Category Marketing automations

Ethical marketing (part III): the transparency trifecta


Back in 2015, Seth Godin published this powerful post (The strawberry conundrum): 

“Every grocer has to decide: when packing a quart of strawberries, should your people put the best ones on top?

If you do, you’ll sell more and disappoint people when they get to the moldy ones on the bottom.

Or, perhaps you could put the moldy ones on top, and pleasantly surprise the few that buy.

Or, you could rationalize that everyone expects a little hype, and they’ll get over it.

A local grocer turned the problem upside down: He got rid of the boxes and just put out a pile of strawberries. People picked their own. He charged more, sold more and made everyone happier.

Hype might not be your best option.”

It’s clearer than ever that transparency, and implicitly transparent marketing, is not only a moral imperative; it’s key for building relationships that last. A 2018 survey by Accenture Strategy showed that 66% of consumers think transparency is one of the most attractive qualities in a brand. Furthermore, in a study by Label Insight, 94% of the respondents said it was important to them that the brands and manufacturers they buy from are transparent about what’s in their food and how it is made. 

And we cannot talk about transparency without bringing trust into the conversation.

According to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, 81% of customers need to trust a brand in order to buy from them. In the same study, 67% of people agreed that a good reputation may get them to try a product, but unless they come to trust the company behind the product, they will soon stop buying it. 

What does this mean for marketing in the social impact space? Let’s have a look at three key dimensions: product, impact and customer data. 

Product transparency: ‘What’s in the box is on the box’

We’ve all experienced or at least heard of a product or service that caught the eye marketing-wise, yet fell short experience-wise. And we all know this trick never works in the long run. At the core of marketing that contributes to sustainable change and long-term success, there is:

1. A product that consistently (over)delivers on its promise
2. A communication approach that is transparent, authentic and empowering

Whenever I think of product transparency, I always think of Yoni’s (the chemical-free menstrual products company) statement: ‘What’s in the box is on the box’. I find that this tagline embodies the definition of any transparent product or service: showing and continuing to be ready to show what goes into creating that product or service. 

The long-lasting commitment to such an approach is heavily dependent on clear values being championed at every level of the organisation. As I wrote in a previous blog post, when it comes to values, “the real challenge is not in defining [them] but in integrating them into the decisions we make down the road – in making sure that they’re not only a statement plastered on a website or a document forgotten in a folder but a set of principles that inform and guide our everyday actions, the difficult decisions we face, the partnerships we forge, the recruitment choices we make and the culture we create.”

That’s why, to ensure constant transparency, we need accountability indicators and regular reality checks. Because just like a car needs regular maintenance to keep running, transparency needs systematic checks to stay on track. Consider some of the questions below and for a great example of an ethical marketing policy, check out JBMedia.

1. Are we communicating honestly and clearly on everything that goes into our products? No jargon, no inflated data, no exaggerated benefits. Companies like Yoni, Patagonia, Beauty Kitchen, Mud Jeans are examples of companies that give comprehensive and unambiguous information on what goes into their products as well as on their environmental and social impact. They also encourage customers to leave reviews directly on their websites. 

2. If an external person were to join us behind the scenes of product development, would we feel comfortable with that? As Hitesh Kenjale, co-founder of DesiHangover, is quoted in this ethical marketing post by Acumen Academy, “If tomorrow a customer walks in without notice, we’re able to show what’s happening. We invite the consumer to see the person who made the shoe and talk to them directly about the product.”

3. Is there something about the product or service that is not ideal and is hard to change at the moment? Are we acknowledging it and explaining how we’re addressing the issue? For example, check out one of Tony’s Chocolonely posts: ‘Facing up to an inconvenient truth: we’re part of the sugar problem’.

4. Is there any part of our product that we could improve but are lenient about because our good mission compensates for it? There might be a small group of customers who will accept that for a while but amplifying impact often requires a wider reach than that. And for that, a great customer experience is key. 

5. Do we talk openly about the realities of our sector? Are we acknowledging the limitations and progress that still needs to be made?

6. Do marketing, sales and product development collaborate effectively and ensure an open flow of information? Do marketing and sales fully understand the product, its benefits and its limitations and do they communicate them accordingly? Does product development regularly receive and take on board the customer feedback collected by marketing and sales? 

7. Are our promotional messages in line with the actual content of our offering? For example, is our coming webinar really providing value on the topic we mentioned or is it actually 50%+ sales?

Impact transparency: linking proof to a higher values-based goal

There is no question that impact data and stories are the lifeblood of any marketing, sales, fundraising and business development initiative in the social impact space. Showcasing an organisation’s results is key to growing its community, attracting more funding and ultimately generating more impact. To grow the cause and drive more change, we need to prove the effectiveness of our work. 

But this is where things sometimes get off course. In the pursuit for funding and under the argument that ‘it’s for a good cause’, many organisations start compromising on transparency and engaging in impact washing practices like:

• Exaggerated benefits and inflated results
• Data and stories taken out of context
• Overly doctored testimonials
• Covering up failures through splashy stories

Rejecting such practices is obviously integral to impact transparency and ethical marketing. And then there’s more. There’s the elevated commitment to transparency: a proactive approach in which transparency gets embedded in the organisation’s DNA and drives its every action. What does this mean for marketing?

First, a commitment to accountability – which is about making realistic promises, walking the talk, and when failing to do so, owning up to it. 

Cause CanvasFor example, when using the Cause Canvas marketing framework to define your organisation’s Collective Promise, you are prompted to ask: 

• What do you, together with your Community Partners, commit to doing in order to change things and move closer to the Higher Goal? The Community Partners are the communities at the core of your cause – the people who are impacted by the current state of affairs.
• How will you measure the fulfillment of your Collective Promise?

And when talking about Proof of impact, two of the guiding questions are: 

• What are the results – and how are they linked to the Higher Goal? That is, what are the stories of change and the data behind them and how are they contributing to the new state of affairs you are pursuing with your cause?
• What are the lessons learned – and how will you use them in driving more impact?

By following these guiding questions, the process of proving your impact becomes anchored in the bigger purpose – which is far more important for long-term success than a one-off enhancement to your company image or the addition of an impact statement to a promotional campaign.

For such an endeavour to truly manifest throughout your operations, end-to-end data transparency is key, from determining what data is needed to measure impact to collecting it responsibly, and sharing it openly, consistently and in a digestible way.

A social enterprise that uses this approach is Ecosia, the search engine that plants trees. Ecosia publishes monthly financial reports that ‘show exactly how much money they made from searches, and what percentage of their revenue went towards trees’. Another example is Fairphone’s mapping of their supply chain and showing the path that different phone components take from mines and factories all the way to the consumer. 

Second, a commitment to authenticity which doesn’t only show the good numbers, emotional stories and big partner names, but is equally explicit about sharing lessons learned, owning one’s failures, and addressing issues as they come up.

Everyone knows mistakes are part of the work but how many organisations are brave enough to talk about them, integrate them into the journey towards the higher goal and show how they are going to set things right – now and in the future? 

What’s more, the social impact sector is well known for its complexities and difficulties, so it’s not even credible that it’s all sunshine and rainbows along the way. Big, pompous statements will get questioned and generate a ripple effect of skepticism which on the long term can break the brand.

Stakeholder data: permission-based personalisation

When it comes to marketing and transparency, the elephant in the room is, of course, the use of data. 

According to Statista, the volume of data created and available to companies has increased by more than 5,000% since 2010 and will continue to grow exponentially in the coming years. 

And with technology offering ever more granular targeting opportunities and marketing trends like social shopping, livestream shopping and augmented reality on the rise (and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic), the topic of data was never in bigger need for ethical considerations than today. 

SmarterHQ’s survey on privacy and personalisation shows that 86% of consumers are concerned about their data privacy, 79% believe companies know too much about them and 63% say they would stop purchasing products and services from companies that take “creepy” marketing too far. Yet, 72% say they now only engage with marketing messages tailored to their interests and 90% are willing to share behavioural data for a cheaper and easier brand experience.

These stats emphasise once again the importance of a transparent, responsible, secure and respectful approach to data and personalisation. 

Fortunately, regulators are addressing this issue with data privacy laws like the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). And soon, Google will join Safari and Firefox in blocking third-party cookies, which will have a major impact on the world of digital advertising.

Despite these efforts, data transparency remains an issue. According to the International Association of Privacy Professionals (IAPP), 47% of privacy pros said their organizations were fully compliant or very compliant with the GDPR in 2020. This number coupled with the big fines given for breaching the GDPR in 2021 shows that a lot of work still needs to be done.

On this note, here are a few reminders:

• Ask for explicit consent to store and use the data (ie. including the option to decline)
• Be explicit about the data that is collected and why
• Explain how the data will be used and act accordingly
• Don’t collect more data than what’s needed to provide value to customers
• Only provide the content the subscriber has signed up for – no list switching without consent
• Be clear about how the data can be accessed and removed
• Make unsubscribe links easy to find and use
• Dispose of the data when not necessary anymore
• Make it easy for readers/viewers to distinguish between advertorials or native ads and pure editorial content
• In influencer marketing, make sure it’s clear when a product or service is being advertised by the influencer.

A marketing approach rooted in transparency, accountability and authenticity is key to fostering a more sustainable business ecosystem. Staying ready to listen, showing a deep understanding of our sectors’ complexities and constantly improving the way we do things will help us build lasting relationships and move closer to real impact. 

What other actions do you take to ensure transparency in your marketing? Leave your comments below.


Published on 4 February 2022 by Laura Tufis. Updated on 27 September 2022. 

Note: We have no affiliation with any of the companies mentioned above. The information is based on their websites and social media communication and aimed at illustrating some of the principles addressed in the blog post.

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Ethical marketing (part IV): honest and empathic campaigning 

Any conversation about ethical marketing is incomplete without the topic of stakeholder engagement. Having talked about core elements like
values, collective promise and transparency, let’s now dive into the subject of stakeholder interactions and four questions that can help us design more ethical campaigns.

How can you help?

The topic of customer-centricity is on everyone’s lips, with some even talking about customer obsession. We know that for an organisation to survive in today’s hyper-connected world in which customers’ expectations are higher than ever before, a great customer experience is key.

A recent Qualtrics XM Institute report shows that customers who rate a company’s customer experience as good (compared to poor) are:
• 33% more likely to trust that the company will take care of their needs
• 34% more likely to purchase more
38% more likely to recommend the company to a friend or relative. 

Another Qualtrics report highlighted the strong connection between experience management (XM) performance and business results: “Of the respondents who rate their company’s XM as ‘significantly above average’, 89% report better revenue growth than competitors in the previous year.”

Yes, customer focus is paramount. And at the same time, I’d like to argue that the customer-centricity paradigm is limited. It implies a narrow focus most often on profit only while overlooking the other equally important stakeholders operating in an organisation’s ecosystem and beyond.

In a world facing a climate crisis, increasing poverty and growing inequality, organisations need to move from customer to stakeholder-centricity and develop stronger forms of cooperation models that are more compatible with the complex issues that need to be addressed.

In this context, what if at the core of every organisation lay the question: how can we help? How can we help our customers, partners, distributors, suppliers, employees how can we help our stakeholders and the planet thrive? 

Or to quote Thomas Kolster: “‘Who can you help me become?’ is the one essential question you need to be asking and acting on to chart a new course for your organisation, changing behaviours at scale and unlocking sustainable growth that benefits all.” (The Hero Trap)

Being a bridge between the internal world of our organisations and the external world of the people we’re serving, marketing can play a crucial role in ensuring a genuine stakeholder focus and in building partnerships that drive meaningful change.

With the question ‘How can we help?’ at the heart of the business, a wide range of marketing practices can start being questioned, challenged and transformed:
• Strengthening stakeholder cooperation: investing resources in truly understanding the needs and aspirations of all stakeholders and ensuring an empathic and collaborative way of doing business.
• Remembering that leads are people looking to solve a problem: lead generation numbers are important but not without being underpinned by a human-centered approach that’s focused on helping audiences address a challenge and meet a goal.
Providing value at every interaction: each touch point in the stakeholder journey is an opportunity to help customers, partners, suppliers etc solve a problem and cultivate meaningful relationships that last.
Developing content, products and services with the users’ needs in mind: think about the content you publish and the functionalities you develop as an answer to the needs previously expressed by your users.
Ensuring transparent messaging in all offerings: we’ve all seen bait and switch tactics like ‘freebies’ that turn out to be product brochures, webinars that turn out to be sales pitches, headlines that lead to vaguely related articles or newsletters that only try to sell. Being honest and clear about what’s in an offering or content piece is crucial for ethical brands that are here to stay.
Asking for permission to communicate: respecting data privacy and informing your audience about what they can expect to receive from you is not only about regulations but also about building a community of people who trust you and want to hear from you.  

You mean it’s really free?

Lead magnets like whitepapers, ebooks, trial subscriptions, product demos and free consultations are essential for building email lists of qualified leads that can be nurtured into customers and partners. In exchange for the so-called ‘freebies’, many companies make the sign-up to their lists mandatory instead of offering a separate opt-in for other communications. But we need to remember that these ‘freebies’ are not actually free considering that data is one of the biggest currencies of our society. 

Plus, gathering contacts who aren’t actually interested in anything else than the offer at hand and who’ll most likely unsubscribe from the list quickly after is great for short-term vanity metrics, not for building a valuable database that drives long-term meaningful results. 

My suggestion is: create content that solves your audience’s problems, give the resources without mandatory sign-up, provide consistent value, and trust that people will come back and want to hear more from you because of the amazing content you offer. 

Why the rush?

Scarcity and urgency campaigns are widely used marketing tactics. The scarcity principle refers to consumers placing a higher value on products or services that are scarce than on the ones that are abundant. Perceived limited supply and urgent deadlines tend to increase appeal and consequently sales. 

‘Buy now or cry later’ 🤨, ‘3 seats left’, ‘1 item left in stock’, ‘5 people looking at it right now’, ‘50% only for today’ are statements we’ve all seen. The problem is that the language is unnecessarily pressing, with statements often not being entirely true, only taking advantage of consumers’ FOMO and loss aversion. 

It’s true that we all tend to sign up for events right before the deadline or postpone the decision of an acquisition until we desperately need it. However, using this knowledge to create campaigns that push consumers into making rushed, uncalculated decisions based on fake information or ‘now or never’ language is not only unethical but also damaging for the brand. If the next day, the event registration that was supposed to be closed by midnight is still open, the trust will break and the word will spread. 

So if you do make any urgency or scarcity statements, make sure they’re based on real data, placed in context and unchanging. Check out the Ethical Move for some great ways to ‘flip’ such tactics into fully transparent ones. 

Is it for real?

The environmental degradation, social inequities and political instability around the world make consumers think more and more about their choices, which in turn raises expectations from organisations across the board. As a result, companies experience increasing pressure to prove their commitment to a purpose that goes beyond profit. For example, Deloitte’s 2022 Global Marketing Trends report mentions purpose as a beacon for growth and states that “globally, 57% [of consumers] indicated that, in general, they are more loyal to brands that commit to addressing social inequities.”

And while many companies take the meaning of purpose seriously and make it an integral part of everything they do, many only take advantage of the ‘purpose trend’ to increase their profits while continuing business as usual.

Hence the question: Is it for real?
• Is the proclaimed ethical purpose manifested in every action and every interaction?
• Is sustainability just a buzzword or is it truly embedded in the organisation’s DNA?
• Are promises grounded in reality and being kept along the way?
• Is there an accountability framework in place to keep track of the real progress?
• Are mistakes openly shared, owned up to and used to learn from them?
• Is impact shared as it is: no exaggerated benefits and inflated results; no data and stories taken out of context, no overly doctored testimonials?
• Are all products and services delivering on the promise?
• Is any offer presented like one of a kind when in reality it’s only packaged that way?

At the core of all these questions lies a commitment to transparency, accountability and authenticity; a genuine dedication to not only talking the talk but also walking the walk, to having a set of values rooted in a higher goal and to manifesting those values at every single step of the way.

For more on the topic of transparency and values, check out these two blog posts: ‘Ethical marketing (part III): the transparency trifecta’ and ‘Ethical marketing (part I): driven by values, rooted in a higher goal’.

What else do you do to ensure ethical campaigning? Leave your comments below.


Published on 29 June 2022 by Laura Tufis. Updated on 27 September 2022.  

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Automating your marketing processes – where to start?


Marketing automations

If this blog post piqued your interest, you’ve probably reached a point in which you spend more time managing data files and troubleshooting errors than marketing the cause you love. You may need to gain a better understanding of your audiences, tailor your campaigns more effectively, bring more qualified leads, and ideally save time while at it. Your data might even be scattered in various systems or Excel files created by different teams. And your creativity is stifled by the limitations of your current system and the repetitive tasks required by each campaign.  

If some of the statements above or all of them sound familiar, it’s time to switch to a marketing automation system. But where do you start?

Below you’ll find a series of steps that will walk you through the prep work and the set-up of a system. But before going through these steps, make sure you:

• Revisit or establish your marketing objectives
• Define your audience segments and buyer personas
• Craft a content strategy that addresses the goals and challenges of your personas
• Design the customer journey for each persona 

In doing so, you will ease the implementation process of your marketing automation system and reduce the chance of having to make difficult database adjustments on the long term. 

1. Analyse and structure the data you already have

Analysing the existing data is generally part of the segmentation and buyer persona exercise or can feed back into and improve your persona profiles. 

As mentioned above, chances are that you already have some contact data from previous events and other business interactions. With the knowledge gained from defining your segments and persons, you can now identify the data that will be key in tailoring conversations with your target audience (eg job title, industry, organisation type, organisation size, challenges, topics of interest, events attended). Make sure you bring all of this data together and look for patterns and commonalities that will help you cluster your contacts. 

Later on, this step will help you build user-friendly lead generation forms (eg with dropdowns instead of open fields), which in turn will segment your database. In addition, the amount and nature of your existing data you will have an impact on the type of system you will choose. 

2. Figure out what data you need at each stage of the customer journey

When designing the customer journey for your personas, the following questions will arise: 

• How will you know that you’ve attracted the right persona?
• How will you know that your persona is moving along the customer journey? 

Thus, knowing the type of data that indicates an effective customer journey will help you collect the right (amount of) data, structure your database and build your processes accordingly. 

3. Define the criteria for choosing the system that works for your organisation

Because there are a plethora of systems out there, it helps to define your criteria and set boundaries for your research. Examples of criteria include: 

• Monthly/yearly budget you can allocate
• Number of contacts you already have
Database growth rate you’re aiming for and expect
Number and type of users who will need access in your organisation
Type of support the software company provides (and how much you estimate you’ll need depending on the staff that is available on your end)
Functionalities for data privacy regulations like European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or California’s Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA)
Integration with other software you use
Automation options
Reporting functionalities
Scaling options (pricing tiers for different contact bundles and functionalities; proof that it can adapt to organisational growth so that you don’t need to switch systems too soon)

More functionalities doesn’t necessarily mean that the system is better for your organisation. Having a list of needs and objectives and looking at the system’s scaling opportunities will help you make a cost-effective choice. 

4. Test and pick your system

Now that you have your research criteria in mind, this step will become more accessible. Make test accounts for the most promising systems, watch demos, talk to sales and look at scores on websites like G2, Capterra and GetApp

I also recommend creating an Excel file in which you can list pricing, key functionalities, pros and cons and review scores so you can easily filter and compare the systems you’re testing. To make the testing more practical and ensure all the functionalities you need are available, you can also prepare a dummy list of contacts and a few scenarios for the automations you wish to have in the future. 

5. Align the system framework with your strategy

Now that you’ve got your new system, it’s time to build its backbone. Having clarity about your organisation’s strategy, objectives and customer journey will help you prepare your system’s framework for the data import. Here are some elements to think of at this stage:

• Create the contact fields and tags identified in steps 1 and 2 so you can easily identify your segments and personas
• Define your funnel stages
• Design the bridge between marketing and sales (aka at which point is a lead ready for sales communications?)
Define your pipeline stages (if applicable)
Structure your lists based on communication types like events, newsletter subscribers, blog subscribers
Create your email templates
Figure out how you will integrate the functionalities and processes for data privacy compliance

6. Import the data and structure it accordingly

Considering that you have already prepared the system framework, the data import should now go without a hitch. When preparing your files, make sure you know the data formatting requirements so that it’s all imported without errors. I also recommend clearly marking each file and the contacts associated with it so that you can keep track of the import sources (eg. system through which the data was initially collected; the team who initially collected the data; event/date attended). This will make your search, identification and tailoring easier in the future. 

7. Integrate your marketing system with other software

To avoid any manual syncing between your marketing system and other software, you can integrate them and ensure the data is shared seamlessly back and forth. Most of the marketing automation systems out there provide native integrations through an API (Application Programming Interface). Plus, you will already know from step 3 whether your system provides native integrations with your other applications. In some cases, the integration only requires following a few intuitive steps and filling out the API keys from your other systems, while for others, you might need to hire a developer. 

If a native integration is not available, you could choose to use a third party connector like Zapier, which requires a paid subscription above a certain number of workflows (called zaps). Zapier helps connect thousands of apps in a wide range of ways but it is advised to check beforehand if the exact workflows you need are available between your systems of choice. 

Software you might want to integrate with your marketing system are: content management system, sales system, online calendar (eg Calendly), event registration system, learning management system etc.

8. Build your lead generation forms

With the insights from step 2 ‘Figure out what data you need at each stage of the customer journey’, you can now start creating your lead generation forms – most likely by just having to drag and drop the fields already created in step 5 – and then embed them into your landing pages. 

Generally, at the top of the funnel you can deliver shorter forms (eg email, first name, last name) and as leads move down the funnel and you build a relationship of trust, you can progressively ask for more data and ensure an increasingly tailored experience. 

9. Ask for consent to: store and process data; send marketing and sales emails 

You are most likely familiar with regulations like GDPR or CCPA – these are key for your marketing processes. It is recommended that you consult a legal adviser to ensure that your data collection, storing and processing comply with all the regulations of the countries in which you operate. 

I believe that asking for your contacts’ explicit consent for all of the above is not only a legal matter but also one of trust and integrity. Telling people how their data will be used, what content they can expect from you and how they can request for access to, modifications or removal of their data is key to building lasting relationships of respect. 

Plus, I personally prefer to have a small database of people who really want to hear from me rather than a large list of people who remove or unsubscribe from my emails upon receipt. 

10. Design your automated workflows

With your system in place, you’re now ready to start creating your automations. Below are a few examples you might want to consider:

System set-up automations: the workflows that will ensure your database gets segmented and your processes keep running without you having to constantly check them.

• Mark leads with the corresponding persona tag depending on demographics and behaviour
• Assign your contacts to a certain list or segment when they’ve signed up to your newsletters, downloaded a resource or attended an event
Change the lifecycle stage to marketing qualified lead or sales qualified lead based on the persona tag and activity recorded (downloaded certain resources, attended certain events, asked for a demo or a chat with sales, read case studies, checked the pricing page multiple times)
Change the lifecycle stage to customer when a deal is won or a purchase has been registered through the integration with your ecommerce or event registration app
Assign leads to a sales rep or team when a certain form (with a certain field) is submitted
Define lead scoring: the relative points associated with the actions taken by your leads and what the cumulative scores will mean for your organisation at different funnel stages
Remove hard bounces and unsubscribes once they are marked as such by your system.

Nurturing automations: the workflows that actively help you move your leads along the customer journey. Make sure you set clear goals for them (eg. contacts exit the workflow once a ‘talk to sales’ form is submitted) and only send emails to people who’ve given explicit consent to receive emails from you. Here are a few examples:

• Send an automatic email with the resource for which a form has been submitted and follow up with related or more in-depth content
• Send confirmation and reminder emails to webinar subscribers and follow up with a whitepaper that explores the topic in more detail
Create email series per persona or segment, providing useful and inspiring resources (blogs, whitepapers, ebooks) that address their specific goals and challenges
Based on combined activities such as multiple downloads of resources, attendance of several events, high engagement with marketing emails or multiple views of pricing and product pages, create an email series that nurtures potential sales qualified leads with content that explains how your product/service solves their problems, case studies, testimonials, content that addresses common objections and concerns etc
Send an email inquiring if you can help answer any questions when someone has abandoned the registration or purchase process
Create a series of emails for new customers (thank you for your purchase; resources on how to maximise the use of a product; inspiring content to help them in their jobs; feedback forms on the product experience or customer service).

Need support in implementing a marketing automation system or setting up your workflows? Get in touch now.

Published on 31 March 2021 by Laura Tufis.

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