7 Marketing Lessons for Startups

March 12, 2012 6 comments

Some of the most interesting, fun, frustrating and rewarding clients to work with from a marketing perspective are startups. Startups are agile, nimble, passionate and innovative and if the idea is adopted by the masses; extremely financially rewarding. Whether you’re in real estate or are launching the next big social media idea or mobile application, you need to create awareness, in order to generate adoption and ultimately sales of your product or service. How do you create awareness? A good first step is to build a brand and marketing strategy to outline the framework of how your brand should be communicated and how it should be perceived by your customers and the market. Keep these important marketing lessons in mind when building a marketing strategy for your startup:

1. You don’t need to do anything in mass.
Mass media includes TV, Print and Radio. It’s extremely expensive for startups and has a very short shelf life. It might make you feel good to see your commercial running on a local TV network, but is it reaching the right audience? Likely not. It’s difficult to measure and very difficult to precisely reach your target audience. Offline activity drives online activity, but if you’re a startup, forget mass media until you have it in your budget, and even then, only consider ad placement in these medium if you can measure your success and that it truly makes sense for your business.

2. You don’t need to hire a PR firm.
The press LOVE to publish newsworthy stories. It’s their job. The best news stories though are the ones that are awesome and are easily spread by word of mouth and social media. If you’re a startup, you don’t need to pay someone for this. Most good PR firms will charge you upwards of $5,000/month to develop a few stories and seed them across their publication channels for anyone that will run them. Focus on making your product awesome, focus on creating customer evangelists and you’ll create your own news.

3. You don’t need swag.
Unless your startup company is in the swag business, you don’t need it. Your customers don’t care to have another pen with your logo on it, and why are you focused on creating company golf shirts when that money could be better spent investing in your product?! Usually, the companies who think it’s a good idea to have logo’d coffee mugs and golf balls are the same companies who will question you about the ROI of Social Media.

4. Focus on building a strong, engaged community.
For god sakes you’re a startup! Why are you even thinking about doing anything BUT leveraging the free social media tools out there (Facebook, twitter, linkedIn, Youtube, blog)? If you’re bootstrapped (which most startups are), use social media to help you establish your brand. Reach out to your customers, chat with them, engage them, write blog articles that build your credibility and establish you as an industry thought leader. It’s not about the number of followers or likes you have on Facebook, though. Use these channels to help you market test your products and messaging and see what happens when you reward your best customers for helping you spread the word!

5. Make sure your product is an MVP.
You think you’ve got a great idea, you’ve done a little bit of research on google to see who the competitors are and the factors that affect your market. Now, you want to tell the world about it! This ambition is great, but make sure that you’ve measured twice before you cut. Actually, you should measure a whole bunch of times before you cut. Once you launch, that’s it – it’s out there and while it’s hard to establish brand perception, it’s even harder to try and change it once you’ve put something in market.

You do need to get it to MVP (Minimum Viable Product), but make sure that MVP actually solves a market need, that the benefit can be easily articulated by your customers to others and that the market/users/clients/customers are regularly using your product because they think it’s an awesome idea. Survey your base. Listen to what they say. If they think your product stinks, they’ll tell you. If your app sucks, they’ll tell you. Don’t focus on implementing every piece of feedback, but do focus on making something cool. Give them a reason to tell their friends about why they need your product in their lives and how they can’t live without it.

6. Bring your development in house.
I see this too frequently with new tech startups and entrepreneurs who perhaps aren’t the most skilled of developers – they hire a 3rd party development company to help them build their website or mobile app. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, however, if your business idea is 100% a new social media platform, mobile application or web-based service, you are at the mercy of the development company where your project may not be a priority. Want to change the font color on one of your pages? File and pay for a change request. Want to add a page to your site? File and pay for a change request. Want to integrate your blog or social media into your site? Well, you get the idea.

If you’re a startup company whose business idea relies solely on the success of your web or mobile platform, you should hire a developer, and more importantly, a UI/UX specialist. Your great idea will be lost if the look and feel of your site does not match what you’re communicating. Also, since this interface is how people will actually use your product, it’s important that it’s intuitive and visually appealing to the user. No one will recommend a product that is clunky, or one that they don’t know how to use to your friends.

Finally, on the issue of brining your development in house – do this. Talk to people, developers, find the good ones and hire them. You will be able to make changes 1,000x quicker, be more agile to customer requests and implement your changes more quickly with someone on staff that is 100% dedicated to your product and your product only.

7. Advertising will kill a bad product fast.
The easiest way to kill a bad product is to start advertising it in mass and attracting customers. They’ll find out pretty quick that your product doesn’t stack up to what you’re telling the market and guess what? They’ll tell a lot of people about it. They tell people on Facebook. They’ll tweet it. They’ll write blog posts about it. They’ll leave negative and sometimes nasty reviews on the application stores where your product is featured. But most of all, they’ll tell their friends to stay away.  As a startup, the #1 thing that you can do from a marketing perspective is make a cool product. No matter what your startup budget is, nearly all of it should be invested in the product.

I recently asked a bootstrapped startup entrepreneur how he heard about Pinterest. Did you hear about it on the radio? Did you see a print ad for it? Did you see a TV ad? No. Someone you know shared a link – shared something cool and it spread.

Focus on making a cool product, focus on building a strong and engaged community and make your idea easily shareable through social channels. With a proper brand and marketing strategy in place, the rest will take care of itself.

Six Cool Trends I Think 2012 Will Bring Us

December 28, 2011 21 comments

2011 is coming to a close but before it does, I wanted to write down my thoughts on some cool trends I think 2012 will bring us from a marketing, mobile and technology perspective. Here they are in no particular order:

1. Near-Field Communication Becomes Mainstream

The biggest issue with NFC right now is the fact that we’re calling it NFC. This technology (RFID) has been around for years in fact, you likely already use it a few times a day to gain access to your condo, your office and even pay at the pump using your MasterCard Paypass. The introduction of Google Wallet in North America means that Google is helping to educate the mass market about NFC, but I think, as marketers, we need to simplify the message. Paying for everyday items is as easy as tapping your phone. Checking into foursquare will be as easy as tapping your phone. Sending someone your business card will be as easy as tapping your phones together. Accessing brand & product information, downloading music, videos, apps – will be as easy as tapping your phone. Just Tap It. Tap It. Simple.

The phones are here and the API & other applications are coming. Sales of NFC-enabled phones is set to hit 80Million globally in 2012. It’s a huge trend. Your wallet, loyalty cards, ID and gift cards could potentially live on your phone and this is going to really take flight this year. While this could be a scary concept for some, would you rather lose your wallet & have to replace all of your cards, or lose your phone and simply wipe it remotely and be able to restore all of your cards quickly and easily?

2. Diffusion of Engagement.
A marketing buzz word in 2011, companies everywhere were searching for ways to connect and create ‘engagement’ with their influential customers. The idea being that using services like Klout, Kred & others can help you reach the people who can ‘influence’ the purchase decisions of people within their respective networks. In 2012, customers will become increasingly savvy to this. We don’t like telemarketers interrupting us and we know what’s fake. We’ll sniff out that blogger that is only promoting a new brand or smartphone because they got a sample or got one for free. We’ll start to turn off the companies that are using social media like a megaphone to push their message out to people instead of truly connecting with and rewarding their loyal customers. At the end of the day, word of mouth needs to travel through trusted sources. People are more likely to buy something that one of their FRIENDS have recommended; not Justin Bieber.

3. A Mobile Advertising Platform for BlackBerry
If you are currently developing applications for iOS, Android or BlackBerry you know that iOS and Android come with many PAID methods of helping you gain distribution and promote your application to generate downloads an stimulate usage. ADMOB (Owned by Google) is likely the most efficient. It’s a Pay-per-click advertising platform for iOS and Android that allows you to target potential users through its mobile advertising platform (in-application) based on several user demographics. You can target on country, gender, age, even device & carrier network, set a daily budget and get a comprehensive report on how many impressions your ad generated as well as the number of click-thrus and downloads. If you’re familiar with Adwords, it works in much the same way but for mobile.

This is something that is really missing for BlackBerry. With over 75Million BlackBerry users worldwide; a mobile advertising platform whether in AppWorld or through free BlackBerry apps is important, relevant and realistic for two reasons. (1) It could be a potential source of mobile advertising revenue for RIM. (2) It presents a channel for the makers of the over 50,000 applications available in BlackBerry AppWorld to target and communicate to their base of users, gain feedback and offer increased value. Some find ads annoying, but for smaller application development companies – it’s a cost-effective way to reach potential users and is a great channel to gain and share information.

4. RIM’s Market share in the United States will climb aggressively.
This may seem like a #BeBold statement and is not intended to align with their current Bold campaign. I am still a firm believer in Research In Motion despite their 2011 blunders for a number of reasons:
1. They have over 75 Million subscribers world wide.
2. They are growing in other important markets (Asia)
3. They realized over $5B in Revenue last quarter
4. They are in a market that is only 3510% penetrated globally. We’re still in the early stages of mobile adoption.
5. They make a good product. The Playbook is a strong tablet & the Bold 9900 is the best device I’ve ever owned.
6. They have made a number of strategic acquisitions (TAT, Tungle, Gist, JayCut) that I feel will drive home the user experience and pull them back into the smartphone race.

Look, I get it. RIM has had some serious issues with leadership and execution. They have lost a few key people in key positions from downsizing and from attrition and I know the microscope is on them. They’re not going to zero, and in my opinion are not in a death spiral as the mainstream media would have you believe. Their developer channel is solid, they have great patents and IP, they make a great product and are growing in other international markets. As a PlayBook owner, I have a lot of confidence in the move to the QNX operating system. I think it will pave the way for some cool functionality and a reinvention of Blackberry as we know it.

5. Everything’s a game.
Gamification. Game Mechanics. Call it what you like, everything you touch in 2012 will have some sort of game component to it. Whether it’s checking in and earning points using Foursquare, or rewarding users for watching TV shows and shopping at certain retail stores – People will go crazier than ever before trying to outdo their friends and family by collecting rewards/badges/trophies and points for completing certain tasks and actions. Do we need another digital farm? Definitely not, but we’ve only just scratched the surface with respect to how the user experience can be integrated, ‘fun-ified’, changed and improved using competitive elements. Bigger trend – you’ll see many companies introducing rewards system for real world stuff. Points will become a form of virtual currency that you’ll be able to redeem for coupons, discounts and even purchase retail items. It’s not new (air miles/Petro points, Avion points), but it’s set to explode this year.

6. Experiential Marketing Comes to Retail
I recently purchased a pair of sunglasses from a sunglass retailer with over 2,000 stores around the world. This was a new location and it had been a while since I had been in this chain. I was surprised by the mediocre experience. Though the staff were helpful enough, the experience felt cheap. Glasses secured in closed display cases with the logos of brands scattered about, prices hand-written on tags attached to the glasses in blue pen. I had to write my name on a piece of paper to activate the warranty. Really? How does this get information get entered into their system? After begrudgingly shelling out nearly $300 for my new shades, the associate happily smiled and put my purchase in a little shopping bag. A cheap experience for an expensive purchase.

A good retail experience reduces buyer’s remorse. You feel valued. You feel special and you want to return to that store with your friends and family. It elevates and establishes your perception of that brand in your mind. I think starbucks does a phenomenal job of creating a great user experience. Being inside of a starbucks (The decor, the way the baristas speak to you, the ambiance) all makes me feel comfortable about shelling out $5 for a latte. It feels like a treat. They make you feel special even though at the end of the day, you’re just buying a coffee. I think 2012 will be the year that we see this happen at more stores – a greater focus on retail marketing. Companies will be further integrating their digital and social activities with retail locations. We’ll start to see individual stores reaching out to their customers to connect with them on a more personal level. Experiences will improve. We’ll see more integration with technology, more retail mobile payments and more linkages between the brand across retail, mobile and smartphones (Think Foursquare, NFC, Facebook like, Twitter, QR codes, SMS). The retail experience will be improved in 2012. At least, I hope so.

Practice Safe Googling

November 23, 2011 1 comment

What is innovation? Is it defined as creating something awesome that doesn’t yet exist or finding a way to do something faster, better, cheaper? Can you find innovation? How are new ideas created? The ones that lead to new products or new ways to do things? If you’ve ever had a spark of genius or a flash of inspiration, chances are the first thing you did was run out and Google it to search for possible competitors and what the market potential might be.

If you have a blog and post regular content, you already know that Google indexes that content. You know that  SEO helps to rank your posts higher based on relevancy for certain search terms (long or short tail). You may even notice that some commonalities exist between your most popular posts and what keywords are driving repeating traffic to these posts. SEO Tip: if you contribute to your company’s blog (or have a personal blog), examine your most popular keyword terms and write subsequent posts around them. It will help to elevate your company’s search ranking based on the keywords that are already driving traffic to your site.

I’m intrigued by the keyword terms that drive traffic to my blog. I check them regularly. I check them to see how they’re trending and I regularly write posts around these keywords to see if doing this increases readership & attracts more traffic. It does. I’m most intrigued by WHAT people are searching for. I write about mobile, I write about advertising. I write about emerging technologies like Augmented Reality and Near-Field Communications (NFC) and how they could impact POS marketing, retail and commerce. Because of this, I notice a lot of long tail keywords driving traffic to my blog related to these topics. I often use these keywords as a source of inspiration. Because, if someone is searching for it; they may be looking to start a business, or substantiate an idea or concept – but the end goal is that they’re searching for information & are looking to learn.

I’m sure you’ll agree that Google is a much more than a massive search engine. They drive revenue through countless channels most famously, display advertising & pay-per-click advertising. The power of Google is housed in their millions of server farms and databases placed strategically across the world (locations mostly hidden from public knowledge). The real power of Google is in every bit of data they keep. I sometimes think that Google knows more about me that I do myself. It remembers. It anticipates. It suggests.

In much the same way that I use keyword terms on my blog to think about new ideas and write new content, Google does as well. Obviously on a much larger scale. Think about the keyword terms that you enter into Google’s search bar. Think about what you’ve entered. Google even goes as far as recommending long tail keywords and results as you enter these terms. This is based on an algorithm that is older than many college freshmen. So, Google is great at recommending search results and keywords but it also keeps a database of these keywords. It scans them regularly to improve search quality, ranking and provide you with better search results. It also logs these keywords in a massive keyword term database which it combs, searches for trends and – even goes as far as registering certain keyword terms and phrases as Intellectual Property*.
*see “Concerns with Google” on Wikipedia 

What does this mean for a startup or a small business? Well, a large part of your success is going to depend on how well you’ve researched the market. It’s going to depend on how well you’re positioned against competitive solutions. Your success also depends on timing. No doubt, the first thing you did to research your company or opportunity is turn to Google. You entered keywords which Google logged. You clicked on competing sites which Google also keeps a record of. Then, you returned and entered other terms that Google has also tracked. Not only have you introduced Google to a new idea or concept, you’ve also helped them to research competitors & the overall market!

It’s not impossible. Nor is it out of the realm of possibility. And I’m not suggesting that you NOT use Google to research your market, your business or your opportunity. It’s a critical market research component. It’s also fast, and you can gain volumes of data and information quickly. But in the days of predictive search results, patent infringement, IP lawsuits and stolen business ideas, be mindful of WHAT you search as Big Brother is always watching..and tracking.

Finally, I just finished watching a segment on Global National in regards to bad passwords. The segment discussed some of the most common passwords used today which can leave you vulnerable to hackers, identity theft and fraud. I’ve been somewhat guilty of this too over the years. I had used relatively weak passwords for quite sometime and only recently changed several of them to obscure assortments of lower case letters, numbers, upper case letters and special characters. They’re so completely random that I have trouble remembering them from time to time and often need to have them reset. What disturbed me by this segment was the concept of “Googling” your password to see if it shows up on a list of passwords or if it’s easily found in search results. Based on everything I’ve mentioned above regarding keyword term indexing – PLEASE, do not ever do this. This is a sure fire way to GET your password(s) indexed and added to a database that could increase the likelihood that your accounts or computer get hacked down the road.

Again, I’m not suggesting that you NOT use Google to research business ideas, market potential, new ideas or new concepts. You absolutely should. It’s an important source of information and presents a wealth of knowledge quickly and efficiently. Just…Please… Practice Safe Googling.

What’s a Twitterment?

August 31, 2011 Leave a comment

We came. We planked. We golfed. We Twittered.

The 1st EVER Golf Twitterment has come and gone but not without a lot of conversation, amazing memories and hilarious stories from participants, sponsors & organizers of the event.

You might ask the question, “What’s a Twitterment” or “Why a Twitterment”. Two fun questions that I love answering. First the what.

Twit·ter·ment/Twih-Tuhr-Mehnt/ [1] A non-traditional Golf Tournament that creates powerful conversations & lasting memories through social activities, challenges and the sharing of unique business and personal stories through social media.

The Why.

Because social media makes it possible. The Golf Twitterment was born out of a conversation between 5 individuals on twitter. We asked, “What if we were to create a Twitter-only golf tournament? One that breaks the mold of a traditional golf tournament with sponsors, participants & stuffy receptions. What if we gave sponsors the opportunity to run a fun, unique and interesting challenge at the hole they sponsor that connects directly with their brand and the products/services they offer? And finally, what if we we further ‘Gamified’ the tournament by assigning point values to each challenge, developing bonus challenges that teams can complete on to accumulate points & be proclaimed the winning Twitterment team?”

Giftopia Twitterment Twitterment Twitterment

At first we thought we were crazy. Fellow organizers initially thought that securing 100 golfers much less selling out the tournament would be challenging and take considerable effort & resources. With good reason. Not only was it the first time this was ever going to be attempted anywhere in the world, we had just over 6 weeks to put everything together. That meant finding prizes, securing sponsors, inviting attendees and scheduling volunteers to assist during the day.

We had all of the pieces of the puzzle – and we used twitter to help us reach our audience and create interest and awareness for the event. Within one week of promoting the event we had 10 teams registered and 10 sponsors confirmed. We knew we were on to something.

The sponsors kept coming and so did the participants & networking dinner guests. By the time August 22nd rolled around, we had nearly 25 sponsors, 20 reception-only guests and just over 100 participants for golf!

Special thanks to our GOLD Sponsors: ORYX Advertising, Charcoal Group, Groundhog Divers and Galt Country Club. You and our silver sponsors helped to make the event an unbelievable success! Just check out some of the quotes overheard from the day:

“This is by far the most fun I have ever had at a golf tournament” – Katie C.

“I’ve been to a lot of golf tournaments before, but this is by far the best” Avi M.

“The sponsors’ challenges were so much fun! It was great to meet so many business owners in Waterloo Region.” Max S.

“Whoever thought of drinking the grape juice as a challenge from The Wine Expert is genius. Sick, but genius!” Brittny S.

The list goes on. A local tech startup, GooseChase Adventures helped us keep track of all of the points with their mobile application (For BlackBerry & iPhone) GooseChase. Here’s a video that they put together from all of the pictures that were submitted during the event:

We awarded prizes for atypical ‘winners’. Individuals who tweeted the most. Teams that tweeted the most. Highest GooseChase score and most sunburned. Our amazing sponsors helped us secure great prizes such as Diving lessons from Groundhog divers, Gift Cards from the Charcoal Group, Home Theater System form Gibson’s Sound & Vision, brand new smartphones from Wind Mobile, and so much more. Participants not only walked away with great memories from the challenges and the event, but they actually walked away with something of value as well!

Of course, no Twitterment would be complete without recording every golfer’s attempt at re-creating the famous Happy Gilmore golf swing. Here are some of the top videos:

Here is a look at Scott M’s #WINNING Video:
Scott M. ID# 227 http://bit.ly/wrgt11happywinner
Here is the runner up Top 5 list:
Brent F. ID#234 http://bit.ly/wrgt11happy2nd
Avi M. ID#174 http://bit.ly/wrgt11happy3rd
Alex K. ID#239 http://bit.ly/wrgt11happy4th
Krista H. ID#198 http://bit.ly/wrgt11happy5th
Robert S ID#247 http://bit.ly/wrgt11happy6th
Celebrity appearance by:
MOOSE W. ID#212 http://bit.ly/wrgt11MOOSE

As you can imagine, we heard a lot of comments such as, “I can’t believe I missed this” and “Count me in for next year”. Count you in is exactly what we intend to do. Now that the First Golf Twitterment to take place anywhere in the world is in the books, we have no doubt that it will be bigger and better next year. Make sure you don’t miss out on this next year as we’re already starting to plan the #WRGT12 to see how we can top this year’s event. Follow us on Twitter and visit our fan page on facebook so you don’t miss out on the action! (if you have pictures from the event, post them on our facebook wall as well!)

Cheers!

Your Waterloo Region Golf Twitterment Organizers
(Matt, Michelle, J.R., Karl, Alex, Greg, Amanda

Are Your Search Results Being Censored?

August 4, 2011 1 comment

 

A squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook

This is one of my favourite TED talks. Eli Pariser discusses Online Filter Bubbles and how this concept is being used by search engines to predetermine and tailor your search results. Searching by relevance is an interesting concept. Interesting and scary.

Forget browser cookies. That’s so Google 2005. Even if you’re not signed into your Google account, it’s estimated that today there are 57 signals that search engines like Google use to personally tailor your search results. Your location, browser, version, ISP, operating system and several more factors are criteria that the algorithm uses to predict what it thinks you want to see. (source: Eli Pariser)

If you’re aware of Google’s real-time search bar, this should be familiar to you. It’s already trying to predict WHAT keywords you’re entering in the search bar & working hard in the background to customize your search results based on those terms. The reality is, you and I can search for the same thing and receive very different results from Google. For example, I cleared my browser’s cookies and history and typed in “golf” in Google’s search bar. Here was my result:

Golf Search ResultAs you can see – based on my location, Google is showing me Golf North as the first search result. Kitchener-Waterloo golf course listings are also showing. What do you see when you search for ‘Golf’?

I mentioned this is both interesting and scary. Having the ability to control what I see on the internet is very ‘Big Brother’ to me.

Why this is interesting:
Adwords & paid search is more efficient. If I’m a golf course in Waterloo, Ontario, running an adwords campaign, I would want my PPC ad budget to be spent on targeting customers who will actually play my course. Based on location, tailored search results could theoretically help focus your adwords budget more efficiently by targeting these people more directly.

Increases more relevant search results. The amount of time you spend looking through pages of less relevant search results is reduced.

Why this is scary:
It blocks the flow of information. Through customized search results, your experience on the internet is effectively being censored. Some information is shown to you based on determined relevance and some is not. The search algorithm determines this.

It can hinder innovation. To stimulate continued innovation, we need to be introduced to new people, new ideas, new concepts and locations. The internet is likely the best and most powerful medium to accomplish this, however personally tailored search results could limit the breadth and depth of information, ideas and concepts you see.

+1 For Google+

June 28, 2011 7 comments

Update July 11, 2011: You can now circle me on Google+ here http://gplus.to/mattduench

I recently received an invitation to try Google+ – the new social networking site from google. I was immediately impressed with its simplicity in design as well as the ease in creating an account. Seamless integration across android devices makes this a powerful social networking tool for the mobile-connected generation. Check out my review of the service here:


ORYX Advertising Website

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QR Codes on Buck n’ Doe T-shirts

They’re sometimes called Buck n’ Does, Jack n’ Jills, Stag n’ Does… but if you’re not familiar with them, they’re basically just a big engagement party put on by the wedding party and close family. Typically, a hall is rented, bartenders are hired, booze is served, games are played – all in an effort to raise funds for the bride and groom for their upcoming wedding. My brother’s was this past weekend.

To separate the wedding party from the rest of the guests, often t-shirts are made that also identifies that person’s role in the wedding (Groomsman, Best Man, Bridesmaids, Bride, Maid of Honour, Groom, etc.). If you’ve read a few of the other posts on my blog, you know that I am a big fan of using QR Codes in interesting ways. What better than to add a layer of interactivity to the standard buck & doe shirts?!

QR Code T-Shirt

What does this QR Code link to you ask? Well, we ended up capturing some embarrassing video of my brother from my wedding last August, so I decided to create a QR code with the video embedded behind it so that whomever scanned it would be able to watch the video on their smartphone.

QR code

There some great analytics built into the code as well. I can track where it was opened, when it was opened, browser that opened it and what device. Not that it has much demographic relevance for this particular activity, but you get the point. Integrating QR codes into an existing campaign activity is a great way to increase interactivity of your platform be it print, billboard, retail, POS, brochures, etc., etc.

My brother and his fiancee? Our friends and family were very generous and we had some great prizes donated that helped them raise a good chunk of change to put towards their wedding. And, well, sure – he was a little red in the face but it’s all in good fun. Fun we can continue to enjoy for the life of the t-shirts and beyond.

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