sustain growth even during testing times
  • The positive impact on the OTT landscape due to COVID-19
  • How personalization can be a powerful user retention tool through AI-led recommendation engines
  • How to create an effective personalization strategy roadmap
  • The importance of regulated data collection to facilitate a personalized CX

Tune in to gain razor-sharp insights from a regional OTT powerhouse in Cignal-TV, on how to kickstart your AI-led personalization growth engine.

 

Episode Transcripts

Miguel Lojo(Host): All right! So, welcome to another new session of Netcore podcasts. Today, I am joined by Sir “JC Medina”. Sir JC, well would you like to introduce yourself, please?

JC Medina: Hi! First of all, thanks, Miguel. Hi, this is Jason Medina from “Cignal TV”. We are the biggest DTH company in the Philippines. We are a smallish team embedded within signal responsible for building the future of the company. So, right now my team is involved in our digital media business, at the same time we also manage our OTT app, meaning we have this live streaming product called a signal play where you can watch videos on demand as well as watch our linear channels. So that’s what we handle and then of course we invest in a lot of R&D, just to see what the future might be like for a company like cignal. So yeah!

Miguel: Perfect. Thank you so much, JC. So, the first thing I’d really want to find out about you and your team is how are you guys? I mean, this is our rather the world right now is experiencing quite a change or quite a shift in norms, especially with the lockdowns and with ECQ. So I kind of want to know how you guys have been dealing with the lockdown? 

JC Medina: Well, it’s been I think we’re like week seven now of the lockdown. 

Miguel: Yes! We are.

JC Medina: I think we got used to it, but I mean quite frankly we’re still in shock over this sudden shift because we all work in an office and now we’ve been doing this for like seven weeks that we’ve been working from home. I’d like to think that we’ve more or less adjusted. There is still a lot of room for improvement and experimentation and are just to make sure that we will work at optimal levels, but I think this is something a lot of companies experience. Now we’re essentially, you know, building the plane as we fly it right because ultimately, everyone is just trying to figure out ways to continue work in light of this whole crisis, in light of this lockdown. So, it’s been quite challenging, but we’re still alive. In fact, I can even go as far as to say that we’ve been busier than usual at the expense of course, like work-life balance. But we’ve been lucky because of the pace of our team since we’re digital Innovations like within Cignal TV. We were already familiar with all these tools. It’s part of our job. It’s part of our mandate to actually experiment and try out all of these tools, so digital Innovations, I mean don’t necessarily apply to the products you offer but also to an emergent, digital culture that we try to promote to the rest of the company. So we’ve been familiar, we’ve been using these tools, we’ve been on slack since last year so we weren’t really that surprised when we got this Memo from the company asking us to adopt collaboration, software, zoom, Microsoft teams. We’ve been using all of these things when we deal with our partners and of course when we conduct meetings internally as well. So the cooling part wasn’t so hard for us.

Miguel: Yeah! That’s great to hear but I also wanted to know “has cignal ever tried experimenting with work from home in the past? Is that something that you guys have tried to do before or attempted to do? Did you guys have any success with it? Please elaborate”.

JC Medina: Yeah. Well in the case of signal we are still a rebuild-based company. So if you look at our Core Business, this involves us selling satellite kits, which are still sold by a network of Partners all over the country and they call the territory partner. So you see All of these like stores, these kiosks, some which you would find in malls. So we have to sell the Box physically still. And in fact, we’re still in the process of building out our e-commerce portal.

Miguel: Perfect.

JC Medina: But, you would still need someone to install that satellite in your place. So, if you think about it, cignal is fundamentally in retail heavy business. It is because we need these Outlets to move our product to acquire new customers. Of course, we’re not too worried about that. So to answer your question. We haven’t really had a chance to institutionalize work from home. We have dabbled in the past under extraordinary circumstances. This means, one guy has to ask permission from his or her superior and then reread the site on the fly if this person can work from home, but this is still something we’re considering and it just so happened that we were all forced into it when they declared the EZQ, the lockdown. Right, but it’s something we’re seriously considering again in light of recent legislation from the government encouraging work from home. That’s something we’re still Looking into as part of cignal and not just a directive from the government.

JC Medina: I mean, I think that’s completely fair because I think a lot of businesses both retail and even digital have just experienced a lot of drastic change in the span of a week perhaps. A lot of people have had to adjust and the adjustment has been painful I think, to say the least. People are still figuring it out. As we said earlier, it’s kind of like building a plane while flying at the same time. What is the best way to go about this? Like, I know some people have been hoarding laptops just so that they can issue them to their employees right away. It’s kind of exciting, to be honest, but going back to that metaphor that you mentioned earlier about building a plane while flying it. I mean, there’s a lot of questions about productivity. With regards to working from home and I kind of want to know “how you guys are tackling them within cignal? Are there things that you’re learning in terms of productivity? Are there things that you probably thought to yourself like okay, So how we used to do it before that’s not going to fly anymore? We need to adjust.

JC Medina: Yeah. 

Miguel: Please do share.

JC Medina: Well, we did come up with you on a per Department basis. We did come up with various ad hoc or impromptu processes right the day it was announced in fact. So the lockdown was announced Thursday night and then we had Friday, to more or less gather all of our thoughts, and then by Monday, we finally had to introduce all of these policies like governing, work from home on our end. In the case of my team, it’s pretty straightforward because that’s the thing with work from home. There’s this lingering security over someone’s productivity. But again my team, by Design we’re designed to adjust these things naturally because I do expect my team to self-organize because that’s one of our core, but I did provide them with general guidance on how we should do things moving forward and it’s pretty lightweight. So every day we have a recurring meeting at 11 a.m. It’s just a quick daily stand-up meeting for us. Then every Friday, I just asked the team to post, to share their progress by slack, just like a series of just three bullet points to what happened. But we do talk every day. I know there is a need to communicate but in our case, we tend to over-communicate. In fact, we’ve been communicating too much but I’m trying to dial it down a bit but it’s good because there it brings a lot of awareness with your current work extreme. So, we do a review on a daily basis everything that matters specific to us. So the product managers have to work at this, our business development people have to focus on this and then and then we go through all of our existing programs in our case. So yeah, that’s how we manage and of course, since we use it to like slack and Microsoft teams,  a lot of conversations happen during the day. Although we do respect each other. I’m for our team members to actually get in the zone. So we usually allocate like one to two hours of heads downtime usually in the morning before our 11 a.m. Stand up to two more inside, you know. It’s pretty much like something we don’t really touch because again, we still want people to do mindful work. But yeah.

Miguel: It’s a very interesting approach, a head downtime. Did I say it correctly heads down or heads up? “Could you clarify? What was that process like or how do you guys go about doing The Head’s downtime?”

JC Medina: I mean heads downtime for us is just like a way for us to create the opportunities that would allow us to perform deep work and by deep work here means like you are in the zone, so you enter into this state called flow that you know, it just turns you into the super-focused human without any external Interruption. So we actually encourage our team members to go offline or they don’t have to be online and slap. So, you know, it’s really a long time. Allow you to work on your next, you know product specification too, I mean you can do a lot of things further. For example, for UI people I mean this is like a great time for them to actually ideate, for a product manager. It’s time for them to run their backlogs. So it’s been like that and that’s something you know, we’ve been encouraging.

Miguel: It’s very reminiscent of scrum if I’m not mistaken.

JC Medina: So, I think as a culture, I mean now we really do agile. That’s one way that makes you know, that’s one of our distinguishing characteristics as a team. We are inherently agile. We are inherently scrummy without actually doing real scum work, but we’re agile. It’s more agile than scrum.

Miguel: Sounds perfect. I hope this is the kind of thing that a lot more people sort of adopting because I think that method is way more productive.

JC Medina: Yeah, for sure and I mean digital in general, again putting it in the context of the large companies, digital is really more of culture rather than adopting the latest cutting edge technology out there. It starts with their culture and then once you think digital then you should have the ability to wield all those nice tools available out there. So, before you even become or adept at using something like say marketing automation or content Management systems or whatever an IML whatever it begins to culture, you know, you have to think digitally so that’s what we do,

Miguel: It’s perfect and it sounds like you guys are adjusting well with regards to the ECQ and with those strategies in place. I think you guys are doing a good job. 

JC Medina: We’d like to think again as a disclaimer that we’d like to think, we’re coping. Of course, this whole situation is bigger than us and it’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all approach. Our team is relatively I would say again as I mentioned earlier, there’s still a lot of room for improvement. That’s why we’re looking at various solutions out there that would allow us to structure our work because that’s again one of the risks that you take. One sees a jump in the second or unfamiliar working arrangement. Then you have to find a way then the next thing you will do is try to find some structure. So not only are we introducing structure in our new work-from-home life, but we’re also looking at or were also listing third-party tools to allow us to be more productive and again put some structure. In our work.

Miguel: All right, that sounds amazing. But now that we’ve sort of covered how your team or how you and your team are managing things internally. I also kind of wanted to figure out how you guys are dealing with your customers or how you guys are communicating with your customers despite the lockdown. I mean business still has to happen and customers probably have a lot of concerns or queries with regards to their subscriptions or there are the things that they’ve bought from cignal. So, how are you guys sort of managing that end?

JC Medina: Yeah, so in our case, I mean our customer support facilities are operational. So you can still reach us via Facebook, you can send us an email and we will provide support. So there are a lot of things I guess like no nuances in continuing support because that’s how we do it. We have over 2.2 billion subscribers right now. Who is calling cignal, but we are available. You can reach us through Facebook and you can also send us an email. We have our agents and we would reduce the number of Agents because of the ECQ but we remained communicative using social media. It’s our main Channel and we do have a group within the company. We have our skeletal Workforce making sure that you enjoy your cable, you enjoy your satellite TV during this lockdown because a lot of people really rely on our programming to stay entertained and to stay informed during this whole crisis. So yeah, so that’s how we communicate to our customers. We sent them emails. They follow us on Facebook. So yeah, it’s been pretty ok. A lot of these things could be better. 

Miguel: No problem. I mean I think communicating at least in that end to be able to reassure your customers. I think it can still go a long way in terms of stickiness.

JC Medina: Absolutely.

Miguel: So another thing that I wanted to start to get your opinion on is that a lot of people today, as even in Manila, They’re quite scared of how to continue with their business. I mean a lot of entrepreneurs or even small businesses. They don’t know where to get the money to pay their employees. They don’t know where to get the money to sort of just keeping afloat nowadays. So I wanted to know from your perspective. “What do you think is the main thought or what is the main priority that any business leader should have during this pending?”

JC Medina: Oh! wow, that’s a good question and pretty loaded too. And again, it’s also hard to bridge it with specific, you know a company like there’s no again, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach depending on your sector, but once the lockdown is lifted, I mean in our case it’s going to be like this is as usually go out 50% capacity. In terms of people working and our offices since we are classified as an essential service, so in a way we are utility. But since we are a media company, in our case, it’s really gradual resumption of operations, but we’ll probably restore retail operations first. That’s the most important. Our customers also want to see us and while adjusting some of our processes they want to continue working from home until I don’t know if they find something like a vaccine right? In fact, we do have internal committees right now currently working on defining the whole thing, because again this is something you have to design specific to the needs of the company. All we know is that lives matter more than business, more than anything. So we just want to ensure that all of our employees are safe and healthy and then we’ll just figure out the rest. In our case, it’s really important for us to actually make sure that the business runs smoothly and that means you know us reactivating all the parts like retail outlets.

Miguel: Yes.

JC Medina: I mean it’s safe. 

Miguel: Yes exactly, safety is the number one priority or there will be no one to run the business.

JC Medina: Yeah, but again, there’s nothing final about our plans yet. ‘The New Normal’ is still a big question that we have to ask ourselves, like What is the new normal exactly?

Miguel: I mean that’s a very interesting point that you mentioned about, What is the new normal because no one really knows at this point. I mean, we know we know what to sort of reacting to in terms of the virus and how to sort of stop spreading it but in terms of what comes after that, that’s just a huge question mark, isn’t it?

JC Medina: Exactly!

Miguel: With regards to that, “I mean or with regards to Cignal TV, do you think this whole experience for the pandemic will change a quarter feature in your business or do you guys think that’s still kind of hazy at the moment?”

JC Medina: Well, let’s just say that we’re learning a lot on the market right now. And that is what is valuable to us. So we’ve been listening to our customers, we’re seeing emergencies like customer behavior during this whole crisis. For example, we noticed that a lot of people have been signing up for our streaming video service. A lot of them are actually upgrading their accounts because we have a free layer and then we have a premium layer. So if for example, you don’t have a relationship with cignal you can still watch some of our channels by downloading ‘cignal play’.  So we’re seeing a lot of interesting Behaviour like that. We’re seeing some people shifting to do the streaming video and actually paying for it. So that’s interesting and that could actually transform the company, that is actually accidental. You know Innovation products are accelerating Innovation for us because now we realize that, ‘Okay, there is something in there’. We know when we build our streaming video product, we know that this is going to be more of a long-term play but we see an uptick in the usage. And so maybe this is actually the near future for us and our not too distant future for cignal. So we’re seeing, we’re learning a lot as we see a lot of new consumption patterns come from our customers and that’s very interesting. Although again, Once this is all over. God knows when this thing is going to be over.

Miguel: Yeah, no one knows.

JC Medina: But once this is all over we’re still going to see activities similar to the good old days and by the good old days, I mean like, you know, the first half of March. I mean business as usual. It was normal but again, we’re seeing we’re going to live in a normal-ish World. There’s going to be people who will revert back to old habits and then people who learn new habits the same way people are learning, you know, work from home now. So we’re going to change an organization and I can definitely vouch for our organization’s resilience during this time of crisis and we’re very excited to face or rather not excited, but we’d like to think that we’re generally ready to face this post lockdown rule.

Miguel: Perfect. I mean, I think a lot of companies are really hazy on that but for you guys to have more solid ideas, then I think you guys are one step further in that game.

JC Medina: Yeah again. It’s not solid nor is it bulletproof. We have the working security and up until this whole thing is lifted, then we get to try our theory. If it doesn’t work, then we have to adjust because that remains to be one of the key business challenges in this new world. I mean you really have to be agile. We have to be resilient.

Miguel: True. Yeah, learn and adapt. A lot of people say that it’s funny that you should mention learning new things or trying or changing to New Perspectives because I wanted to segue into something that in marketing has had quite a big impact in the past couple of years, which is personalization or Personalization content for marketing there. It’s been sort of growing as I mentioned and a lot of people still aren’t quite sure how to go about it. So my first question about personalization for you JC is “what are your ideas and opinions about personalized marketing like are there common mistakes that people assume about it and what is it? Should we be talking about personalization?”

JC Medina: Yeah, I mean so well in terms of personalization, this is definitely something we plan to make in all of our products. So we have yet to roll out a strong personalization product because it goes beyond mail merge tags. So we define it because right now we have to do product tracks.  We have streaming video and then we have digital media AKA news and content. So we are now starting to build our foundation for our personalization infrastructure. Of course, we want to be driven by AI but again in our case it begins at the ground floor, so we are still in the process of gathering as much data subject to the regulation of course subject to compliance with the data privacy commission but we still have to build our data source. We still have to clean up our data so that we can provide a strong personalization product. But yes, we know personalization is core. Actually, it’s personalization and customization for us and it applies to all of our product streams, our product portfolios. So we are looking at personalization only because we want a strong recommendation engine whether it be mostly on the content side of things. So we just want to give our users solid recommendations on which articles to read next. We also want to give recommendations on what to watch next, and again this we’re still working at the foundation level. We’re still building our own proprietary user grab for that in order to inform personalization, you know, cignal style or cignal digital style. So that’s where we are. So we haven’t really encountered any pitfalls, any challenges. Yet because again, this is a really long process just to get the like personalization and again, I’m just encouraging this to our case with our products, but yeah, I mean we’ve been experimenting with content recommendations so far. It’s been driving some engagement on the site but again, there are a lot of factors at play here too, which we’re still trying to figure out because ultimately personalization is not necessarily the business goal for us. The business goal for us is growth, revenue growth, traffic growth, everything flows from there. So if you give them a good product with personalization then we should be able to increase our revenues.

Miguel: Very good point and I like how you sort of also mentioned the numbers or rather the goals that you guys are setting. So it’s a huge emphasis on growth if I’m not mistaken.

JC Medina: Yeah. I mean it’s all about growth for us, especially for digital. I mean by design we have to grow fast. So it’s like a start-up embedded within a much larger Enterprise.

Miguel: That’s a really good point. So with that in mind, I mean what happens to accompany or to any digital company for that matter if they don’t even consider trying personalization. Is there a risk involved in that or do you think that they’ll be fine?

JC Medina: There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. I think personalization is great for e-commerce. I think personalization it’s actually great in general to varying degrees of success right once they are implemented but what’s important for us is they should have a data-first approach before they even get into personalization. They have to make sure that they’re measuring the right metrics that they’re gathering the right data points and put them in a repository. So that once you power, once you have a personalization strategy in place, then you should be able to roll out, you know a compelling product. But again, it depends on the use case. The personalization I think again is exciting for e-commerce. In our case it’s a natural fit as well again, recommending products personalizing your content experience. I think that’s a pretty solid value proposition but say if you’re in construction, then it becomes a bit, you know, maybe it’s not really much of a priority.

Miguel: Understood. So I’d like to emphasize our focus on that strategy that cignal is trying to do I mean without obviously giving too much information what channels do you think is appropriate for cignal to use while doing personalization. I mean there’s also your website, of course, but would you consider personalization via other channels such as email or SMS Maybe?

JC Medina: Definitely, all of our touch points would benefit from the personalization that includes SMS, email, instant messaging, and the website itself by web chat or through e-commerce. So we benefit from that. So yeah, I mean again going back to what I said earlier, we all boil down to us coming up with a solid model, data model of the customer. We should be able to Define who our customer is and segment them accordingly in order to subject them to these personalized marketing funnels.

Miguel: Great. Otherwise, I mean you are just doing regular Marketing in that case, right?

JC Medina: Exactly, regular marketing with personalization in air quotes. Otherwise, it’s going to be like garbage in and garbage out. So you actually have to invest in quality first, Quality Data before everything.

Miguel: This actually brings me to my last question with regards to personalization. So let’s say I’m an entrepreneur and I’ve been hearing all the stuff about personalization. What would you recommend to me as the number one thing to do first if I’m considering personalization? 

 

JC Medina: Well, you can treat, well greet personalization as a product like which has its own product pathway. Meaning we can’t really expect any company, a small business, to even go from 0 to 60 in terms of personalization. I highly encourage them to again clean up their data first, you know measure what matters and then use that to develop a product that would allow their customers to move down the Funnel meaning to convert rand for the most part, okay, most of the time may be 80% to 90% of the time they need personalization for that. I would actually encourage them to experiment first with off-the-shelf Solutions out there that would allow them to send unique offers and emails to their consumers and then take it from there because again, it’s a small business that has you know, dreams of growth, would want to experiment along the way before they get to the desired state. Well, that’s what I would tell you to know, and you know the business person at this time, I mean ultimately it’s all about making sure that you invest in the right data.

Miguel: Yes! I mean that I think that it is the number one thing. Otherwise, when you get the data wrong in the beginning, you’re not going to have a good output at the end.

JC Medina: Yeah exactly.

Miguel: So with that in mind guys, or to anyone who is listening to this podcast, look at your data, look at your numbers and get it, right. 

JC Medina: Yeah.

Miguel: I think that’s a wonderful way to end our session today. All right JC, thank you so much.

JC Medina: Thank you, Miguel.

Miguel: Thank you so much again for joining our session today, and I hope you all do wonderful and safe during this time, JC.

JC Medina: You too, take care. I think I’m good and thank you so much Miguel and take care.

Miguel: Thank you so much and I am Miguel and this is from Netcore and stay tuned for updates.

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