Search Is Paramount in the Emerging Green Category

August 7, 2007

Paid search continues to grow and is now considered by most marketers to be a core component of their online marketing tool kits.  This continued growth is not surprising, however, as it is hard to beat search as a marketing channel for both its efficiency and effectiveness. 

There are several reasons for search’s continued dominance.  Search allows marketers to 1) engage consumers as they actively seek information in market, 2) connect consumers with relevant content based on self-identified interests, 3) pay only when consumers click on a sponsored link, 4) scale spend in the channel (to a point) and 5) enhance the productivity of other channels.  For example, building awareness with a 60-second spot will likely result in more searches being conducted by consumers that turn to the web to find out more information or link to the advertiser’s site. 

To green marketers, search also represents a powerful component of the overall media mix.  In fact, Marketing Green believes that search is even more critical for marketers of green products than for more established products because green is an emerging category that has high consumer interest but is difficult to navigate due to the lack of familiarity and standards.   

Moreover, green search will continue to increase as awareness and interest grows and consumers increasingly turn to the Internet for answers.  Here are few reasons why, as well as recommendations for green marketers on how to maximize the impact of the search channel: 

Consumers have a growing interest in green, but limited familiarity.  Many consumers are curious about the emerging green category but have relatively low understanding of the category or how to navigate it.  As such, consumers are more likely to research product choices before making purchase decisions and turn to online search when they do so. 

For marketers, this means establishing broad presence in paid search across both the general as well as green vertical search engines in order to intercept consumers when they actively seek category-, product- or brand-specific information. 

Consumers today conduct that vast majority of green searches through general search engines such as Google and Yahoo and will likely to continue to do so in the near term. The popularity of green vertical search engines – including Green Maven, Greener, GreenGamma, LiveGreenOrDie, GreenLinkCentral, EcoEarth, EcoSeeker and Earthle among others – is growing nonetheless based on the perception that green vertical search engines return more relevant results than general search.

greenmaven.gif

In addition, green filters are emerging that allow consumers to search with greater precision either as an overlay to existing search engines or as a way to narrow the results based on a set of business rules regarding green.  Palore is one example which enables consumers to identify green merchants when using Google’s search engine.  Below is Palore functionality loaded into Google Maps.  Note the symbols included under each listing – including the carrot which denotes that the restaurant offers organic foods.

 palore2.gif

In addition, online sites are emerging help locate products and retailers offline.  Evolvist locates products and retailers by geography.  evolvist.gif

Alternatively, Alonovo filters products and retailers based on their relative corporate social responsibility and “greenness”.

alonovo.gif

Products and brands are proliferating.  Green products are being launched every day across almost every product category.  Product “greenness” is relative, however, which results in a spectrum of products, features, benefits and trade-offs that consumers must weigh before making purchase decisions.   

As product proliferate, so too will our vocabulary that describes them.   

Marketers should, therefore, take advantage of this by greatly expanding and testing the number of keyword and keyword combinations purchased.  Moreover, these lists should align with marketing campaigns and their objectives across the purchase funnel.  For example, an awareness campaign should include both branded, category and product-specific keywords.  Marketers should refresh this list frequently as the entire category is still very much in flux.

Consumers are hungry for relevant content.  Lacking familiarity with green products, consumers turn to credible information sources to learn about products, compare features and validate choices. 

Marketers should respond by providing relevant content on landing pages that link from both paid – and natural – search. This is important for several reasons.  First, consumers are more likely to engage in the content if it is relevant to their search.   

Moreover, content that pays off corresponding keywords searched translates into a better, more relevant consumer experience.  This is important with current algorithm-based search engines, as well as with emerging community-powered and/or customized search engines such as Eurekster Swicki, Rollyo and Yahoo Search Builder.   

In a world where consumers put considerable trust in the opinions of their peers, community-powered search engines will likely become more popular as search results are informed by the collective experience of the community.

 swicki.gif

This is especially important in an emerging category such as green.  With green products emerging rapidly, relatively low consumer familiarity and few standards, consumers will likely turn to peers to help make informed purchase decisions; community-powered search engines will likely play an important role in facilitating this process in the near future.


Measuring Green Blogging Influence

August 2, 2007

Bloggers are emerging as key influencers online.  Today, many blogging sites effectively compete with traditional news sources for breaking stories and eyeballs.  Moreover, many consumers trust bloggers more that established news organizations simply because they are unaffiliated.  Green bloggers are no different.  In fact, many green bloggers have built a loyal viewership that gives mainstream news sites a run for their money

Today’s announcement that Discovery Communications was acquiring TreeHugger, the top ranked green blog, reinforces the role that blogs now play in reaching and influencing online consumers. Nonetheless, measuring this influence is an imperfect science. 

In an ideal world, influence would be measured by determining the number of people exposed and the incremental impact of that exposure on key metrics like awareness, favorability and purchase.  Surveys and panels can be used to capture self-reported data pre- and post-exposure to determine lift in key metrics.  Yet, this level of precision is impractical, too costly or, simply, not feasible to implement for most sites.  As such, proxies are required to approximate influence.

One simple proxy is site traffic – either total visits or unique visitors to a website.  Several sources track blog traffic including Compete, Technorati and the blog Truth Laid Bear.  Truth Laid Bear tracks and ranks the top 5,000 blogs based on a 45-day moving average of daily visits.  The site casts a wide net by considering corporate blogs including dozens and dozens of blogs sponsored by sports teams.  

According to this Truth Laid Bear, five green blogs are ranked in the top 500 based on daily visits as follows:

Overall Rank

Blog

Daily Visits

169

TreeHugger

70,783

321

AutoblogGreen

15,500

340

Inhabitat

12,976

341

The Oil Drum

12,861

451

WorldChanging

5,974

 

Technorati also tracks “popular” blogs but it ranks them based on the number of its members that made the blog a “favorite”, rather than using a more objective site traffic metric.  In this ranking, TreeHugger is ranked 70 based on having had 293 Technorati members made the blog one of their favorites.

Compete provides a snapshot of unique monthly visitors (“People Count”) over the past 13 month period.  If we graph the top five green blogs, we see that there has been a significant increase in unique visitors on several of the top green blogs this year, and especially on TreeHugger where traffic peak in April at almost twice its 2006 average.

    

Yet, when evaluating blog influence, site traffic metrics do not tell a complete story.  Specifically, links to the blog’s content from other sites should also be considered as a significant proxy for influence.  Not only do links provide a de facto endorsement of the content; they also provide a valuable proxy for the readership of repurposed content on other sites.

Technorati and Google provide tools to quickly determine the number of links to a site.  Technorati ranks the top 100 blogs based on unique links during the past six months. (TreeHugger is ranked #21 – the only green blog on the list).  Google provides the ability to determine links for a blog like TreeHugger simply by typing “link: www.TreeHugger.com” on the site.   

treehugger-link.gif 

Leveraging Google, Marketing Green determined links for the top five sites ranked by the Truth Laid Bear (TLB) blog as follows:

 

Overall Rank (Daily Visits)

Blog

Daily Visits (TLB)

Links (Google)

169

TreeHugger

70,783

364,000

321

AutoblogGreen

15,500

103,000

340

Inhabitat

12,976

61,800

341

The Oil Drum

12,861

23,400

451

WorldChanging

5,974

28,800

 

Yet, “link” metrics provided by Technorati and Google are still incomplete proxies for online influence.  In the case of Google, links are determined in total and do not take into consideration recency.  Moreover, neither Google nor Technorati have the ability to translate links into the actual number of incremental visitors that view the content on the linked site. 

 

Additionally, links reported only account for sites that are directly connected to the original content (one degree away).  In many cases, however, blog posts are repurposed across multiple sites, resulting in a story that links two or three or more degrees away from the original site.  This network effect greatly enhances a blog’s influence in market simply by the fact that it reaches so many more people.

 

A 2nd degree network effect is fairly easy to demonstrate.  Here is an example from Marketing Green:

 

Zero Degrees: On February 19, 2007, Marketing Green posted a blog entitled “Green Marketing Leverages Social Networking on MySpace”.

 

First Degree: On February 20, the Marketing Strategy & Innovations blog distributes Marketing Green’s social marketing posting and provides a link back to the original story.

 

Second Degree: On February 27, Marketing Vox wrote a story entitled “Cause Marketers have Headstart on Social Networks” linking to the blog posted on the Marketing Strategy and Innovations blog, but not to the original story on Marketing Green.   As such, any measurement of influence using links to Marketing Green as a proxy would not, however, account for content posted on Marketing Vox in this case.  As a result, links would underrepresent the true distribution of the content online.

Thus, measuring the influence of green blogs online is an imperfect science.  Useful proxies are available that track site traffic and links from other sites.  Green marketers should be aware that these proxies likely undercount the true impact online as they do not track content viewership on the linked sites or the number of links that are more than one degree away from the original site.

 

Nonetheless, the learning is clear for green marketers: content distribution increases influence online by increasing the number of exposed people.  Creating content in a format that can be easily distributed or repurposed can result in an increase in the number of links to the site and expand a blog’s influence online.


Repurposing the Corporate Blog to Reach Green Influentials

July 31, 2007

These days corporate marketers are launching blogs at a record pace.  According to Jupiter Research, nearly 40% of corporate marketers are planning to launch a corporate blog within the next 12 months.  Yet, consumers do not share the same enthusiasm for these blogs as corporations do: only 3% of consumers have used them to conduct product research.  This dichotomy presents a challenge for corporations as blogs are one of the lowest cost and lowest risk social marketing tactics that marketers have to engage consumers in an increasingly Web 2.0 world. (“Maximizing Blogs”, Jupiter Research, June 11, 2007) 

As such, corporations must rethink the purpose of their blog – shifting from sales support to “brand advocacy”.  By doing so, corporate blogs become a channel to engage brand enthusiasts rather than just consumers.  They also become a conduit to reach online influentials including non-corporate green bloggers and impact key brand metrics through their use and distribution of content across their own networks.  

Today, many corporate blogs have already shifted in this direction.   One example is Intel’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) blog that launched last month focused on how Intel and others are addressing CSR issues.  Authors include Dave Stangis, Intel’s pioneer and long time champion of CSR issues at the company.

intel-blog.gif

Another blog of note is authored by Jonathan Schwartz, CEO and President of Sun Microsystems.  While not dedicated to green issues, Schwartz’s blog includes several entries that are telling in how Sun thinks about green and that outline actions that the company has taken to be socially responsible and capitalize on the emerging opportunity. 

In the blog screen shot included below, Schwartz discusses “The Value of Being Green and the competitive advantage that it provides to Sun in California where utility rebates for buying its efficient servers are worth $700 to $1000 each.

sun-blog.gif

For corporations, blogs provide a low-cost, low-risk way to communicate their messages and distribute content to brand enthusiasts rather than just consumers.  Green entries – in a dedicated or more general topic blog – can provide a more in-depth understanding of a company, its point of view on green and actions that it has taken to mitigate environmental impact. 

Companies should leverage their corporate blogs to engage green brand enthusiasts while distributing content that can be easily repurposed – including sound bites, graphics and tools – for use in other green news stories or blogs in order to maximize green branding impact in market.

Postscript: Two other CSR-focused blogs that I have found include Sun and McDonalds.   


Consumer-Generated Content: An Underleveraged Opportunity for Green Retailers

June 5, 2007

Online retailers find that consumer-generated content such as product reviews and ratings have a significant influence on consumer purchasing behavior.  According to Jupiter Research, over three-quarters of online shoppers leverage consumer-generated content, while nearly half of all online shoppers find such content “useful” when making purchase decisions.  Moreover, those who do find it “useful” also spend more at, return items less frequently to, and demonstrate more loyal toward online retailers that provide the content.  (“Retail Marketing: Driving Sales through Consumer-Created Content,” August, 2006).

Yet today, few online retailers are leveraging consumer-generated content such as reviews and ratings to sell green products.  Those that do tend to be more mainstream online retailers like Amazon that have integrated green into their product lines.  Green sites such as Gaiam and Green Guide Home hold promise, but have too little consumer-generated content on the site today to impact consumer behavior on a broad scale.

There may be two reasons for the limited adoption of consumer-generated content in the green retailer space today:

 

First, green is a nascent category where there are few standards and little hands-on experience with the products by consumers.  Expert opinions may be equally (if not more) beneficial to consumer purchase decisions than the opinion of the general population, especially if those experts can bring clarity and perspective to a category where little exists.  Sites, therefore, tend to focus on expert tips, reviews or ratings (eg, The Daily Green, Yahoo Auto Green Center), or complement expert recommendations with consumer reviews, albeit limited today (eg, Alter Systems, Gaiam, Green Guide Home).

Second, many green sites today are not direct retailers, and hence are disadvantaged when it comes to soliciting consumer-generated reviews and ratings.  Indeed, most green product sites serve more as product information aggregators and filters than traditional online retailers.   

Because products are ultimately purchases on another site or at an offline retailer, such sites have fewer opportunities to solicit product reviews directly from consumers.  Such sites include: product aggregators (eg, Great Green Goods, Green Shopping, Green Guide Home) and lifestyle sites (The Green Guide, Sprig, The Daily Green).

Nonetheless, the dearth of consumer-generated content – specifically consumer reviews and rankings – is an underleveraged opportunity for green online retailers, product aggregators and lifestyle sites.  As the number of “expert consumers” who can comment on the products grows, so too should options for consumer-generated content.  Smart marketers will explore ways to solicit this content from consumers and leverage it to cultivate more loyal, higher spending customers over time.


Engaging Green Consumers through Consumer Generated Content

April 19, 2007

Part I of an Interview with Bruce Ertmann, Corporate Manager of Consumer Generated Media, Toyota 


Most companies find themselves today grappling with how to manage consumer generated content (CGC).  On the one hand, by facilitating CGC creation, companies provide an opportunity for consumers to engage with a brand.  On the other hand, when CGC is created and shared broadly, it has the potential to influence and shape brand perceptions independent of company-sanctioned efforts and direction.  Not surprisingly, corporate executives used to tightly controlling brand messaging tend to be uncomfortable with CGC due to its unpredictable nature.

Yet, companies like Toyota are embracing this challenge and testing the CGC waters across all of their brands and products (whether specifically green or not).   In the process, they are finding that CGC can provide not only an engaging way to interact with consumers, but also an informal channel through which to build relationships with them.  Specifically, Toyota has demonstrated best practices by leveraging CGC to:

Build brand engagement:  Companies are facilitating content creation as a way to drive meaningful brand engagement.  Toyota marketing has done this through, for example, its “Everyone has their reason” campaign that solicits testimonials from hybrid owners about why they purchased their vehicles and invites them to join their community.

Activate influencers: Companies are generating buzz and stimulating viral marketing by activating key influencers – including bloggers and enthusiast site operators. 

For Toyota, this goes beyond seeding information to bloggers, but includes actively engaging them in ways once reserved for traditional media.  This may include inviting bloggers to press events or granting them access to key executives for interviews.  By doing so, Toyota has implicitly recognized non-traditional media as not only a legitimate media outlet, but one that is increasingly in competition with traditional media for share of voice.

Moreover, by engaging enthusiasts, companies empower them to serve as advocates for the brands for which they are passionate.  For Toyota, that has meant that enthusiasts have stepped into a quasi customer service role by explaining difficult issues to consumers seeking information or perhaps even speaking on behalf of the company during a product recall.

Establish a dialogue with consumers: Consumer-to-consumer dialogue is proliferating, driven by the emergence of social networks and chat sites.  More and more, these sites are catering to niche segments, enabled by online platforms such as Ning, KickApps, GoingOn, and PeopleAggregator for social networking and Chatzy and ChatShack for chat.  

Corporations have an opportunity to move beyond push marketing by participating in a dialogue with consumers on such sites, or perhaps even at live events.  Corporations, however, should tread lightly when participating in consumer-driven chat rooms and communities; full transparency is a must when doing so.

Toyota has stepped into this dialogue by participating in online chat sites, communities, and even offline enthusiast-initiated events.  In the process, it has discovered that such conversation creates a two-way communication channel.  This dialogue can be invaluable for things like reaching customers that have had a less than optimal experience through more formal service channels and touch points.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Bruce Ertmann, Corporate Manager of Consumer Generated Media at Toyota, about the role of CGC at the company, specific initiatives in market and impact in the green space.  Here is what he had to say:

MG: Some might think it somewhat strange for an automobile manufacturer to employ a corporate manager of consumer generated media.  As such, please tell me why this media is so important to Toyota and what your role is in facilitating its creation.   

BE: What we have found and heard from respected sources like BuzzMetrics is that consumers are becoming more prolific on the Internet and have started to use the Internet as a communication tool – to get information, share stories and opinions with others, etc. 

Moreover, this communications space has become very, very influential.  Consumers trust other consumers more than anyone else. And as a corporate entity, we felt that to ignore that space would be very foolish.  To jump in as a big corporate entity and just crash the party would not be appropriate either. 

As such, we felt that we needed to embrace what we call the non-traditional media and include it as part of our overall corporate communication plan.  We view this as a complement to what we do in corporate communications today and not in any way a replacement. 

My job has been to introduce that thinking into our business plan, and, in particular, into corporate communications which is where I work.  At the same time, I help educate our senior management as to why it is important to do that.

MG: Senior executives typically resist efforts to encourage consumers to voice their opinion. In particular, executives feel that by doing so they are losing control over their corporate brand identity.  Was that the case at Toyota?  

BE: To some extent there has been that concern.  When something negative comes about with respect to the company – a product issue, for instance, a recall perhaps – we tend to be proactive in making sure that we address it and communicate it directly to those customers that have that particular product. 

But we are also very reluctant – as most companies may be – to publicize it or to share it outside of the need to know.  In other words, there is a belief that a recall has a stigma attached to it.  So from a product’s stand point, there is a bigger concern amongst senior management that we would lose control.

If we are going to participate on blogs and in online dialogues then, it is all important that we be as transparent as we can, and maybe be upfront in sharing some of the things that previously would be a little embarrassing to us. 

The way I view this is almost with reverse logic when in comes to a recall. We should be the ones to control the message to the public because there aren’t any real secrets with respect to the Internet.  Part of my job is to educate senior management as to why doing almost the opposite of what they are accustomed to may be the thing we should do. 

I think I have been able to show where it has been very effective in terms of making these types of recalls go smoother, or perhaps mitigating some of the bash talk by people online that say we are going so fast that our quality is slipping.

MG: In many ways you are creating a channel for the customers to express their opinions, rather than having them find or create their own channels to express them.  When using your channels, consumers may be more polite when expressing their dissatisfaction, because they are communicating directly with you rather than more anonymously to the world at large.  Have you found this to be the case? 

BE: That is correct. What it has helped do is to find those customers who somehow have fallen through the cracks so to speak with respect to an issue or a product.  I have been able to find some of them online and get these people to the right person to resolve their issue.  

We do a lot of product marketing events where we invited traditional media to “ride and drive” weekends. I have been successful in convincing marketing, for instance, to also include non-traditional journalists – bloggers and web operators of online enthusiast sites.  This has actually been pretty successful because [non-traditional journalists] tend to compete, if you will, with the traditional media. 

MG: Absolutely! 

BE: I have been successful in getting our marketing group to now include select bloggers in our events, and have been rewarded with some pretty good blog posts as a result. 

One site we have worked with in the past is PriusChat.com.  I think there are about 16,000 regular members of that enthusiast site.  And I have been told by BuzzMetrics that there could be five times as many people who access the site just to read the comments. 

MG: Tell me how you have worked with PriusChat.com and other hybrid enthusiast sites to engage with consumers. 

When I worked at the customer experience center, we launched the first generation Prius.  We had an issue with EPA mileage ratings of 60 [miles per gallon].  Quite frankly, in the real world you do not get 60 miles per gallon which became a customer satisfaction issue. 

When I found the PriusChat.com site, I was impressed with the level of knowledge that some of the regular posters who were diehard Toyota Prius enthusiasts.  And I found that there was quite a lot of discussion about the mileage issue back then. 

But, what I also found was that [the online discussion] was naturally self-regulating.  In other words, someone would make a post about a new Prius: “I am happy about it but I am really concerned about the mileage I am getting.”  Well, one of the experts on the vehicle would post a comment to that, in a professional manner, explaining the real world realities of the EPA tests.  And over time, it helped to communicate – in a much better way than we were able to do – the realities of driving a hybrid vehicle. 

I was impressed by an online consumer driven enthusiast site that basically handled a consumer relations problem that for us was difficult to communicate.

MG: What about in the case of a product recall? 

BE: We had a special service campaign, or recall, on the steering component of the Prius last year. This was perhaps a more serious recall because it was on our Prius which is our only unique hybrid vehicle, and it involved a steering component which is technically a safety-related issue.  As such, we foresaw the potential for considerable concern by vehicle owners.  We also risked having others seize this moment to criticize us and our technology. 

So, I worked with that enthusiast site in this instance.  I started with a special communications to them.  There were people on the site that understand the technology and did a great job of taking what I would post and adding their own commentary to create positive sentiment towards our actions than we might have accomplished before. 

We had a good relationship with that site, in part, because I had the opportunity to meet the owner – oddly enough because I noticed a post of his one day where he was talking about actually getting a Prius.  Many members of the site were almost flabbergasted that here is the guy that started PriusChat but never actually owed one.  But he explained that he had a Toyota and he wanted to get a Prius, but had to put the money aside to do so.  He was actually buying one from a dealership in Chicago so he kinds of made it into an event with this web site and the members were a part of it. 

The event was planned for when he came to Chicago to take delivery of his Prius.  They had a lot of the Chicago members come, but other consumers flew into Chicago to participate in this event as well.  

MG: That is impressive.  Was Toyota involved in planning this event? 

BE: No, but I did make an effort to attend.  I was impressed that these participants in an online site would get together.  So I did show up; it was held at a dealership.   [The site operator] actually lives in Columbia, South Carolina so he flew up there to take delivery of the vehicle. And then he posted online the route they were taking driving back. 

[The day of the event] was hot and muggy. I was in my cargo shorts and polo shirt.  We had name tags.  Mine identified me as TMS USA [Toyota Motor Sales].  It was funny because I was so accustomed to seeing some of the screen names of some of the regulars on this site. To see them in person was very interesting.  There were doctors, there was a lawyer, a homemaker.

Conversely, when they looked at me they said: “You must be kidding.  You are Toyota?”.  I go, “Yea, I’m Bruce.  I am Toyota”.  They were quite impressed that I actually came out for that.


Green Marketing Leverages Social Networking on MySpace

February 19, 2007

Social networking sites such as MySpaceFriendster and Facebook have become enormously popular, with membership topping 200 million today.  Such sites allow users to create personal profiles and interact with others by sharing content and communicating through IM and chat.  Users establish links to each other, creating networks that facilitate the sharing of information between friends and introductions between strangers. 

As Jupiter Research points out, advertising on social networks provides a powerful channel for marketers to reach online consumers in an “environment which they helped create” rather than on “traditional portals and destination sites”. In doing so, marketers can leverage social networks to build brand awareness, in large part by leveraging the word-of-mouth impact of the network. (“Social Networks”, September 26, 2006). 

For marketers, however, advertising on social networks is not without risk.  One challenge faced by all marketers is how to appear ‘genuine’ rather than purely commercial in such consumer-created environments.  Faced with this dilemma, mass market brands must tread carefully when advertising on such sites.  For example, a search on MySpace for Wal-Mart yields a profile page targeting college students with music, electronics and dorm accessories.  It also yields a “Don’t Shop Wal-Mart” page with many links to negative news reports about the company.  Ironically, green as a category may be better positioned than most to exploit social networks as a marketing channel.  There are a couple reasons for this positioning, as the green category may exhibit one or more of the following characteristics: 

  • Emerging product category: Social network users like to share content as there is an excitement, and even competitiveness, about being first in the know.  Emerging products and brands provide the opportunity to exploit the “novelty” factor that motivates viral marketing. 
  • Social cause:  Many consumers are linking to sites or sharing content if these sites or content support an underlying cause.
  • Lifestyle brand: Social network users express their online identities, in part, through the connections that they make online.  Links to lifestyle brands (or social causes) are ways for consumers to express this identity online. 

So, how should green brands take advantage of this consumer-driven social networking environment?  In terms of opportunity size, MySpace is in a league of its own with more than 100 million registered users.  A review of current activities on MySpace reveals learning for green marketers.  Here are a few considerations: 

Create profiles.  Increasingly, companies and non-profits are creating their own profiles on MySpace.  At first glance, they look similar to profiles created by individual users (as the templates are the same).  But, in fact, they are branded pages with content posted by a company or non-profit organization. One proxy for the marketing impact generated from placement on a social networking site is the number of people that have linked to a particular profile.  Based on this measure, promoters of the movie An Inconvenient Truth have enjoyed significant success for a green brand with nearly 85,000 links to date.   

Many not-for-profit organizations also maintain profiles on MySpace.  Interestingly, Greenpeace has one of the most popular profiles of any green non-profit.  However, this may not be surprising as MySpace is in large part about expressing online identity.  Given its grassroots base and edgy tactics, Greenpeace may make for a more unique expression of identify than more mainstream organizations such as the Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund. 

Non-Profit Organization MySpace Links
Greenpeace 38,311
Wilderness Society 16,603
World Wildlife Fund 14,366
Earth First 10,337
National Resource Defense Council* 5,624

* Joint campaign with punk rock band Green Day 

A quick survey of eco-friendly companies, however, revealed very few brands with profiles on MySpace but include Annie’s Homegrown (organic), Ben and Jerry’s and green*light magazine.  Not surprisingly, user links to these corporate sites are relatively low, indicating that users do not want to associate with the brands within this environment or simply that it is too early to tell.   

Nonetheless, opportunity may exist for other niche brands (that are emerging, aligned with a specific lifestyle or support an underlying cause) to create a presence on MySpace.  Examples include companies as diverse as Tom’s of Maine, Seventh Generation, Method and Clif Bar to experiment with profiles on MySpace. 

Associate with celebrities. Association with celebrities provides credibility for a brand and expands it appeal across a wider audience.  One way to do so is to encourage celebrity links on branded profiles.  Currently, environmental non-profits are using this tactic as a de facto endorsement and broadening their appeal to a wider audience.  Most celebrities linked to environmental groups are musical bands which is not surprising given MySpace’s musical heritage.  Several examples include Pearl Jam for Defenders of Wildlife and the Dixie Chicks for the Nature Conservancy.  Promoters of An Inconvenient Truth have a link to the Black Eyed Peas while the unbranded profile StopGlobalWarming tapped the military and political figure, Wesley Clark.  

Tap into “New Influentials”.  Jupiter Research defines “New Influentials” as “active broadcasters of information” across the Internet due to their high consumption, creation and sharing of online content.  By doing so, they have significant influence in building brand awareness – spreading information quickly online via blogs and social networking sites. (“Marketing to Influentials,”, November 7, 2006).

Interestingly, many popular green blogs, including TreeHugger and GristMill, maintain profiles within MySpace and include similar content as their blogs. Seeding environmental blogs with engaging, and perhaps exclusive content (including videos, quizzes or even advertising clips themselves) is one way to facilitate viral distribution by New Influentials within social networking environments.  

Integrate marketing campaigns with MySpace presence.  Advertisers have created profiles within social networking sites in order to extend marketing campaigns to those environments.  Marketers should consider linking directly from the creative or corporate site associated with the online campaign to these profiles. These marketers should engage the consumers that visit their social networking profiles by soliciting their participation (eg, quiz, vote, content creation) or by facilitating the viral distribution of posted content.  There are two great examples of organizations that maintain integrated profiles on MySpace:  

National Resource Defense Council linked up with band Green Day to launch an unbranded campaign, Move America Beyond Oil.  The associated campaign site enables users to view video commentary by band members about environmental issues, send messages (eg, email, text) to government officials, learn about what they can do to reduce environmental impact and download free stuff (eg, wallpaper, icons).  

The campaign is tied to a profile page within MySpace which includes the video from YouTube and messaging information.   While the profile itself has fewer than 6,000 links, significantly, much of the content can be viewed or accessed from Green Day’s own profile which has more than 211,000.  

Green Mountain Energy, the largest US retailer of renewable energy, recently launched an ambitious unbranded campaign, BeGreenNow, which relies heavily on social network capabilities through its website as well as in MySpace.     The campaign itself features a highly engaging website that is intended to:

  • Educate consumers about their carbon footprint (eg, through content, blog, carbon calculator)
  • Motivate action to mitigate impact (eg, planting a tree, purchasing carbon offset)
  • Connect with likeminded people through community functions (eg, join BeGreenNow community, add link to other social networking sites including MySpace, social shopping site Wists and web site bookmarking and sharing sites like Simpy, Spurl, Furl and del.icio.us)
  • Spread the word through a combination of awareness (eg, add BeGreenNow button to personal pages or blogs) and viral tactics (forward to a friend).

The BeGreenNow site also features a video contest where users can submit a video about what they do to be green.  What is most interesting about this tactic is that marketers have cleverly embedded the video on its MySpace profile, rather than on the site.  Thus, a click on the site’s video banner takes the user to the MySpace page where one can view all of the submitted footage, vote on a favorite video and forward to a friend. 

When in doubt, stick to paid search.  Consumers are more accepting of advertisements when companies are open and honest about their intentions.  If there are any doubts about brand acceptance by social networking users, test the water first with paid search. For example, buy relevant key words to assess demand for a product or brand in the context of a social networking site before you invest in an ongoing presence.


Consumer Generated Media as Driver of Green Marketing

January 30, 2007

An interview with Pete Blackshaw, CMO, Nielsen BuzzMetrics   

The creation and distribution of consumer-generated media (CGM) online is rapidly changing the marketing landscape.  Consumers are actively participating online, providing opinions, perspective and feedback on the products and brands they like and dislike through a variety of channels including message boards, social networking sites, corporate sites, online communities and blogs.   

Marketers are learning to tap into this consumer activism to support or drive campaigns across the consumer lifecycle.  While much content is consumer initiated, successful marketers are increasingly facilitating such content to serve multiple purposes. Marketers are looking to:  

  • Solicit consumer feedback and endorsement
  • Encourage engagement with the product or brand
  • Facilitate word-of-mouth recommendations or referrals (e.g. viral campaigns)

For marketers, however, CGM is not without risk.  By actively facilitating content creation, companies are in some ways ceding control over their brands as consumers have an increasing voice to shape the brands’ images and evolution.  Yet, today consumers are expressing their opinions online whether solicited or not.  Savvy marketers are learning to channel this energy to support their efforts as well as contain negative sentiments to protect corporate reputations and brands. 

Last week I had the opportunity to speak with Pete Blackshaw, CMO of Nielsen BuzzMetrics.  Blackshaw is truly a pioneer in CGM, having been credited with coining the term, as well as co-founding the Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association.  We spoke about CGM, and specifically, about how it is being used to engage consumers, shape brand perception and influence behavior in the green space.  Here is what Pete had to say: 

MG: You are credited by some with coining the term “consumer-generated media” and have a blog under the same name.  Tell me how you define this term.  How has it evolved over the past few years?   How is it changing the landscape for marketers?

PB: “Consumer-Generated Media” (CGM) encompasses the millions of consumer-generated comments, opinions and personal experiences posted in publicly available online sources on a wide range of issues, topics, products and brands.  CGM is also referred to as Online Consumer Word-of-Mouth or Online Consumer Buzz.  

I deliberately pushed the term “media” versus “content” to underscore that consumer opinion, whether on blogs, message boards, forums, or YouTube, essentially acts like media.  It intercepts other consumers, often during “consideration” periods, and this can have a significant impact on awareness, trial, and purchase of products.  It can also greatly impact defection and negative virality.

MG: Are there companies with eco-friendly products that are encouraging consumers to participate in a dialogue (e.g. on a corporate blog or community) or encourage the creation/submission of consumer-generated content?  Who has been most successful at doing this?  What were the primary reasons for success?

PB: Toyota recently launched a new community dedicated to conversation around all-things hybrid related.  The company also stays close to CGM flows in all the progressive car forums where hybrid cars or discussed. One manager, in fact, has the titled of “Manager, Consumer Generated Media.”  [Toyota enables consumers create profiles similar to those on MySpace and other social networking sites.  Currently, there are nearly 11,000 profiles posted.] GM uses its FastLane blog to occasionally highlight new initiatives or management attention around “green” related issues. 

As for more creative uses of CGM initiated by the companies, I just haven’t seen a great deal. In addition, more marketers today are aware of the blogs out there related to their space.  When I first launched HybridBuzz, I was shocked at how little the Honda folks were aware of blogs.  Now, that’s changed a great deal, especially as blog-related commentary continues to over-index on Google.  This creates a pressing need to “enter the conversation.”

MG: Today, the Internet is an essential channel by which to leverage word-of-mouth advertising.   To do so effectively, marketers must tap key influencers that have impact on brand awareness or purchase intent.  How do you identify and connect with online influencers?  How do you measure their impact?

PB: The key to identifying influencers is understanding the right way to profile consumers.  [All] brands already have “influencers” right under their nose…they just don’t know it.  As for connecting with influencers, I’m a big fan of reaching out to the hand-raisers in your database who you know are influential versus braving the less predictable waters of blogger outreach.  You clearly need to do some of that, but it’s more art than science.  Don’t believe any PR firm or word-of-mouth consultant who tells you otherwise.

MG: Environmental issues can generate significant positive as well as negative buzz for a company.  GE is one example: For years, GE was plagued by negative PR for its refusal to dredge PCBs from the Hudson River.  Now, GE’s “Ecoimagination” campaign is reshaping its image as a leader in the green space.  Are companies starting to monitor or even nurture their “environmental reputation” online?   Do some actively try to influence the direction of the dialogue?

PB: Yes, I can’t get into specifics, but CGM analysis is a fabulous way to find out if such initiatives are yielding results, awareness, or recognition.  The proof in the pudding is in the postings.  And yes, if you put all the blog entries related to GE’s “Ecoimagination” into a data-mining blender, you’ll find that they are starting to get good results.  But it’s not exactly a fire-hydrant of positive buzz.  This is a very long-term process.   One area that’s critical to monitor is the extent to which activist groups or more extreme “green-conscious” stakeholders view such corporate initiatives with skepticism or cynicism.  This is something we’ll look at periodically as well.

MG: Companies with eco-friendly products are increasingly launching branding and acquisition campaigns in the market.  How can these companies leverage buzz to measure campaign effectiveness?

PB: The good news is that “new news” is the currency of word-of-mouth, social media, and consumer-generated media.  And if you have “news” in the eco-friendly arena, that’s a big competitive advantage from a buzz-building perspective.  Buzz analysis can help pinpoint the key appeal drivers behind the eco-friendly initiatives.  How much buzz, and why?  Who’s talking, and why? What specific issues, and from what source?  Are key elements of the launch or marketing campaign indicted by the buzz?  CGM analysis can be a big help here.

MG: BuzzMetrics’ BrandPulse captures information about issues being discussed online including emerging trends.  Are you able to capture such trends in the green space?  For example, are attitudes changing regarding purchasing gas-guzzling vehicles or toward global warming?

PB: Yes, but you have to take a very broad brush analysis to reach that conclusion.  You can’t look at green-related conversation in a vacuum.  At the same time, I can say with confidence that conversation is noticeably up regarding fuel-efficiency, alternative vehicles, and, of course, global warming.  In fact, on the latter, I daresay Al Gore’s movie and book has significantly extended and deepened the nature of the conversation on global warming. It’s also precipitated some push back and skepticism, but the level of awareness and overall conversation is much higher today that it was last year or the year before last. This will be a very interesting area to monitor.   

As for gas-guzzling vehicles, it’s important to note that a decent percentage of the CGM discussion on this topic is price-sensitivity related.  Put another way, the pricing “pain” [from higher gas prices] is a conversational “gain” for green-related talk.  Also, as more auto manufacturers invest marketing dollars against their “green” or “hybrid” initiatives, expect to see higher levels of overall conversation [online].   

CGM, we consistently find, echoes marketing investment.  That’s a big reason why we’re monitoring Super Bowl ads.


Sharing Green Videos Online

December 26, 2006

According to Jupiter Research, more than 20% of online users in the US regularly view videos online today.  This segment is growing rapidly, driven by the adoption of broadband and emergence of video sharing sites such as Grouper, Veoh, vSocial, and YouTube, recently acquired by Google.  Marketers are taking note.  Once the domain for sharing consumer-generated content, such sites are increasingly being seeded with professional content including movie trailers, TV commercials and news stories. 

For green marketers, video sharing offers a powerful new channel to reach consumers and promote their message.  Specifically, video sharing enables marketers to:

  • Engage consumers through compelling, multimedia experiences
  • Facilitate word-of-mouth marketing efforts
  • Attract highly influential online users they can leverage as brand advocates.  In fact, 28% of users that view online videos regularly “ranked themselves as the first person people come to for recommendations about TV and movies, compared with 12 percent of all online consumers” according to Jupiter Research (Online Video Search, 11/06)

To assess the state of green video sharing, Marketing Green recently surveyed YouTube’s top “green” videos (based on number of views).  Here is what we found:

  • Green marketers are experimenting with online video, though with varying degrees of success.  Green videos can be categorized as either pro-environment or anti-environment.  They are being produced by an array of organizations – including Hollywood film studios, non-profits and news agencies – as well as independent filmmakers.  Somewhat surprisingly, no product companies made the top list, though a quick search yields content from eco-friendly campaigns by GE and Toyota.
  • Overall, the most popular videos had a mix of entertainment and celebrity appeal.  Moreover, most top-viewed videos were distributed to support more extensive, multi-channel marketing effort – say to promote Al Gore’s movie or TBS’s Earth to America! comedy, rather than produced as stand alone content in of themselves. 
  • Only three videos, all directly related to An Inconvenient Truth, have been seen by more than 100K viewers* to date.  This is significant because it says that most environmentally related videos appeal to niche audiences that perhaps have high pre-existing levels of awareness and understanding of these issues. 

Top 10 Pro-Environment Videos on YouTube 

Video Title

Topic Source Celebrity Views
“A Terrifying Message from Al Gore”

Global warming

Paramount

Futurama Al Gore

1,287,858

An Inconvenient Truth – Trailer

Movie trailer

Paramount

Al Gore

659,940

Will Ferrell on George Bush on Global Warming

Global warming

“Earth to
America”, TBS

Will Ferrell

137,710

Robert Redford on Saving the Arctic Refuge

Protect ANWAR

NRDC

Robert Redford

106,910

Water Powered Vehicle

Hydrogen-powered vehicles

Fox News

NA

102,968

A Global Warning…

Global warming

Independent Film Maker, WordofMouth

NA

56,619

Global Warming: From ‘If’ to ‘When’

Global warming

Health Politics.org

NA

43,248

Blue Man Group video featured on ‘Earth To America!’

Global warming

“Earth to
America”, TBS

Blue Man Group

42,359

The Bush Administration’s approach to Global Warming

Global warming

TheDaily Background. com

NA

34,984

Greenpeace anti-SUV Commercial

Anti-gas guzzler

Greenpeace

NA

32,448**

Top 5 Anti-Environment Videos on YouTube 

Video Title

Topic Source Celebrity Views

Al Gore’s Penguin Army

An Inconvenient Truth Parody

Anonymous

NA

471,871

Global Warming – Glaciers

Refutes Global Warming

Competitive Enterprise Institute

NA

105,042

Global Warming – Energy

Refutes Global Warming

Competitive Enterprise Institute

NA

43,849

Michele Bachmann doesn’t believe in global warming

Refutes Global Warming

Individual

NA

41,705

Al Gore: An Inconvenient Story

Anti-Al Gore

Competitive Enterprise Institute

NA

30,177

 

Jupiter Research reports that the top three ways for video users to “discover” videos include recommendations from friends, search engine results, TV/movie preview or trailer and directly from online video sites.   For green marketers to have significant impact, they must leverage these tactics in order to appeal to a mass audience. (Programming for Three Screens, 12/06).

 

Tactics for green marketers to consider:

  • Facilitate word of mouth.  Embed “pass-along” tools with content.  Identify key influencers and seed with content.
  • Enable search. Pay for relevant keywords and align ad copy.  Optimize landing pages for natural search.  Tag online videos to enable video search engines to crawl them. 
  • Create compelling content.  Content does not have to be associated with the latest blockbuster movie for it to be compelling.  Our quick assessment of green videos on YouTube suggests that comedic formats have broad appeal.  Case in point: “A Terrifying Message from Al Gore” produced by Paramount was by far the most viewed video – 2x over the actual trailer for the movie – through a clever parody of Al Gore using Futurama characters. 

Yet, serious documentaries can play to broader audiences but may require celebrities that leverage the affinity of the actor to legitimize the cause and broaden its appeal to do so.  Two examples include Al Gore and Robert Redford, the latter paring up with the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) in a video that promotes saving the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from drilling. 

News articles may be more challenged to generate broad appeal, not by the nature of the content, but rather by its apparent lack of exclusivity which may diffuse the audience base across multiple channels.

  • Distribute through existing video sharing sites.  This may include organic seeding or paid placement of content when appropriate.   In addition, links can be created from popular blogs, boosting reach.

*Interestingly, the top anti-environmental video, “Al Gore’s Penguin Army”, was released by DCI Group, a PR agency, while the producer and financial backers remain anonymous.   

** Listed twice.  Other listing has 25,733 views. 


Influence from Consumer-Generated Content

December 17, 2006

An Interview with Flemming Madsen, Managing Director of Onalytica

 

The Internet is emerging as a powerful publishing platform for consumers to express their opinions, share ideas and influence others. Indeed, the volume of consumer-generated content – including blogs, message boards, social networks and chat/community group discussions – has grown exponentially in recent years.

 

Today, companies such as BrandIntelCymfonyNielsen BuzzMetrics, Umbria and UK-based Onalytica are monitoring this online chatter and leveraging data-mining techniques to understand consumer sentiment and identify emerging trends. 

 

Not surprisingly, consumer-generated content is becoming a powerful tool in the green space to help shape opinions or brand perceptions.  Today, for example, individuals and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are leveraging the web to influence the behavior of multi-national corporations.  Given the viral nature of the Internet, such initiatives are often highly effective at influencing opinion or brand perception.  If done effectively, the Internet can be leveraged to achieve “disproportionate voice”. That is, substantial influence can be attained by enlisting the support of a handful of key influencers and by leveraging viral tactics to spread an idea or an opinion.

 

Corporations are playing catch-up as they monitor buzz to understand public opinion and interject their views into the dialogue or enlist advocates to do so on their behalf.

 

Companies such as Onalytica have emerged as leaders in the green space by measuring green “influence” online.  Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Flemming Madsen, Managing Director at Onalytica, to discuss how individuals, NGOs and corporations use the Internet to exert green influence.  Here is what he had to say:

MG: Public opinion is swayed by information gathered in the public domain – including articles in the press, consumer blogs and PR campaigns.  How does Onalytica measure influence and map relative influence from each source?

FM: People want to understand who the influencers are in order to make their PR campaigns more effective.  The exercise is to find out where you get the most influence for the time you spend engaging. 

 

[To identify influencers] we use ‘citation analysis’.  This is a technique that has been used for thirty years to measure the influence of academic journals and is the sort of de facto standard for measuring influence in the academic space. 

 

What we do is take everything that is written about a certain issue – say climate change – and we analyze who is referencing whom in this context. We extract those citations, map them by reference source, turn them into mathematical equations and solve them to get influence.  

 

We also count [citations] to get their popularity.  Popularity is how many talk about you.  But, you do not need to be popular to have good influence.  And because the cost of engaging with a stakeholder is closely related to their popularity, those that are more popular have more demands on their time.  But the value is more related to the influence. [see "Influence and Popularity on the Topic of Blog Marketing" publication] 

MG: How do individual consumers and consumer advocacy groups use the Internet to voice their opinions on environmental issues? 

FM: Our [Kimberly-Clark] analysis is an example of how a relatively small and unresourceful environmental NGO can utilizes the web to get, what some may describe, as a disproportionate voice.

MG: How did that work? 

FM: The fact is that at NGOs the people tend to be tech savvy and able to move faster that those that they are trying to influence.  It gives then a huge edge in getting their message to market [online].  Actually, you could mount a campaign like the one against {a company like] Kimberly-Clark with only a few people and have impact.  That was unheard of say 15 years ago.  They way you could do it is by leveraging the Internet and social networking better than Kimberly-Clark. 

 

In the old days Adam Smith said that the market was governed by an invisible hand.  But, today, that invisible hand that disciplines the behavior of corporations is largely social media. [see "Brands Under Attack" publication]

 

Yet, what is typically the case is that [the NGOs] are not as influential as they are popular.  What that means is that NGOs have more tracking with people who themselves do not have much influence. NGOs are much more popular than actually influential.

MG: And by influence you mean having an impact on corporate behavior? 

FM: No, on swaying the opinion.  So, for example, you say that we should fish less cod because we are fishing all of the cod out of the ocean.  If an environmental group said that, the issue may get good traction, but it does so with those who already believe that we should fish less than we do. 

MG: So they are not swaying many people in the middle.

FM: They are not swaying as may as their popularity should lead us believe. Those that they impact are more often those that do not have influence themselves rather than policy makers, corporations, journalists, and so on.

MG: So people that have influence are those that have a network that they can, in turn, influence.

FM: Yes. 

MG:  Tell me how corporations are leveraging the Internet to generate PR on green issues?

FM: We have done some interesting work in relation to green issues.  For example, a very big publishing house came to us last year before they published a book about climate change and asked us to provide them with a list of the most influential bloggers on this issue in several countries so they could seed part of the book them and gain traction with the community before it was published.  We also tracked the sentiment about the book and how it faired in the discussion, including to what extent it raised the influence of the author in the community.

 

We also have interest from producers of certain raw materials and oils that are keen to understand what the environmental NGOs are saying about how to behave.  They are also keen to understand who are the gatekeepers in the environmental community that they could talk to about their side of the story. 

MG: How are organizations monitoring the impact of brand campaigns or PR initiatives in market?

FM: We benchmark an organization’s relative influence on certain topics of importance.  There is an increased acceptance that if you want to be seen as credible supplier of anything – say bread – then you need to be an authority on all aspects of bread not just have a great bread brand.

So organizations want to make sure that they to an increasing extent own the topic not just the brand.  For example, a pharmaceutical company may want to be considered an expert on the use of drugs that they have.  So that every time that there is something written in the press, the journalist will consider the pharmaceutical company an authority on this issue.

MG: Are corporations encouraging consumers to participate in social media like blogs and social networks?

FM:  There is good research to document that if people have a good outlet for any grievances or frustration towards a brand, they will vent it in a moderated tone of voice versus what they would do on a blog. 

MG: What about when NGO’s do exert influence via the Internet? How do corporations counter-act negative PR?

FM: [In the case of] Kimberly-Clark, if they wanted to, they could employ their online assets to effectively silence this. 

MG: How would Kimberly-Clark go about doing that?

FM:  They would use a technique commonly known as ‘crowding out’ whereby you if you are a big corporation you would take all of your online assets and arrange them so that when people search for your keywords you are occupying the first three, four pages of Google with your own assets.

MG: Sort of an intercept strategy?

FM: More like clogging up everything that is written about the topic with your message.  And because you have such a huge presence and have a lot of web sites, they could do it.


Social Labeling Works

May 27, 2006

Many green products require a premium to offset higher costs associated with mitigating environmental impact. In certain categories, consumers have already demonstrated their willingness to pay higher prices for environmentally-friendly products. For example, consumers pay a premium for hybrid cars (albeit the price is somewhat offset by lower operating costs). But, can this willingness be translated across broader product categories?

While market research suggests that consumers are willing to pay higher prices for socially responsible products, the only way to quantify this is through in-market testing. Harvard professor, Michael Hiscox, and his student, Nicholas Smyth, have done just that, testing demand for and price elasticity of products with socially-responsible labeling. (“Is There Consumer Demand for Improved Labor Standards?“, 2005) While this paper compares consumer purchasing behavior for manufactured products that specify fair labor practices (vs. no labeling), there are potential learnings that may be extended to green marketing.

Hiscox and Smyth tested demand for two products – towels (staple product) and candles (luxury) – using socially-responsible labels in ABC Carpet and Home, a home décor store catering to relatively affluent consumers on New York City’s Upper East Side. (A third product, handmade dolls, was also tested but used a less rigorous control – last year’s sales).

Results were impressive:

The ratio of socially labeled products sold increased significantly relative to unlabeled (baseline) products (12% increase for labeled towels and 26% for candles). Moreover, this trend accelerated when prices for the labeled products increased 10% (perhaps giving more credibility to the socially responsible product). In fact, the ratio of labeled products sold increased 37% for towels and 67% for candles vs. unlabeled (baseline), resulting in a significant increase in revenue for labeled products (due to increase in units sold + increase in revenue per product).

With a 20% increase in the price, the increase in the ratio of labeled towels sold (vs. unlabeled) was similar to a 10% price increase, demonstrating inelasticity of demand with higher prices for towels. With a 20% increase in the price of candles, demand did not increase (as with a 10% price increase), however, but rather remained the same as baseline (unlabeled control). Nonetheless, given the 20% price increase, total revenue was 20% greater than baseline.

Overall, this test suggests that companies that switch to socially labeled products could increase price by 10-20% and expect that overall demand to rise (at least for relatively affluent customers). While the test needs to be replicated using green product labeling and expanded to include less affluent consumers, it strongly suggests that consumers may be willing to pay a premium for green products. Green marketers should take note.


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