the voice of reason in marketing

November 5, 2015

Your belly button is a marketing tool.

Filed under: Effective Communication, Marketing Strategies, The Power of Persuasion, Writing Tips — Christina Miranda @ 9:56 am

Consumers suck, don’t they?  They need to be rewarded for everything…liking things, sharing things, buying things, answering things.  It’s maddening.

Well marketers, we have no one to blame but ourselves.  We’ve conditioned people to chase carrots and respond to hoopla…which means we’ve ALSO conditioned them to ignore stuff that’s boring, predictable, trite, and unrewarding.

Where does this leave email subject lines?  At the top of your “spend brainpower here” list.

Think about it…all the time and energy you spend creating the perfect email content is 100% for naught if people don’t open it.  And when sifting through the barrage of daily incoming emails, consumers use three main criteria to determine which ones will get their attention:

  1. How much they care about you vs. how much they care about the rest of the senders sitting in their inbox.
  2. How much time they have available when your email arrives.
  3. Is the content going to be worth their time?

And #3 is why subject lines should get your brainpower.  If your marketing email subject lines are things like “August Newsletter” or “News from (company name)” or even something a little more specific like “Winter Packages at (company name)”… you are relying on the first two criteria – which are beyond your control – to supply the magic open sesame of consumer response.

But if your subject line is something like…

We don’t make linen. (Chilewich, a textile company)

I hate purple. (Also from Chilewich)

The ecosystem of your belly button. (American Museum of Natural History)

Have you ever wanted to create a chocolate sculpture? (South End Kitchen, VT)

Get serenaded by Harry Connick, Jr. (Hotel on North, MA)

…you’re using the subject line as a lure to snap desensitized recipients to attention.  It’s likely that 80% or more of the emails they receive each day have boring subject lines.  Make yours interesting and you’re one notch closer to seducing them into hearing your message.

Here’s the best part.  If you pay heed to #3 (teasing interesting content)…and then you actually ensure that the content IS interesting…over time, it’s going to positively impact #1 and #2.  Remember: marketers train consumers.  And the more you train them that your emails are interesting, the more that #1- they will care about you and your messages, and #2- no matter when your email arrives, they will make the time to read it.

It’s a delicious cycle of persuasive marketing goodness.  And soon you will find that consumers – those picky, aloof, what’s-in-it-for-me monsters we marketers have created – will suck just a little bit less.

October 9, 2015

Catch more flies. Make more money.

A small restaurant in Denver, CO shows the world that when it comes to establishing your business philosophy, honey trumps vinegar hands down. 

Picture this:  You’re starving.  You’re weary after a long day.  You want to shed your troubles with good company, some laughs, delicious food, and certainly a cocktail or two.  And as you step up to the host stand, your request for a table is answered with the single most annoying phrase on the planet:

“For a party of two, the wait time is currently around one hour and 45 minutes.”

If you’re the restaurant owner, what’s the fallout from this scenario?

  • The MOMENT people enter your restaurant, they’re hit with something negative.
  • Most people will just leave and go elsewhere.
  • While they may not actively HATE you, they feel disappointment and frustration.
  • If it happens more than once, many people will stop trying.

Most importantly, you lose the opportunity to form a relationship with people who are just ripe for the picking.  They’ve sought you out and made the effort to land on your doorstep.  And now you have to turn them away?  This chronic problem of busy restaurants makes owners (and their marketing folks) weep.

But the smart, cheerful, positive thinkers who run Work & Class are shedding no tears over this issue.

On a recent visit to Denver, I was greeted at their host stand with that same annoying phrase.  I glanced at the teeny-tiny, jam-packed bar and said to the two hostesses, “Rats. We are only in town tonight and were dying to try this place, but that’s just too long to wait.  Oh well.”

The hostesses could have simply said, “Oh, sorry…come see us again on your next visit!”  And had they done so, that would have been the end of my relationship with Work & Class.

Instead, they said, “hold on a minute.”  And the two of them scanned the wait list, craned their necks to look at the locations of patrons at the bar, and whispered conspiratorially to each other.  Then one of them leaned in and said to me, “See those people sitting at the far side of the bar?  In around 20 minutes, I’m going to seat them.  If you want to wait right here at the host stand, I’ll take you with me when I go to tell them their table is ready, and you can grab their seats and eat at the bar.  And I could bring cocktails here to you while you’re waiting.”

Who could say no to that?  Especially since they both had huge smiles on their faces and were clearly delighted to be making my friend and me happy.  We said yes.  A champagne and a whiskey appeared momentarily, and then the best part happened:  we had a 20-minute front row seat to watch the magic of the Work & Class host stand in action.  Here’s what goes down:

  • The hostesses are not robots…they display empathy for each and every person’s plight with the wait time, and they remained genuinely cheerful and positive despite delivering unwelcome news.
  • Because the bar area is so small, the restaurant formed a relationship with the bar across the street to funnel patrons there for 10% off their entire bar tab while awaiting their “table is ready” call.
  • If you choose to stay and wait, there’s a $4 “wait drink.” (brilliant move)
  • The hostesses never – not once – let anyone walk away after hearing the wait time without ALSO hearing another solution… bar across the street, try us earlier or later, join us on Wednesday, come back for dessert, sit at the communal table outside… and the solutions were never the same.  They were based on what each particular diner needed/wanted.

The pounce-on-the-barstool strategy worked beautifully, and as the night unfolded, we learned that the hostesses were not alone in fostering the positive attitude that permeates Work & Class.  Bartenders, bussers, waitstaff, owner… they are ALL just ridiculously happy people.

And the tone of the restaurant fosters that same attitude in the patrons.  The “House Rules” are displayed on huge signs, and they’re written so adorably that you are inspired to follow them:

Work & Class House Rules

You can also read a more detailed version of the House Rules on their website.

Cost-conscious restaurant owners may read this and say, “Are you nuts?  Why would I send people to my competitor, much less pay to have cards printed to send them there?  Why would I discount a ‘wait drink’ when people who decide to wait would end up buying them at full price?  I’ll never get my hostesses to be that personable, and besides that, if they have to spend extra time with each individual person at the host stand, I’ll require more hosts per shift.”

And to them I say… everyone who visits Work & Class is put in a good mood, even if they decide not to wait.  And Work & Class is packed to the rafters every single night.  You do the math.

So if you are visiting Denver, you must eat here.  The delicious food is just a bonus…the infusion of joy is the real daily special.

June 23, 2015

Tell a story without a lecture.

Filed under: Effective Communication, Observations From the Field, The Power of Persuasion — Christina Miranda @ 8:08 am

A picture might be worth 1,000 words…but a few carefully chosen words can often paint an instantly compelling picture.

Take this ad, for instance…seen in the Uptown 1 subway station at 23rd Street:

lower east side film festival










With just those two sentences, the Lower East Side Film Festival creates this impression:  “we’re not snooty like those other film festivals, you don’t need to know someone or be on the list, we don’t put on airs, we’re social and approachable, and you’ll make friends here.”  And do I detect a whiff of snarky nonconformity here, sending out seductive signals to attract those with a similar perspective?  Yes.  I believe I do.

Here’s another, seen just last week on the bridge driving into Boston from I-93:

ehrlich pest control










With just that simple phrasing, Ehrlich Pest Control says this:  “we hire the best people, who have a natural instinct for ridding the world of pests, and regardless of whether they do it for paycheck or for the sheer enjoyment of it…you can be sure that if you want critters gone, our guys will not rest until that happens…oh, and by the way, we’re funny and we have social skills too.” (Note to the Gods of Standstill Traffic: thank you for enabling me to snap this photo.)

What lesson can be learned from this?  Often, the indirect approach to communicating your personality has greater impact.  Don’t lecture people on who you are and what you stand for… just prove it through the way you communicate with them.

As we tell Redpoint clients all the time… don’t say you’re cool, just BE cool.  Explaining to people that you’re cool only weakens your case.

Here’s a parting bonus example that throws in a strategic photo:  the housekeeping tip envelope at Jay Peak Resort. It’s kind of sweet, and yet you’d think twice before ever crossing Alice…a juxtaposition which aptly represents that resort and mountain.

Jay Peak housekeeping tip envelope








Bravo Jay Peak.  You tugged my little branding heart so hard that I gave Alice 20 bucks for a one-night stay.  Or maybe I was just scared.  Either way…it worked!


April 20, 2015

Eight Ways to Apologize Without Saying “I’m Sorry.”

Filed under: Effective Communication, The Power of Persuasion — Christina Miranda @ 8:54 am

Christina Miranda:

Apparently, people everywhere are being naughty. This post from 2011 continues to be the most popular post on, drawing in hundreds of contrite visitors each day who seek the perfect words to deliver their apology. So here it is again, my friends. Go forth and mend fences.

Originally posted on the voice of reason in marketing:

The phrase “I’m sorry” is supposed to make its recipient feel better, but thanks to a lifetime of misuse, it rarely completes its mission.  Indeed, it often requires assistance to have an impact, such as repetition, further explanation, multiple exclamation points (see why this one won’t work), or even…groveling.

Somewhere along the way of evolution, the words “I’m sorry” picked up a couple of permanent connotation hitchhikers:  assumption of guilt and admittance of wrongdoing.  So when you say the words to someone, there is an implication that you are in some way responsible for the situation.

And yet, the word “sorry” is employed for a laughably wide range of circumstances, even those for which we are not to blame…from condolences over a death (I’m so sorry for your loss) to asking a speaker to repeat a sentence (Sorry…what did you say?) to the absolutely brilliant application…

View original 281 more words

February 5, 2015

Four quick tips to strengthen your writing.

Filed under: Effective Communication, Writing Tips — Tags: , , — Christina Miranda @ 10:11 am

Writing is a skill that needs practice, just like your golf swing or your skiing technique.  However, unlike golf or skiing, very few people devote their Saturdays to grammar and phraseology.

Here’s the equivalent of installing a putting green in your office.  Work these four tips into your everyday writing, and give those stagnant brain muscles a workout.

Stop beginning your sentences with “I” or “We.”  You’ll be surprised how often you do it, and making this one tiny change will enhance the power of your message.  Here’s why and how.

Choose descriptive words that pack a stand-alone punch.  There are – give or take – a million words in the English language.  It’s a safe bet that “great” can always be replaced with a more meaningful word (get some help on that here) and the words “very,” “really,” and “extremely” are unnecessary; very happy = ecstatic, pleased, delighted, and so on…extremely upset = livid, furious, incensed, and so on.

Condense wordy phrases into compact ones…or better yet, into a single word.  This reduces the burden on your reader’s attention span and illustrates your point with instant clarity.  For example:

Coming at the wrong time = ill-timed

Covered with decorative elements = ornate

Make this process smoother = streamline

Almost ready to put the finishing touches on = poised to complete

Hard to find = elusive

Aspire to cut your document length by a third.  This measuring stick will serve you well:  in any first draft, at least a third of the words are poorly chosen.  That’s because it’s really hard arduous to write and edit at the same time simultaneously.  Keep your thought process intact while the words flow, and then attack your phrases with a critical eye afterward.

I hope you find these tips useful.

Reprogramming your writing style using these four tips will take awareness, patience, and a thesaurus.  Keep practicing, buy a red pen, and eventually new habits will form.

January 12, 2015

Eat more lamb, Larry Bird.

We humans are an unruly lot…we are busy and distracted, and frankly, we just don’t like being told what to do.  This means that informative and useful signage is often overlooked as white noise competing for our attention amidst a barrage of sensory input.

Savvy businesses know a fool-proof cure for this:  unexpected humor that seduces people into reading the otherwise-boring sign.  It’s a brilliant strategy.  Not only do people read it…they get the message AND they are left with an impression of a business, company, or brand with a groovy personality.  Behold:

Bennett’s Store in coastal Maine could say “No Parking” or it could say…

larry bird










Wood ‘n Hart Farm at the Halifax Seaport Farmer’s Market in Nova Scotia could say “Lamb for Sale” or it could say…

Halifax sign










The Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority in NYC could say “Don’t Drink and Drive” or it could say…











An airport in Fort Lauderdale could say “Pardon Our Construction” or it could say…

airport sign








The Weylin B. Seymour’s glamorous event space in Brooklyn could say “Wheelchair Accessible Bathroom” or it could say…











These signs have stopped countless people in their tracks…and quite possibly prompted them to snap a picture just like I did.  Mission accomplished.

So, the next time you have something important – but boring – to communicate, take a few minutes to answer the question:  how can I make this message interesting?

Need more inspiration?  See what the Inn at Manchester did with their housekeeping tip envelope.  Seriously…if they can make THAT fun, anything’s possible.

December 18, 2014

How one hotel housekeeper won my brand allegiance…and my heart.

She stopped me in my tracks.  And prompted me to track her down on property to give her a hug.

That’s no small feat for a hotel housekeeper to achieve.  As a hospitality consultant at Redpoint who trains hotels on marketing and guest service, I’ve stayed in more than 500 hotels around the world…from the barest of guest houses to the most luxurious of resorts.  Some even came with my own personal butler.  Many promise to deliver anticipatory service.  And yet none of them…not a single one…captured my heart (and my future business) the way the Delta Halifax in Nova Scotia did, despite all of them having the exact same opportunity to do so.

And it’s all thanks to Sandra the housekeeper.  Here’s how it went down.

A decades-old neck injury makes it most comfortable for me to sleep with a pillow that has laughingly been referred to as “a few sheets of loose leaf paper stuffed inside a pillowcase.”  I no longer travel with it (preserving its precious life span), so when I sleep at hotels, I remove the big fluffy pillow from the pillowcase and replace it with a folded-once towel from the bathroom.  I repeat this procedure every night of my stay because the housekeeper always restores the bed to its default state and the towel to the bathroom.

Imagine that habit solidifying into autopilot after around 500 times of having to repeat it.  And then imagine walking into the room after two nights of a four-night stay and seeing this on the bed:

Small note, thin pillow, big surprise.








That note (highlighted in the photo so you couldn’t miss it) was handwritten on the back of a water glass coaster and resting on top of a precision crafted bath-towel-pillow.  Thickness?  Perfect.  Edges?  Neatly tucked.  Here’s what the note said:

housekeeping note 1










After giggling with pleasure for a few minutes – who doesn’t love a good surprise? – I wrote Sandra a heartfelt thank-you note and left it on the bathroom sink for her to find the next morning.  And then the next day, I returned to my room to find this:

housekeeping note 2










That did it.  I left my room immediately – coat on and all – and went to find Sandra.  We met, we hugged, we laughed.  And then I went to find Sandra’s boss to ask how on earth they train their staff to be so observant and thoughtful.  His answer was identical to the one every other hotelier delivers when asked about their approach to guest service:  “we look to hire those kinds of people, and then as part of our training program, we encourage them to use their judgment to make a guest’s stay more personal and memorable.”  If I only had a nickel for every time a hotelier said those exact words to me.

The difference here is…the Delta Halifax has actually achieved it.  Sandra – while the hero of this story – was not alone.  The front desk person checking me in recognized that I was from the U.S. and whipped out a city map unasked, just to orient me with my surroundings.  The breakfast server brought me a to-go cup with fresh coffee – also unasked – after a chat revealed that I was running late and didn’t have time for the extra cup I wanted to savor at the table.  The maintenance guy stopped what he was doing to help me carry a load of awkward packages to my door.  And on, and on, and on.

Hoteliers, take note:  the Delta Halifax could do with a renovation.  The rooms are dated, corridors need a refresh, and I’m sure the GM and Director of Ops walk through that hotel every day and dream of what they’d do with a nice fat capital expense budget.  And to them, I say:  It didn’t matter one whit to me.  The place was spotless, the shower heat and pressure was just fine, and never in my life have I felt so cared for by a bunch of strangers.  You could leave the rooms as-is for the next twenty years and I would stay there every single time I come to Halifax…no matter how many cool hotels spring up or renovate around you.  The moral of the story?  Truly amazing service wins brand loyalty, despite any other real or perceived shortcomings.

Delta Hotels and Resorts…I sure hope that ALL your properties are as gracious and extraordinary as the Delta Halifax.  Because I now plan to stay in a Delta property whenever I can while in Canada, and thanks to Sandra and the whole crew at Halifax, you’ve got some VERY big shoes – and pillowcases – to fill.

October 28, 2014

Four secrets to delivering successful presentations.

Filed under: Effective Communication, Effective Presentations, The Power of Persuasion — Christina Miranda @ 10:59 am

If you’ve been to a Redpoint presentation before…you know what this is: texture.

This morning, when my business partner Vickie saw the 78-slide presentation I’m delivering at a conference tomorrow, she asked, “Um…HOW long are you speaking?”  At my response, she gaped, “FOUR HOURS?…you’re talking to the same group of people for FOUR HOURS?”

My response:  “No Vick, I’m entertaining them for four hours.  The fact that they’ll learn something along the way is just a bonus.”

The secret to engaging an audience of any size is not in the content…it’s in the delivery.  Sure, the content has to be relevant, accurate, and educational.  But the seductive charm comes from the bow you wrap around it.

I’m often asked how I can stand up in front of large audiences for two hours or two days and manage to deliver just the right amount of content and still hold people’s attention to the very last second.  Well kids, ssssshhhh.  Just between you and me… here are the four things I think through when crafting every single presentation…before I even start typing one word of content:

HOW MUCH TIME IS ALLOTTED?  Time parameters dictate the quantity and choice of content.  For example, if a 45-minute presentation includes a 5 minute video, an allowance of 10 minutes for audience interaction, and 5 minutes for everyone coming in and getting settled…that leaves only 25 minutes available for actual content.  If 15 of those minutes must cover technical information critical to the takeaway…that leaves only 10 minutes available for “original” content.  So, when you think you have 45 minutes to fill…in reality, you may only have 10 minutes.  Choose content wisely.

WHAT ARE THE GOALS?  Sounds elementary but most people don’t think through this crucial step.  The goals are not the same as content choices, but rather answer the question:  what do you want the end result of this presentation to be?  I recently presented a keynote session at the Vermont Travel Industry Conference (VTIC), and the goals of that session were:  1- Provide value to VTIC attendees by delivering useful educational content; 2- Infuse joy into a conference that (as instructed to me) needed it; 3- Make the VTIC look cool; 4- Create a positive impression for Redpoint.  The topic – The Magic of Surprise in Guest Service – was incidental.  The goals would have been the same if the topic had been crisis management, social media, or how to carve a turkey.  Deciding on your goals helps you make choices about HOW to present your topic (for the VTIC, I surprised the audience with beer, pretzels, and an eight-piece jazz band – watch that session here), and in what order the information needs to unfold.

WHAT SHOULD BE THE FOCUS?  It’s better to cover a few key topics deeply and slowly, than a dozen topics lightly and fast.  Choose your core messages and don’t stray.  You will hold your audience’s attention and make a lasting impact.  A great line I heard years ago that’s served me well is… overwriting is just a failure to make choices.

HOW CAN TEXTURE BE ADDED?  You will lose people to daydreaming, their mobile device, private troubles, a desire to be elsewhere, and even a need to go to the bathroom.  Texture – doing different things and breaking patterns – is the best way to combat that.  Texture is anything that snaps people out of their thoughts and back into what you’re saying.  There is no formula for texture…in fact, the unexpected element is what makes it so successful, and it has to be natural to the presenter.  Handing out prizes/gifts, stopping to talk to one particular audience member, showing an unexpected picture, singing a song, making everyone get up and switch seats, calling up a volunteer…ANYTHING to break the monotony of standing up there and talking at them.  Find a natural way to infuse texture into your presentations, and invoke it when you need it.

That’s it, friends.  Those are my big fancy presentation secrets.  And now they are yours too… go knock ‘em dead.

September 23, 2014

Postcards: low-tech “social media” marketing.

Filed under: Marketing Strategies, Observations From the Field, Social Media — Christina Miranda @ 8:36 am
Dig those crazy postcards, kids.

Dig those crazy postcards, kids.

The postcard is making a comeback…and not as a communication tool, but as a social media marketing tool.

Having postcards available for guests to purchase at your business is one thing.  Giving them out for free and offering to mail them – including postage – is quite another.  In marketing-speak, that’s the old school version of “encouraging a share.”

I’ve stumbled across two noteworthy examples of this in my travels recently.  The first was at P.J. Clarke’s, an institution among NYC bar/restaurants (since 1884).  A note at the bottom of the menu informs diners they can ask for a P.J. Clarke’s postcard to write out, and then give to their server to apply the required postage and mail.  (Side note…I had planned to do this, but the food coma from the Cast Iron Skillet of Baked Mac & Cheese with Peas & Bacon rendered me incapable of writing.)

The second – and brilliant – example (pictured here) was at Stratton Mountain Resort.  Perched in a place of honor on the front desk, a plexiglass cube filled with colorful postcards beckons travelers to drop a note <ahem, marketing piece about Stratton> to good ol’ Aunt Mary back home.  You can’t miss it…and you automatically get an itch to do it.  While standing there, I got the added joy of hearing the kid next to me ask his dad, “What’s a postcard?”… and then, of course, he had to send one to his friend back home.  (The hilarity continued when he had to text his friend to get the address, which is the only fly in this marketing ointment…who knows anyone’s mailing address anymore?)

Why are postcards sent by guests a smart marketing tool?  Because they’re…

  • Highly visual
  • Different and noticeable
  • Inexpensive
  • Fun for the sender & recipient
  • Turnkey and low maintenance

Postcards never get flagged as spam, they don’t need specific keywords to be found, and they are likely to be tacked up on the recipient’s refrigerator or bulletin board, quietly radiating subliminal marketing messages with every casual glance they receive.

When was the last time you could say that about your OTHER marketing tactics?

“Social media”…indeed.

August 26, 2014

Surprise! Creating guest surprises is harder than it looks…

Filed under: Customer Service, Marketing Strategies, Spending Budgets Wisely — Christina Miranda @ 10:53 am

Last Christmas, the Canadian airline WestJet surprised a plane full of arriving passengers at baggage claim by delivering fully wrapped gifts they had just specifically requested from “Santa” only hours before at their departure gate.  (If you haven’t seen that video, grab some tissues and watch it here.)

To date, the WestJet Christmas Miracle video has received nearly 40 million views on YouTube, making it the envy of hospitality marketers around the world.  Marketers – and their CEO bosses – watched longingly as the media attention spotlight on WestJet grew brighter and the video view count grew higher, and they all had the same thought:  I want a “WestJet video” for MY brand.

Alas, most of them are likely to retire with “I wish I had a WestJet video” still on their career bucket list, and here’s why:  surprises – especially of that magnitude – are bloody hard work.

Pulling off a surprise like that requires precision timing, which requires a recipe of planning, staffing, money, creativity, and problem solving.  You cannot fumble at the goal line.  You cannot plan a “partial surprise.”  You can’t get the timing “almost right.”  You get ONE SHOT.  So you have to make it count, or every bit of investment you put into it is a big ol’ waste.

This leaves no wiggle room for indecision, executive in-fighting, budget paralysis, miscommunication, or distraction from the focus.  And that’s a lot to ask of ANY brand, at ANY size.  That “little” five minute video required four months of singular planning attention, 150 WestJet employees, an extraordinary budget, and extensive marketing resources in two cities.  Such a level of orchestration deserves every bit of brand-envy it receives, because marketers worth their salt know it’s a rare phenomenon.

To determine if your brand has what it takes to successfully leverage the magic of surprise – at any level – ask yourself…

  • Do we embrace fun?
  • Do all our in-house departments work together harmoniously, and if not…can they?
  • Are we comfortable taking risks?
  • Are we willing to spend unanticipated money if needed to protect the surprise all the way to the finish line?
  • Do we complete our regular, non-surprise-oriented projects on time, and with precision?

If the answer to any of those questions was “no,” then you should think twice before investing a ton of resources into planning a one-shot-deal surprise for your guests.  You will save yourself a lot of misery (and money) by using other tools in your marketing toolbox instead.

Parting tip:  If you ARE planning to create a big surprise, keep this in mind…the bigger and cooler the surprise, the higher the bar is set for next time.  Case in point:  for my keynote address at the Vermont Travel Industry Conference in April, Redpoint surprised the audience of 250 people with beer, pretzels, costume accessories, and a New Orleans style jazz band (watch the trailer).  Two months later, the Vermont Ski Areas Association wanted a similar surprise for their annual conference…but what fun would it be to orchestrate the same surprise?  So Redpoint cajoled the kind folks at Ben & Jerry’s to create an exclusive ice cream flavor – Vermont Powder – just for that conference, and we delivered it to the audience in a surprise moment punctuated by a song we “wrote.” (Watch the Hot Sardines perform that song here.)

It was all great fun, and we had a blast doing it.  But now people start to salivate the moment they hear that I’m the keynote speaker, and (sorry, mom) it ain’t because they think I’m pretty.  Lesson learned:  human nature = “oooh, what’s next?”

Ah, well.  Redpoint is up to the challenge.  Save your pity for WestJet…they have to top way more than beer and ice cream.


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