Managing Marketing: The importance of brands and branding in the digital age

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Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Simone Bartley, co-founder and CEO of Together Co discusses with Darren the concept of brand and brand promise and its increasing importance to business in the digital marketing environment and why brand is core to any business requiring the leadership of the CEO.

You can listen to the podcast here:

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Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing and today I’m joined by Simone Bartley who is the co-founder and CEO of Together Co. Hi, Simone.

Simone:

Hi Darren, how are you?

Darren:

I’m good but thanks for joining me because we had a conversation about three or four weeks ago about brand.

Simone:

We did, on the couch.

Darren:

It was really interesting because a lot of people seem to be confused about brand these days. Do you find that?

Simone:

I do.

Darren:

Or the role of brands?

Simone:

Well the role of brands: digital has become the focus, hasn’t it? So, everything is lost in marketers trying to understand digital and what it means for their business and how to maximise the nirvana of data and accountability and so forth.

So, brand has taken a back step to a degree but I think there has always been confusion around brand.

Darren:

It’s become more confused because they’ve now got more ways than ever before to articulate and reinforce what the brand is but I think it’s got to the stage where they’ve lost sight, in some cases, of the fact that there is a need to have a brand.

Simone:

I would say that there are enough companies that still understand brand but it’s those that are really not willing to invest in brand that are the ones that choose not to understand it.

Because it is an investment. If you think about great brands and the value they have sitting on balance sheets around Apple, Coca-Cola, Google, all the top brands in the world—brand valuation is important at the end of the day.

Darren:

It’s interesting that you should say that because I’ve had quite a number of discussions with CFO’s that go, ‘there’s no brand on our balance sheet’ and I go, ‘it’s probably called goodwill’ and they go, ‘oh, ok’.

Goodwill is a big part of it and in a way brand actually is the encapsulation of good will, isn’t it? Because that’s the way your customers who bring value to your business perceive your business. Goodwill is all about their perception of your business and brand.

Simone:

Of course.

Darren:

But finance people don’t think of goodwill naturally as brand.

Simone:

But they would be thinking about it if they were to come to a moment of sale. Because that’s where the valuation really comes to bear, so it is at that time.

Darren:

So, let’s go back a step because I have a very clear definition in my mind of what a brand is. What do you think a brand is? How would you describe it if there was a freshly hatched CMO here who was saying, ’how should I describe my brand?’

Simone:

I would say to them, ‘a brand is who you are and what you stand for’. That makes up your brand story and really that helps you understand your ‘why? What’s your reason for doing what you do? And the reason why your potential customers should consider engaging you by purchasing you and being involved with you.’

Once you’ve articulated that then you can get to the promise. If anybody asked me what’s the shortest definition of a brand I would always say it’s a promise: a promise, at the end of the day, between a business and a customer and a product service or experience.

Darren:

Interesting because I like Al Reeves where he says a brand is any pronoun because you think of any celebrity—they’re pronouns, Uber is a pronoun. In fact, brand names are always pronouns; they’re never just nouns.

Simone:

I think it’s a clever description but I don’t think it’s particularly helpful at the end of the day.

Darren:

He did go on to say, ‘the strength of a brand actually exists in the mind of the consumer’.

Simone:

It does and in the hearts.

Darren:

He said the mind (we’ll get onto the anatomy later)—I’m not sure it actually exists in the hearts. And that the strength of the brand is how consistent they associate with that pronoun.

So, in the case of a celebrity and let’s pick Taylor Swift or someone like that, if you went and asked 100 people what they thought of Taylor Swift, the strength of that brand would be how aligned people are to the perception of what or who Taylor represents as that brand.

I thought that was an interesting way to think about it because he then went on to say, ‘brand management is about managing that perception in the consumer’s mind to maximise their engagement or intention to interact or purchase’.

Simone:

And you need that for clarity—absolutely. I mean we don’t all want to have to spend our time thinking about what a brand stands for. It’s up to the brand to articulate that in a very succinct way and, as you say, repeat that over and over by demonstrating that through the products they bring to market, the service they offer or the experience I have with them when they interact with them. If they can provide that consistently then it will be reinforced time and time again.

Darren:

A lot of organisations just allow brands to almost happen by default. Some organisations, especially start-ups, you’re not sure that they sat down and said, ‘we’re going to create a brand here—what’s it going to represent?’ They’ve just got on with doing business and at some point, some clever bunny said, ‘so what do we represent now?’

Simone:

It’s true. We’ve actually worked with a few start-ups in a similar situation to that and generally, what we’ve found is that they start thinking about brand as the business develops. If they don’t leave it too late they can start really investing in brand but others leave it too late and then they’re looking at a re-brand when they’re really a young business.

But most of them will consider developing a brand pre-sale because they’ll be looking again for the value that’s sitting in the brand, the good will as you call it.

Darren:

You would think that they would think about it before they’d even go out and look for funding because investors are customers. In a way they’re engaging with a business so having a strong brand, a desirable promise would be important, wouldn’t it?

Simone:

It’s true—absolutely. But it comes back to marketing and where marketing seems to sit in the value chain in organisations big or small. It’s seen as a cost, a line item that is going to cost us a lot of money and unless I can attach a reasonable cost per acquisition associated with that I don’t want to do the investment.

There is investment required to start a business because you need to articulate who you are, what it is you’re taking to market, and spend some money on taking it to market?

Darren:

Isn’t it interesting that they think of it as an additional expense because if you articulate your brand early enough then you integrate the brand into everything you do; it’s not actually an extra expense because businesses communicate a lot just through doing business.

Simone:

Most businesses that start-up have a sense of who they are. You can actually find the why through work-shopping with them; it’s just that they haven’t gone to the stage of articulating it.

Darren:

It exists naturally.

Simone:

You don’t go into a business and make it up. You’ve actually got to pull it out of the organisation. It exists there; it’s just they’re unable to articulate it unless, of course, there’s a skilled marketer involved in the start-up business.

Darren:

Who is able to extract that from their colleagues in those early days.

Simone:

And who is able to point out the importance of it and the value of it at those crucial early stages.

Darren:

Do you think it’s harder for big mature companies to do that? Once you grow to a couple of hundred people or 500 or 10,000 people does it become harder to articulate what the brand is?

Simone:

No. The longer you’re in existence the easier it should be. We work with start-ups as well as traditional businesses that are on a journey of reinvention of some sort and I find traditional businesses have rich stories hidden within them that have just never been told or they’ve been told but it was many years ago and it’s just been lost somewhere along the way and it’s our job to get in there and unearth that again and remind everybody in that organisation why the organisation does what it does.

Darren:

So, brand has a lot to do on that basis with culture, doesn’t it?

Simone:

Absolutely. Culture is key, particularly for service delivery organisations, which is really a human interaction.

Darren:

People often articulate brand with very human attributes. There’s a personification in the brand.

Simone:

There is and that’s to help it be understood, as well. It can be a bit of a cliché but we need to humanise the brand has become a little bit overused. I think there is an issue with some corporate speak that within the organisation the employees are unable to connect with the values or live those values because they’re just not well articulated.

So, we try and put it in everyday connective language, which is also inspiring not just ticking boxes.

Darren:

Jim Collin’s ‘Built to Last’ talks about purpose not brand, articulating the corporate purpose and yet we’ve got marketers now running about talking about brand purpose as well.

Is brand different to say a corporate purpose?

Simone:

Not if it’s a corporate brand. Because brand has evolved over time so I think purpose has become more important over time because of the changes that technology has brought to bear, which is the shift of power over to the consumer, the absolute transparency associated with that and the fact that organisations can no longer get away with not doing what they say they’re going to do. They have to live what they say they’re going to.

Darren:

Which is having integrity isn’t it? Doing what you say you’ll do is integrity.

Simone:

Transparency has shone a light into many industries—the food industry is a very good example and consumers, nobody wants to eat food that is poisonous anymore. People want nutritious food so this is where purpose comes into play.

We have a client that we’ve worked with recently, at the moment they’re doing almond milks and soy milks but they’ve done very well—they’ve got themselves up into Woolworths now. And they’ve taken on a purpose of keeping the big food brands honest and what they want to do is get a quality product to market and make it accessible to the average person.

Darren:

So that’s what you’d call a traditional challenger brand in that it’s acting as an aggressive number two?

Simone:

Correct. But purpose is now about delivering to that consumer power.

Darren:

I find that very large businesses and we’ve got some huge conglomerates globally, the Unilevers, the PNGs, the Mondelez, some of the South Korean businesses—the Samsungs — they’re in so many different things and they articulate so many different brands within that. Most of them are a house of brands.

And so, you get such conflicting messaging.

Simone:

Where does the purpose sit? I think in that instance the purpose should sit with the master brand, the parent company brand and all of the other brands need to be able to deliver to that but I think to bring a strong purpose down to every level of brand within some of those conglomerate organisations can get a little bit clunky and unnecessary.

Again, it comes down to there are different types of brands. You’ve got low interest brands at one end of the spectrum, which are necessary evils (I don’t really care who I use) but it’s all about rational decision making about price and convenience through to the other end of the spectrum, high-involvement brands where I’m paying a premium.

Because of the high involvement I’m expecting that that brand is somehow going to associate and link our values in some way. So that’s where purpose is really important.

Darren:

Professor Byron Sharp says there is no brand loyalty and that people just buy out of habit but I think what people miss is that most of Byron’s work is fast moving consumer goods or consumer packaged goods where in most cases you really do have low consideration.

Simone:

Of course.

Darren:

Though some people would argue and you mentioned before food is not a low consideration and people want to eat nutritious food but when you’re standing there at the supermarket aisle with a plethora of brand choices.

Simone:

Way too many choices.

Darren:

How do you distinguish one from the other? Some people will buy on price. Others will just buy brands—names that they know because they feel that’s something they can trust and others might even explore but to talk about loyalty in what’s largely become commodities categories doesn’t apply to prestige brands.

Simone:

It doesn’t and I think that’s what you constantly have to do when you’re talking about brands—what segment of brands are we referring to because you can’t make blanket statements like that without going through that process.

Darren:

But marketing loves making blanket statements. Bob, the Ad Contrarion, just recently said, ‘brands shouldn’t do anything with social media—after all social media is just talking to the people that are already buying your product and marketing’s all about acquiring customers’.

Now I read that only a couple of days ago and o.k. maybe in high volume consumer goods like supermarkets but social media works brilliantly well if I’m selling a Ferrari because all my clients are going to be out there taking photos of their new car and sharing it, making everyone else jealous so why wouldn’t I do that?

Simone:

I agree. I just think that there are too many sweeping statements being made in the marketplace and that’s where the confusion comes in. Everybody gets confused; they don’t know what are the guiding principles that I should be following?

Darren:

On that do you think that brand is a consistent approach, a consistent definition?

The role of brand–is that consistent whether I’m selling branded almond milk or prestige cars or handbags or property?

Simone:

Absolutely. You still need to give me a reason why I should buy and that comes from who you are and what you stand for and what your promise is around that product, service or experience.

Darren:

To me brand is more about who you are and would I do business with you? To me when you say, ‘promise’ it’s almost like the proposition and I’m wondering whether brand is actually a proposition.

I think brand is a bit more like the lighthouse on the hill. It’s about creating a perception or a persona that people find desirable or interesting or trustworthy and will gravitate to or they won’t. Whereas, when you say ‘promise’ what happens if you promise one thing one day and switch the promise the next day? Or is this a more fundamental promise?

Simone:

Yeah, it’s not the USP necessarily.

Darren:

Don’t you love that? That’s the unique selling proposition.

Simone:

We’re not speaking of it at that level.

Darren:

So, you’re talking about a much more visceral, this is the promise?

Simone:

Yes, correct, which comes out of the why I do what I do because it’s the why that backs it up at the end of the day.

Darren:

To me Unilever’s promise is about building a sustainable world. They want to make a world that is environmentally and humanly sustainable and then they turn around and say the promise of Dove is real beauty and the promise of Axe (they’ve changed it round) is about making young men more confident.

Suddenly I’m surrounded by often conflicting sometimes different directions within the one company.

Simone:

Some of those are the customer value proposition versus the broader purpose of the organisation so I would say with Dove and Axe that’s the CVP or customer value proposition but still those products should be delivering to the purpose of the organisation that packaging of these products does deliver to the organisation’s purpose.

Darren:

They’ve done a lot of work with their supply chain to make sure it’s sustainable. So, do you think there’s a difference between products and services when it comes to brand articulation?

Simone:

I think there are additional layers when you get to service because the brand has to be delivered in terms of the behaviour of its delivery. So, whether that is a human being or whether that is the platform, that experience that you’re having of the delivery of that service is behavioural expression.

Darren:

I’ve talked to marketers that have had a long history in product and they go, ‘oh, everything we do is completely transferrable to marketing services.’ And I have a problem with that because I usually buy the product from an intermediary (retailer) and then I do have a brand experience when I use the product but service is different because it’s this ongoing interaction that happens all the way along.

Let’s use Telstra, Australia’s biggest Telco, did a big brand re-launch with Thrive On and yet my experience of it if I make a call to the call centre – because it is a service provider -and every time I use my Telstra internet, I’m having a less than optimal brand experience that doesn’t live up to the promise (that’s why I picked you up on promise—that with Telstra I can thrive). But my experience of that is not…

Simone:

Correct, because whilst their products might enable that, if the service delivery of those products is not enabling you to do that then the experience is not complete so that’s where the behaviour comes in.

So, if you’re in a situation where you’ve bought a product, say you’ve got broadband, for some reason you’re having difficulty and you’ve got ten people over at your house chomping at the bit waiting…

Darren:

My Netflix takes three minutes to buffer and …

Simone:

Game of Thrones is about to begin and yet the broadband is stumbling.

Darren:

And there’s nothing they can do about it.

Simone:

You get on the phone—well how they handle that moment is really important—that is service delivery. That is behaviour delivery. How much responsibility at that level has that person been given to sort the problem anyway?

Darren:

Which is very different to buying a product. I go to the retailer. The retailer gives me bad service—it’s got nothing to do with the product; it’s the retailer that’s not living up to their brand promise. I get it home and if there’s a problem with the product purchased yes, I’m going to contact them and depending on how they deal with that is whether they recover their brand perception with me or not. A very different and a much simpler set of variables that they’re playing with.

Simone:

Much simpler and there are varying degrees of service organisations as well because you don’t interact with your electricity or gas company as often as you would Telstra.

The Telcos and the Banks are high touch and if you’re looking for current best practice in this market in service delivery they’re the ones that you would look to.

Darren:

Because it’s also when the brand promise is let down how big is the catastrophe?

Simone:

Correct.

Darren:

That’s the difference between me as a customer jumping on social media and telling everyone how bad it is compared to going, ‘oh, whatever’.

Simone:

The voice of the consumer—the channels are there now for that voice to be expressed.

Darren:

Now to jump right back you mentioned about storytelling—brand storytelling.

Simone:

Brand story.

Darren:

I’m really interested in that because storytelling was a big thing in the industry and now I read it’s not storytelling it’s story-doing—have you seen that?

Simone:

I can’t stand it. Actually, I had a client say to me they wanted to use that terminology in their pitch and I went, ‘why?’ ‘Well it makes us sound more contemporary’. ‘No’. We love creating jargon, reinventing our own jargon over and over and over.

What’s trying to be communicated there is you have a brand story once you’ve articulated it. There are also ways now that it needs to be delivered through experience but I find the term cringe-worthy quite frankly. That’s what it’s trying to say.

Darren:

Nick Law, about three years ago, did this great presentation from RGA and he said, ‘advertising is where I tell a story about going out and killing the woolly mammoth’

Simone:

Branding, yes.

Darren:

‘And storytelling is where I bring it to life’ and story-doing is where I actually take the person out and show them how to hunt the woolly mammoth. So, there is the storytelling of advertising, which is the story; the why we should be considered by you.

Then there was the storytelling which was bringing that story to life by having some interaction in the story so getting people to participate in it but then there is actually story-doing, which is allowing them to experience the brand for themselves.

Simone:

I’m exhausted.

Darren:

He said the great thing about digital technology is that you can do all three; advertising can only do the first one, which is talk about it. The reason it was called interactive is that you have the opportunity to actually engage the customer/consumer in brand experiences online.

Simone:

Yes, o.k. that’s fine!

Darren:

By getting people to do things but I get your point, which is that if you articulate the story clearly aligned to what the brand is then you can extrapolate that forward into brand experience but if you don’t have the story agreed.

Simone:

In the first place.

Darren:

What’s it mean?

Simone:

I think a lot of that in the early days of digital we were talking about having a conversation and allowing people to participate and that’s a lot of this (I don’t know how old that presentation is).

Darren:

Three or four years ago.

Simone:

So, that was a lot of the language that was being used back then but really how much do we really want to participate with brands? A lot of brands were hoping that they could create a great space within social media channels and that people would just want to follow them. People don’t want to follow brands.

Darren:

You mean all those likes on the corporate Facebook page are what?

Simone:

The employees.

Darren:

Or the click-farm in some emerging country.

Simone:

But people do have high involvement and love certain brands to the point that they started creating their own content, their own version of advertising that had been created for example then it was up to those brands to actually be able to leverage that content, to propagate it, to get greater viewership of it if you like, to get greater reach out of that content that they didn’t have to pay to create. And that was Coca-Cola’s liquid ideas.

Darren:

Which was consumer-based content and amplify that as a way of engaging with people.

Simone:

Correct.

Darren:

But that comes down to that level of engagement means that there is a loyalty, relationship of love not to dwell on love marks.

Simone:

At that time the new technology meant that people were interested in participating. I’ve got all of these tools I can now access and a channel and a potential audience out there; I’m going to start making stuff. I’m going to start participating.

So that was really the early days of the internet, wasn’t it? So that’s why all of that sort of language emerged but I think things have changed and we’re now going into an interesting time within the digital space.

Hopefully this isn’t going off topic but it’s been very much about the internet of information and Google’s information highway and owning that and organising that for you. It’s now through technologies like blockchain, which came about during bitcoin, that are going to turn the internet into the internet of value.

That is going to have a total disruptive effect on all businesses again over the next decade as that gets rolled out. And some businesses will find their value again I believe as a result of that and publishing could be a sector that finds their value again.

Darren:

Because they’re going to be able to…? Rather than the internet now, which is a broadcaster—it’s all out there, it’s actually going to be bonded into a collectively agreed structure that allows you to commercialise it.

I’ve heard some great stories about composers for instance, that are able to commercialise their music so the traditional internet is I just put my song out there and people download it for free and even if they pay for it they can share it for free anyway whereas the blockchain actually means that all of this is connected.

In fact, when you think about what you were saying with brand because of the complexity of the world it’s more important than ever to have a clear articulation of what your business represents; its purpose and its promise than ever before because there are so many different challenges on a day to day basis it would give you a framework to be able to respond to those wouldn’t it?

Simone:

Everybody’s fighting for attention; how are you going to stand out? The great news is if you do this work and you do it well there is plenty of room for you to stand out because so many don’t bother.

So, it is worth the investment from that perspective because so many businesses just don’t bother in so many categories.

Darren:

When you say ‘standout’ I took that as being over time you standout because you actually represent something. I’ve seen a lot of brands stand out in any particular moment: they do things to get attention. But because they’re just constantly chasing attention over time you’re left with no residual impression of what they are.

Or they just stand out for standing out.

Simone:

No, I mean standing out because there is clarity around you and your offering versus the competition so you stand head and shoulders above the rest because you’ve got a clear stake in the ground.

What position are you going to take? Define it, put a very clear stake in the ground and stick to it.

Darren:

It’s about being consistent in that you build a very clear position in the marketplace because of being consistent.

Simone:

Yes.

Darren:

Interesting. CMOs turn over every 3.3 years (is the latest number) and every time a new CMO comes in they’re inclined to review the marketing strategy and start off with something new.

Simone:

Make a name for themselves.

Darren:

Which goes against this idea of building long-term brand value because you’re constantly messing with the underlying brand.

Simone:

And it’s the same with CEO’s.

Darren:

Well they have longer tenure; they were about eight years. If they’re slightly out of sync then you’re in trouble.

Simone:

Well that goes back to the fact that really the CEO needs to embody and own the brand within the organisation. It can’t just sit with marketing. I mean everybody in the organisation is responsible for the delivery of brand but it has to sit somewhere and that is with the CEO and that’s another key reason why that should be the case.

Darren:

Harvard Business Review has got an article last month about CMO’s and only about 20 something % of them are true C-suite PNL owners. Most of them are either comms people or they’re strategy people. It was about 50% comms, 30% growth strategy but no PNL responsibility and about 20% of all CMO’s in this study actually sat in the C-suite with PNL enterprise responsibility.

If that’s the case stop talking about CMO’s owning the brand because the only person that can truly pull the levers of the organisation to deliver on the brand promise which you talk about is the CEO.

Simone:

Yes, correct. And circling right back around—digital within organisations has taken the focus. So CMO’s are busy trying to work out how they’re going to merge their adtech and martech; they’re not thinking about the brand.

Darren:

Yes, it’s the cart before the horse. We’re worried about the implementation before we’ve got the underlying framework agreed and articulated.

So, do you think there is going to be a return to focussing on brand? Do you see this as a trend or do you think it’s just housekeeping for most people?

Simone:

At the moment there is a very short-term focus so unless the focus of business starts becoming longer-term then there won’t be a greater focus on brand because it really is about longer-term vision and view for the business rather than short-term.

But really, it’s what are we delivering to shareholders? And it’s based, as you say, on the CEO and CMO’s tenure within the organisation and what they want to achieve with that period of time that’s driving agendas whereas brand is if the organisation has always had a focus on brand then it will continue to have a focus on brand because it is sitting at the top level with the CEO.

If they haven’t had that so far, it’s unlikely unless they change the focus and start investing more in the future of the business, it’s unlikely that they’ll invest more in brand.

Darren:

So some good advice for anyone who comes into a CMO role would be find out if the brand is clearly articulated and if it’s not start the process of articulating the brand, then if it is articulated start the process of integrating it into the business because it exists outside of marketing.

What a great opportunity for a new CMO if they’ve got a brand to then see how far across the organisation that spreads because if it only exists in marketing it’s not really a brand. It’s got to be up to the C-suite and right down to the coal face and everywhere in between so that’s step two.

And step three is only mess with the brand if there are some fundamental issues that stop your organisation from embracing it.

Simone:

Or there’s an opportunity that requires some sort of review—there’s a greater opportunity, some sort of evolution of it.

Darren:

A big strategic shift?

Simone:

A big strategic shift from a business perspective.

Darren:

You mentioned before about short-termism and we’re working a lot with marketers that are facing zero-based budgeting and it’s an interesting conversation because zero-based budgeting is about budgeting for return and a lot of CFO’s think that the return on marketing investment is growth and the part that they miss out on is defence.

Because if I’ve got a 10-billion-dollar brand it’s not just about the incremental growth on top it’s also about how do I defend the 10 billion dollars right?

Simone:

Of course.

Darren:

But a lot of CFO’s don’t think about that; they think about the growth on top. A lot of CMO’s when we have this conversation and say, ‘defence’; you need your growth on top for your quarterly report but my defence needs to be long term.

Simone:

Of course.

Darren:

I can’t just defend it for the next three months. I can get growth on top and to me brand works in two ways. Brand makes your business desirable or worthy of consideration but also rewards your existing customers for why they’re doing business with you.

Simone:

Absolutely.

Darren:

But it overcomes short-termism because I can’t just reward them for the next three months I’ve got to have some part of my marketing investment taking a longer-term view.

The only thing you’re going to report on Mr CFO and Mr CEO is the quarterly sales reports. What are we going to do to make sure that in six months, twelve months, five years’ time we’ve still got the 10 billion that we had today?

Simone:

You’re speaking to the converted.

Darren:

True. Thank you for your time. Thanks for coming in and having a chat.

Simone:

Thank you, my pleasure.

Darren:

So what is your favourite brand?

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About Darren Woolley

Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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