5 Simple Truths to optimize your digital marketing

Truth is ot there

Over the last few post-recession years, Digital Marketing has gained immense respect. More and more businesses, whether or not prepared, are more inclined than ever to adopt digital marketing strategies. In some these cases, it’s more common to see businesses jumping into the Digital wave, just because “others are also doing so”.

It can be argued that these businesses are more likely to be eluded in their endeavors. A quick check into their efforts often reveal that most of these businesses fail to capture the simple truths of digital marketing.

The truths are driven by common sense, yet prove to be solid foundations for doing digital business. Here we go…

Truth #1 : Marketing Methods stay constant; Means vary.

Before you embark on your “digital strategy” stop and think: What would you have done to market your goods or services, if online / digital world was not there? More likely, you’d have still mapped your customers, addressed their needs / wants in a language they listened to, and delivered through a channel which they were familiar / comfortable with (not just media, but on ground channels too).

Well, the good news is that in Digital world, Technology has made it easier to do all the above, in lesser amount of time, and greater efficiencies. The only things that have changed are:

  1. The additional blue-screen window shops – i.e. the PC, Mobile, Tablets, etc. through which customers interface with the digital “properties” – to do your selling, and
  2. Plenty of real time technologies (in hardware & software) to convince your customers or make yourself heard.

If done well, your conversion rates have more chances to improve through digital efforts. So the Marketing rules are the same; processes and technologies differ.

Truth #2 : Website needs the respect of a Showroom

Many brick & mortar businesses, esp. the ones which are new entrants in the Digital world, often are myopic about the roles a website is supposed to perform – e.g. whether it’s information dissemination, or ensuring “online presence” only, or offering product experience, prestige / reputation management, e-Commerce. or even all of these together.

A website is almost an online equivalent of your retail showroom. Therefore, similar to the development of a brick & mortar showroom, there could be thousand different ways to develop an online showroom. As such a website needs similar kind of attention, if not more. The bonus is that once done, a website could go beyond the scope of retail showrooms, by aggregating endorsements or user experiences, which improve the image of the corporate brand.

Truth #3 : Free Experience leads to free Customers

A retail showroom can’t survive if it fails to attract customers. A higher store footfall increases chances of increasing customer conversions. And an important driver of footfall, is the window dressing. Many customers love “window shopping”. They love to spend time in front of the massively decorated shop windows, get interested in the products displayed, and consider exploring them inside – in terms of variety in designs, quality, as well as affordability.

The same is true for online / digital marketing. Many seasoned brick & mortar businesses often realize very late that it’s very important to generate high traffic for a majority of the website pages, organically. And, one of the simplest methods to do so, is to have a free rewards based activity on the website which would not only engage prospects with the products / brand, but also motivate them to revisit the site a number of times.

I came across a few stationery design services, whose websites maintain high page visits by just offering a few free templates. With the tools available on the site itself, any visitor can use them to create his own design – absolutely free! The templates are changed every few months; so the interest level is kept alive.

Truth #4 : Engagement is directly proportional to Acceptance

A visit to any jewelry showroom often reveals the depth of engagement the sales officers establish with their customers. It’s expected, because of it being a high-involvement category. Interesting to note however, design choice is very subjective; and so is the price one pays for it! Knowing this, the sales officers keep the customers engaged enough to keep their interests alive, which eventually translates into a sale.

The same is true for digital marketing, even though it may or may not involve a high-involvement category. Once of the important aspects of digital strategy is to develop myriad methods to keep the prospects engaged with the brand. Even though social media plays a major role in this, the website too have immense potential to keep visitors engaged, and navigate from page to page. Simple layouts, easy navigation, bold shapes, and overall a wider canvas often attract non-prospects to take interest.

More the interest generated on these pages, more is the engagement, and more is the possibility of adoption, when a product is offered.

Truth #5: “The only thing that’s changed is everything”.

One important truth about Marketing is that over time, consumers change, the domain change, products get updated, and even brands change, to make in order to be more relevant.

In many instances small businesses that keenly adopt digital marketing, considering it as a passport to higher business growth, fall short in their endeavors. They fail to recognize that every aspect of Digital Marketing is on a constant roller coaster ride to Change – esp. since technology changes every 3-6 months. Therefore, it’s important to take note of changing trends routinely, and plan in advance for the next 12-24 months.

This is perhaps where an offline retail showroom differs from an online one! While it’s okay to continue with the look-n-feel and presentation of offline retail for even 2 years, an online showcase may become obsolete in just 1-2 months! Therefore one needs to routinely keep on changing the looks, content, presentation, products, pages, etc. Each and every element of digital marketing is on a beta – always!

Keep Fresh! Keep Relevant! Keep changing… everything! And follow these five simple truths in your digital marketing.

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The Simple Art of Solving Problems

The famed inventor and the head of research for GM, Charles Kettering, once said “a problem well-stated is half-solved.” How many of us in the marketing / media / communications industry really care to heed this simple observation?Question words

We often come across many professionals, who are quite kind and quick enough to suggest solutions first. These could be as simple as from generating awareness, to as complex as kick-starting a growth for the brand through revenue generation. Most probably, the simple logic is that unless you’re able to offer solutions, nobody listens or respects you. Or sometimes, it could even be motivated by a wish to explore free-of-cost ideas from media / advertising / creative professionals.

The solutions in most of these cases, arguably, are driven by new business development objectives of the idea proposer, which justifies his time costs. While all this may continue, the whole process itself is a bit flawed! It fails to heed the rigour and vigour that characterize the Art of Defining the Problem.

A typical Case…

One of my prospective clients – then the national marketing head of a famous insurance brand – once called in the senior team members for a briefing. The one line brief was to launch an image campaign on TV within 3 months.

Naturally, asked about the need for such a campaign, and why TV only! What was the business / marketing problem he was facing? It turned out that his half-yearly accounts closing was round the corner, yet he was still far off from the target, in generating new buyers.

So far so good! But why did he think an image campaign on TV would accelerate sales? Because, he felt that a top of mind recall on a mass media like satellite TV will help in driving sales.

Now, insurance is a high involvement category. It’s usually is a matter of solicitation, and for this to happen, one really needs to work deeper, develop “assurance” values of the brand. It cannot (and should not) be treated like a toothpaste or a snacks brand, where top-of-mind recall at the shop level gains high priority.

Therefore we tried probing further, asking questions about its hero products, competitive advantages / disadvantages, the process of selling / mobilizing them through various channels, the core values of the brand and and above all its differentiator in the market. As expected, the director did not have the time (or most probably the necessary patience) for delving deeper into this.

Back in our office, on careful in-depth analysis, we discovered that in the past, the brand had experimented with every type of approach, to develop assurances of dependability. However, one or the other competitor was able to neutralize each of these approaches! As a result there was no specific differentiator available for the brand!

So the communication problem was clearly defined as a case of gradual loss of Identity within insurance category!

Once defined, the solution approach was very easy – i.e. developing a strong differentiator founded upon the core values of the brand, which would transcend competition, time, market forces, and would be very unique for the brand. Needless to add, when we presented our strategy, our esteemed client could not find any way to challenge our direction.

The Take Out

It’s a fact that while every advertising problem starts as a business problem, not every business problem ends up with an advertising solution. Therefore for any marketing or advertising to be truly doing its job, it’s very important to dedicate some time and energies into the first step of Strategy Development – i.e. Defining the Business Problem.

This problem is not just restricted to an “attitudinal” or an “image” issue – but there’s a commercial reason associated with it. While working on it, one needs to be a detective – i.e. sequentially following the analytical rigour – as well as be a doctor – i.e. utilizing the value of experience while marrying the analytical with the imaginative skills.

One needs to be assertive, asking probing questions on all fronts, to cross analyse, extrapolate and then synthesize data. Only then one would be able to truly identify the problem. Needless to say solutions follow fast! This is what I call “Art of defining a Solution”

The Shibumi 7 of Social Media Marketing

Many a social media campaign we see today is either riding on the hype and traffic created by the term “social media” itself, or are in the mode of “testing the waters”.

The reason for this trend has much to do with the limited number of experts in many developing markets of the world. Experts, Specialists and best practices available in some pockets of the emerging economies – India, China, West Africa, etc. – are at best limited compared to the higher needs and demands of these markets. Additionally the social media jargons in circulation sound exciting, but are unable to help meet the simplest of social media requirements of many of the companies operating in these markets.

Social Media strategy for any campaign need not be complicated in design or delivery. Like many other highly successful offline campaigns of the past, online campaigns in general and social media campaigns in particular, could be thought of being designed and driven by the simple principles of Shibumi.

In his book “The Shibumi Strategy”, Matthew May talks about 7 of these concepts, which are a cohesive set of principles to guiding one’s pursuit of excellence, elegant performance and effortless effectiveness in any front. I feel the same concepts could be effectively applied in social media marketing too.

The 7 principles / concepts are: Shizen, Koko, Kanso, Datsuzoku, Yugen, Fukinsei and Hansei. Let’s see how these principles are universal in application in Social Media Marketing (SMM) too.

SHIZEN is the Japanese word that’s closer in meaning to “naturalness”. The idea captured by shizen for life and business is that before taking any action, one needs to look for naturally occurring patterns and rhythms, so that one’s ideas are constructed in a way to fit within these patterns.

In terms of SMM, this translates to “listening” – listen to your prospective target audience, customers and stakeholders; observe the patterns of their aspirations and needs; develop your conclusions and targets based on these needs, and design your framework for the campaign.

KOKO is the Japanese term for “austerity”. Koko suggests that one should refrain from adding what is absolutely not necessary in the first place, while imparting a sense of focus and clarity. Koko emphasizes restraint, exclusion and omission.

In social media marketing – or for that matter, in business – koko translates to setting a clear and focused “primary objective”, which is free from any kind of unnecessary distractions. Many social media campaigns tend to fail, since the marketers fail to encapsulate the core goals of the campaign properly.

KANSO is the Japanese word for “simplicity”. Kanso emphasizes elimination of anything that doesn’t matter, to make enough rooms for anything that does.

In SMM, we often need to follow the “keep it simple, stupid!” cliché to its core! To do this, Kanso principles inspire us to have the understanding to create fresher, cleaner and neater frameworks for social media marketing strategies. A simple, no-frills social media campaign usually brings in unexpected customer responses and viral benefits.

DATSUZOKU means and emphasizes “break-from-routine” or habit, which gives a feeling of unexpected amazement or pleasant surprise.

The social media landscape being extremely crowded, datsuzoku highlights the need for transcending the ordinary and conventional, to develop a tactic or a plan that makes the target groups react in an unexpectedly positive / pleasing way. Needless to say, this requires a the shizen insights of the target groups in conjunction with the seijaku of creativity – essentials for create something fresh and original.

Yugen

YUGEN means “subtlety” in Japanese, which highlights the need to limit information, so that there’s something left for vivid imagination. The principle suggests that when some things are left open for interpretation, the participant observer makes that extra effort to get involved easily by injecting his imagination into it.

Social media being an extremely changing landscape, the chances of getting a target group involved is increasingly becoming more difficult. Therefore applying Yugen principles, if there’s something left for the imagination of the target group – which is subtle & simple yet challenges their minds – it would definitely succeed in wooing their respect and attention in the long run. Examples: quizzes, polls, comments, shares, etc.

FUKINSEI is the Japanese word highlighting “imperfection” or “asymmentry”. Fukensei “conveys the symmetrical harmony and beauty of nature through clearly asymmetrical and incomplete renderings”.

In terms of SMM, Fukinsei recommends that strategies must be built around some amount of imperfections. This will leave the door open for the target groups to get involved in the marketing effort, to supply the missing symmetry and participate in the act of creation. In social media jargon, it’s known as “co-creation” – which has been proved to be extremely successful for many flourishing brands.

HANSEI means “reflection”, which is recommended after every action regularly regardless of the outcome of the action. Hansei is an active discipline performed to better understand the underlying process that led to a specific result.

In SMM as well as in business, the importance of “gap analysis” is an important part of the process. It generates constant “feedback” and insights, which helps in refining the strategy. Hansei in social media strategy is even more important since the “reflection” process is real-time and performed more frequently, as social media itself is “real-time”.

Thus we see that instead of getting lost in the complex process of understanding and then applying social media marketing strategies, all one needs to do is to apply the 7 Shibumi principles actively.

Leave your observations and experiences in applying these principles in your SMM strategies.

Identifying 5 demand classes in India

Marketing in an emerging or a developing market is often an uphill task; particularly if its population and literacy rates are on the negative scale, or the economic data is either of bad quality or is limited to make any meaningful trend analysis.

Thankfully, India as a country is an exception to some extent. Its robust comprehensive census is one of the most respected census operations worldwide, even though the benefits of such a colossal amount of data have been under-utilized for development, by the political system.

Recently I came across some rather interesting facts and / or observations from Rama Bijapurkar, on consumerdemands in India, which are worth noting – especially for developing the foundations of new marketing campaigns:

(image source: insightinstore.com)

  1. India is primarily an “Individually Poor” but “Collectively Rich” country, since proportionally higher consumption takes place at far lower-income levels. Therefore currently “volume” consumption holds more importance than the value consumption – particularly in case of FMCG category and to some extent in case of “fast moving consumer durables”, e.g. mobile phones, footwear, garments, etc.
  2. Indian Consumers could be broadly recognized as 3 broad segments – Premium, Popular and Discount. By volume, these segments roughly represent 10%, 30% and 60% of the population respectively. However, in terms of value, each of these segments are roughly equal to each other.
  3. Thanks to some socialistic trends prevailing till the late eighties and early nineties, the “unorganized sector” and the “unorganized small-scale buyers” have continued to drive consumption to a larger extent. As a result, despite the post-nineties liberalization of Indian economy, the “organized large-scale buyers” – the dream of every retailer – are still far lower than the small-scale unorganized ones.
  4. Indian consumers have successfully bucked the traditional consumption upgrade patterns – i.e. moving from “Popular” products to “Premium Products”. Instead it’s common to see that the premium segment customers gradually “down-trade” to popular products (esp. FMCG), while the popular segment customers, start looking for “premium-quality” products – though not necessarily “premium-priced”. Premium-Popular-Discount segments do not necessarily represent the Rich-Middle-Poor segments respectively.

It’s no surprise then, that the market structure of India is likewise defined in terms of “consumer classes” or groups and not their disposable incomes or other similar metrics. Known as the “Consumer Classes Framework” model developed by NCAER, the 5 broad categories of Indian consumers are:

A)     RICH – consumers of cars, PCs, ACs, etc., particularly the premium and luxury goods.

B)      CONSUMING CLASS – consumers of utility durables and bulk of FMCG products

C)      CLIMBERS – consumers of at least one major durable, and main consumers of popular consumer goods

D)     ASPIRANTS – new consumers / new entrants to consumption; hence have very basic watch, radio, phone, etc.

E)      DESTITUTES – who consume practically nothing; living hand-to-mouth perhaps

Finally it’s also very interesting to note that while any one product might be consumed across multiple classes, the performance price points however within each could be multiple. As a result a Nokia phone might tend to be consumed across the first 4 classes, but each class would have it’s own price points for the brand.

Marketing in India with its myriad layers could be as mysterious as its people, culture and its economy. It’s therefore wise to carefully weigh each available statistic and explore possibilities before taking a campaign decision.

References:

6-point framework for Social Media Marketing strategy

Social Media Marketing Strategy is the buzz-phrase of all marketers these days.

However, we recently found out that all the “strategy” related buzz flowing around actually boils down to the TOOLs used – and not the STRATEGY. In a previous post we briefly outlined the 3 foundations on which SMM strategy should be built upon. This post will focus upon developing a framework for developing SMM campaign strategy.

Like any strategy, the framework for SMM campaign can be simply depicted as a closed loop system (see figure).

6-point closed-loop strategy framework

Where are we?

To know this, we need to gain intelligence on our competitors and customers. We need to monitor and listen to the buzz around our industry and category, utilizing independent resources and tools available online.

Secondly, even though social-media knowledge is high among most customers and industries, we still need to assess the current level of social-media readiness of our customer universe. An understanding of this will make a difference in deciding the tools we’d like to employ during the later stages.

Thirdly, we also need to identify our digital assets and our available content, which should give a fair indication of the level of resource allocation needed for our campaign.

Who are with us?

Analysis involved in the above steps will specify the target audience we need to address and their social-technographic profile. We need to identify which social media clusters or combination of these would work for us.

Where do we want to go?

Our Analysis would also give an indication about our realistic Goals / Objectives for the campaign. These objectives must be aligned with the target audience clusters and the metrics we’d employ to monitor / measure our campaign. From this, we’d have targeted and measurable objectives.

While setting objectives we also need to gain a balance between “effectiveness” and ‘impact” of the campaign. Broadly, the objectives could be:

  1. Listening – Researching to gain customer understanding
  2. Talking – Spreading Co. messages
  3. Energising – Powered buzz created by enthusiastic customers
  4. Supporting – Helping customers support each-other
  5. Embracing – Integrating customers into the business (e.g. participating in design process) – though applicable in case any of 4 other objectives has already been met.

How can we go there?

The processes involved in achieving our objectives need to be carefully formulated. The need and current level of social-media readiness will lead to employable tactics from an ever increasing universe of tools available; e.g. blogging, micro-blogging, multimedia sharing, bookmarking, etc. From this we’d get an idea of the share of investments needed out of overall online budgets.

Secondly, we need to integrate the social media tools with other online tools and tactics employed (e.g. SEM, PPC, SEO, SMO, etc.). Monitoring and management of tactics and resources is crucial at this stage. We need to select SM platforms based on tactical effectiveness and architectural fitness.

Are we ready to go?

Once the processes have been formulated, we need to develop SM architecture in order to map out the multiple activity levels. For any SM campaign, the Blog acts as the hub, while the communities (e.e. Facebook, Youtube), forums, outposts (e.g. Twitter) act as the spokes of the structure.

Taken as a whole, the SM architecture acts as an interface of the SM campaign for the target audience, as well as acts as a dashboard to control campaign implementation.

What’s our progress?

Once implemented, we need to constantly monitor the campaign for its effectiveness, based on the metrics set at the 3rd stage and take steps to amend tactics as we go along.

Last but not the least, we must not forget that the above framework has been developed within the 3 foundations of SM campaign planning, discussed in a previous post.

Resources:

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3 Foundations of Social Media Marketing campaign

Ever since the social media marketing started making noise, scores and scores of so-called “experts” Social Media Marketing tips, tactics, tools, are afloat on the cyberspace. More often than not we find that most of these keep blubbering on the same things again and again, in different colors and shades.

Is there any method to madness in formulating and implementing a Social Media Marketing strategy today? This question was thrown open on a popular social media platform, to check the general understanding on whether there’s any strategy behind this madness, The responses received in this experiment suggested that if there’s any, social media strategy is all about (a) Identifying Audience (b) Identifying Content Hubs (c) Identifying traffic drivers (d) Creating and participating in communities. Many books written by “expert authors also outline and elaborate upon some basic guidelines as follows:

  • Why Social Media marketing
  • What are the tools
  • How to use the tools most effectively for marketing
  • How to measure progress and adapt

Doesn’t this indicate that Social Media Marketing (SMM) is still being primarily used as a TOOL? For example, the buzz flowing around the subject is all about “Tactics” – which sites, how to listen, how to be effective, how to optimize, etc. – and not about “Strategy”. A strategic framework or approach is usually either missing or is just superficially touched upon.

What should be the approach to make sure that your investment in social media is not just an experiment?

There are 3 foundations on which SMM campaign is built upon. We’ll talk about these 3 elements in this post and dedicate another post to the talk specifically on Strategy Framework for SMM.

Foundations of Social Media Marketing (c) one%inspiration

First and foremost, we must consciously acknowledge that there are 3 main drivers of successful SMM campaign: (1) Strategy (not tactics) (2) Technology and (3) Design. Strategy involves analyzing the needs and goals for engaging the brand on social media platform, and outlining potential tactics in doing so. While Strategy is the way to go, Technology acts as the backbone and Design as the interface of any SMM campaign.

Secondly, we must be clear about the role of technology. Even though it’s the backbone, it’s not an end in itself. Many thought leaders (e.g. Charlene Li) advocate that the most important mantra of social media marketing is:

It’s NOT about Technologies; It’s all about RELATIONSHIP.

As a result, when you say that your SMM strategy is to be on Facebook or Twitter or YouTube, you’re actually talking about the Tools and Tactics only. It’s the relationship you create by using these platforms which makes a difference for you. Once you understand this and adopt it in practice, it’s easy to follow any guideline or develop your own simple framework.

Thirdly, Design being the interface with the users, a lot of effort must go in to make innovations and not just copy / replicate design approaches of successful companies. By saying this I necessarily mean that before you sit on the design table, you must imbibe into “Design Thinking” – which is an attitude to Solve a problem in simple newer ways at hand rather than aiming for a “good looking” interface. For example, if you need an interface to woo your customers to your Facebook page, you must get deeper into the social media behaviors of these customers and utilize these insights to see what’s required out of the interface. It’s only then you should go to the design table.

My next post will talk about a strategic framework for SMM campaign.

How do customers respond to your Brand?

I have always held a strong belief that Brands behave just like human beings do! As such an interaction of a customer with a brand follows exactly a similar pattern of interaction of one person to another unrelated person.

Let’s say a person X hopes to have a relationship with person Y. Every person does this from his own social behavior status, which could be broadly divided into 3 levels: (a) Acceptance (b) Association (c) Adoption

3 Response Levels (image copyright - one%inspiration)

Preliminary contact / hand-shake happen when each interacting person Accepts the other person’s invitation. This happens quite frequently, regardless of space, time or context. None of the participants have long-term intentions of carrying on; hence the relationship is superficial, and open.

When these persons meet again, there’s an existing element of recognition or identification between them, which breeds conversations, interactions and occasional dependencies. This stage is known as Association. There’s overt / covert liking of each other’s qualities, but linkages are not strong. There’s also a general agreement to meet / interact again, and often this behavior stays for a long time.

At the 3rd level the association solidifies into a firm relationship, which slowly gets deep-rooted. The belief and motivations of one person gets internalized in multiple ways into that of the other person, leading either of the persons to adopt the other’s belief, principles and attitudes. Strong and sustainable bonding is the outcome of such adoption processes.

Likewise, a customer’s response to a brand also follows a similar pattern:

Acceptance happens when a brand pulls a customer through instant promotions; e.g. “Buy One. Get One Free”; “50% Discount before 30th July”; “More you buy, more points you win.” etc. Garnier may launch a sachet pack of its shampoo variants, to woo customers into using the brand. Many consumer electronics brands also use the method to clear their inventories, by giving “Bundled offers” during festive seasons. Although behaviors vary from brand to brand, customers have a general tendency to claim these deals, with little or no regard to the Brand or its values. Additionally, customers tend to shift the moment another brand offers a better deal.

On a longer term this method follows the law of diminishing returns, and hence should not be used too often, unless the Brand itself symbolizes “Discounts” or “Value”. Many retail stores, have followed this method to great success – by making sure that returns are higher than the inventory cost.

Association happens when a brand pulls customers by appealing to their needs – whether emotional or social or rational. As a result customers start identifying themselves with the brands, and hence differentiation occurs between competing brands. When Garnier promotes Fructis shampoo, it’s appealing a customer’s rational need to have stronger hair. It’s not necessary that the customer, even after using the shampoo, will keep on using it forever. Needs might change, or another brand may offer the same need packaged with another one. The linkages here are not strong; therefore constant interactions and experiences are needed to sustain association and convert into long-term Adoption.

ADOPTION happens when the customer looks forward to the same brand to meet multiple needs. Let’s say that the Garnier Fructis shampoo customer had a few experiences with the brand, and has decided to use other variants of Garnier shampoo that meets her other hair care needs – e.g. shiny hair, damaged hair, etc. PLUS starts looking for Garnier for other grooming needs – e.g. skin care, hair color, eye care, etc. A combination of meeting needs in all the above cases, would makes her believe Garnier’s message of “Take Care”.

Adoption is a permanent and deep-rooted experience between a customer and a brand, especially since a customer’s belief about the brand strongly links with their own belief-system – emotionally, socially and rationally. If Innovation is what a customer looks for, repeated associations and interactions with Apple will definitely believe that the brand stands for emotion.

For a brand to be strong, a combination of all the 3 level processes is perhaps needed in some proportions.  Even though the first 2 levels are temporary, there are many ways to develop permanency through these stages. For example, while using Garnier for hair care, a customer discovers that the brand stands for “No Animal Testing”. This realization may motivate the customer to continue with not only the shampoo brand, but also with other Garnier products.

Therefore for a Branding effort to succeed, strategic efforts are needed to develop the relationship at each level, esp. since, like a relationship between 2 individuals, Branding also is a social process, where change is the element that keeps the relationship fresh.

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