Four Tips for Doing “Buyer’s Guides” Right

product comparisons content marketing Here’s an ideas for radical “transparency” in product marketing: Do an exhaustive comparison of your products and services vs. your competitors. Get down and dirty in specific areas like platform support, ease of management, need for staff retraining, and overall return on investment.

And make this an impartial comparison of the players that will establish our thought leadership – while highlighting our strengths and soft-pedaling our weak spots.

Not for the Timid

That was the assignment I recently completed, along with a publishing partner, for a top-tier software vendor.  We’re nearing publication, and I’m proud of the work we did. It’s much more insightful, in-depth, comprehensive and, yes, impartial than most content marketing. This is powerful content, rich in detail, which if promoted right will be downloaded, read, and passed on throughout today’s committee-driven B2B buying process.

But it took seven long months of work, with a lot of internal agonizing over how impartial we could afford to be when the chips were down: In other words, when product managers had to swallow us describing a short-coming in their wonderful offerings, or admitting to strength in a competitor.

Marketer Beware

This is industrial-strength, high-commitment, high-reward content marketing. If I were working with another client on such a “product guide” here are four questions I’d ask before starting:

  • How honest are you willing to be? Everyone knows you won’t pay a writer to trash your own product. Nor (I hope) do you expect to make this a thinly veiled ad for your own offerings. But specifically how far are you willing to go to admit when a competitor has a superior set of capabilities? In this assignment, figuring out where the fine line was took a lot of unexpected time and effort.
  • Who gets to comment on the draft, and do we have their buy-in? At least a month or more of delay was the result of a new group of stakeholders who saw the draft late and had their own comments and concerns. Knowing they existed, and having them in the loop beforehand, would have gotten this finished and out the door more quickly.
  • Who will referee the tough calls? I was lucky enough to be paired with a very professional, savvy and honest contact person within our client. He buffered me from the product managers who were understandably pushing hard to make their products look good. Having such a buffer made my life as a writer much easier. More importantly, it reduced internal costs and improved quality by making sure the “referee” was inside the client and had the contacts and authority to push for final answers.
  • How are you going to use this before it goes stale, or refresh it so it stays useful? Annual and quarterly release cycles are so 20th Most cloud-based services, much less mobile apps, make improvements and enhancements on a continual “drip” basis. We, and our client, would have been better served with a plan to more quickly distribute and promote our work, and to keep it updated over time.

Journalism, or Marketing?

Such “buyer’s guides” were a long-term staple of the IT trade press. That’s because they saved customers time by presenting side by side comparisons of competing products. But how do they work as marketing content? How do they perform from a lead-gen perspective? Can they be honest enough to be credible while still promoting the strengths of the sponsoring vendor?

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Selling the Five Waves of “Transformation”

How to sell transformation IBM, Dell, Capgemini and Accenture all claim they can deliver it.  McKinsey & Co. claims the entire nation of China is doing it.

“It” is  digital transformation. Personally, I don’t get it, because:

  • If “digital” means “computerized,” we’ve all been “digitally transformed” a bunch of times since the 1960s. (Think mainframe, minicomputer, client-server, Web, and now mobile, social, cloud and Big Data.)
  • And as for transformation, as I’ve argued  repeatedly, this is meaningless jargon unless you say what you’re transforming yourself from and to. Much of the time, “transformation” is just a fancy word for saying “better” or “cheaper.”

Go With the Flow, Bob

Rather than fight the tide, maybe I should accept that “digital transformation” is popular because it speaks to what my clients are trying to tell their prospects. Let’s try riding the wave instead, based on several of the definitions floating around out there:
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Note that, while there are common themes across definitions, how much room there is for differentiation based on each specific definition, and the specific strengths you bring to the market.

Breakthrough! Transformation Defined

By making its definition very specific (“The realignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital customers at every touchpoint in the customer experience lifecycle” the Altimeter Group was able to craft a customer survey that uncovered specific, rather than vague, implementation issues.

The “process,” rather than technical issues, uncovered (below) seem to make digital transformation an easier pitch for consultants than hardware or software-centric players, unless they can describe specifically how their skills in areas such as Big Data or business intelligence help organizations better understand today’s mobile and socially-connected customers.

Even One Word Can Help

All this is well and good if you and your prospect agree on a definition for digital transformation.  If you don’t bother defining it, or define it only vaguely, you’re inviting your customers to misunderstand what you’re offering.

nJust changing one word – “digital transformation” to “IT transformation” – means you’re talking about, as Accenture puts it, the need to “…identify which IT capabilities are most critical to the success of the overall enterprise, and shape an IT organization and capability that supports the business cost-effectively.”

That’s what most of my clients mean by “transformation” and it usually boils down to reducing costs through things like virtualization, data center consolidation, and training lower-level or lower-cost offshore staff to handle more complex support requests. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t deliver the unified customer experience and universal market insights “digital” transformation implies.

Does any of this clear up all this transformation talk or just make it confusing in a new way?

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Content Cookbook #2: Selling Security Response

(One in an ongoing series of sample IT drip content marketing campaigns. Feel free to steal this sequence or, if you’d like Content marketing security response sequence help customizing one for your needs, email or call at 781 599-3262.)

Antivirus products are “doomed to failure.” So says, of all people, Symantec, even though it gets 40% of its revenue from AV.

What’s up? For one thing, AV not a huge money maker. Second, hackers have moved on from endpoint attacks using viruses. The most serious threats now come from “zero day” network intrusion and denial of service attacks that target the core of the IT infrastructure and are too new to be caught by AV scans. As a result, Symantec and other vendors are trying to sell software and services that help customers limit the damage from attack.

If you’re selling security response services what sequence of marketing content can help you to identify and rate prospects for those services?

Story One: This captures prospects early in the sales cycle by clearly explaining the limits of AV, the nature of the new threats AV cannot stop and how security response, rather than prevention, can help limit the damage. Be honest about whether antivirus is really “dead” or is just not sufficient, in and of itself, to provide security. Get specific with recommendations without touting your product. Should customers, for example, just get basic free AV for end points and focus the rest of their efforts on hardening the core and on security response? If they shift more security spending to the network, specifically where should they invest? And what is the ROI of security response versus prevention?

Offer this content free and promote the heck out of it via emails and social networks. Repurpose it for videos, ebooks, blog posts, contributed op-ed pieces and Webinars. This is your chance to become the trusted voice of reason on this topic. The call to action (CTA) is a link to the more detailed stories 2 and 3 which are aimed at more specific market segments.

Story 2: Focuses on one subset of your target market with specialized content. To find SMB prospects, for example, produce a checklist they can use to determine whether this shift from prevention to response is true for them as well as for large companies. If basic AV is still necessary, what are the “must-have” features an SMB in particular should focus on? And if SMBs should start thinking “response” rather than just prevention, what are the basic “response” steps an SMB should take themselves, given their limited budgets, and what can best be done by an outside vendor?

Gate this content with two to three basic contact/qualification questions, such as name, business email and top security challenge they are facing. The CTA is a link to story three, pulling prospects further through the sales funnel to the product/vendor evaluation.

Story 3: To capture prospects that are in the “consideration” stage of the purchase process, offer tips for evaluating the security response services that are flooding the marketplace. Which of the services they are selling, such as centralized real-time monitoring or documentation and forensics of past attacks are most valuable? What of the incident response workflows they are offering will help limit the damage from each type of attack most effectively? What security response steps should a customer take themselves, and which should they leave to a service provider? What are some of the “gotchas” that could hurt a customer by choosing the wrong provider, and how can they avoid these mistakes?

Gate this content with two or three further progressive profiling questions, such as whether they have (or plan to) create a security response plan and their time frame for action. If you can combine this with third-party data to further qualify them, all the better. If they plan to act soon, the call to action could be a sales call to further discuss their response needs. If they’re months away from action, offer them a subscription to your email newsletter of security response tips, tracking their readership to determine if and when they might be open to a call.

Note: In place of each “story” in this sequence feel free to replace with “webinar”, “video”, “podcast”, “white paper”, or other format.) And if you have a product or service for which you’d like to see a sample, drop me a line or call at 781 599-3262.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Content Cookbook #1: Selling Cloud Services

sales campaign cloud services(One in an ongoing series of sample drip content marketing campaigns for IT vendors. Feel free to steal this sequence or, if you’d like help customizing one for your needs, email or call at 781 599-3262.)

Despite (or because of) all the hype, many customers are still confused about the different types of cloud services, fearful over security and regulatory compliance and uncertain about their ability to manage data, applications and users in the cloud.

This content sequence is designed to capture contact and qualifying information for prospects that are interested in cloud services but concerned about security and management.

Story 1: To capture “top of funnel” prospects in the awareness stage, clearly explain the differences between the major cloud platforms (infrastructure, platform and software as a service) with examples of why actual customers adopted each. Describe pros and cons of the various models, and suggest which are best for various types of customers. Briefly summarize the state of the art in cloud security and management to tease interest in follow-up stories 2 and 3 below.

 Offer this content ungated (no registration required) to establish yourself as a trusted and knowledgeable advisor. Promote via your Web site, email newsletters, content syndication, social media, etc. Call to action is an invitation o read gated stories 2 and 3 on, respectively, security and management.

Story 2: To identify prospects who are most concerned about security, offer a checklist of which security features a cloud provider should offer, and challenge the reader to examine if they have those same required safeguards in-house. Alternatively, create a checklist for assessing how much security a customer needs based on their size, industry, application types, etc.

Gate with a two to three field form (for example, name, email address, company name) that captures basic tracking information without scaring off too many readers.  Call to action is a link to story 4, a “how to buy” piece for those closer to a purchase.

Story 3: To identify prospects most concerns about cloud management, create a 1,500-2,000 word feature on the state of cloud management tools. What are the most critical cloud management requirements, which of those needs can vendors meet now, what’s coming in the future? Keep it honest and impartial, with only a brief “message from our sponsor” about yourself at the end.

As with story 2, gate with a two to three field form (for example, name, email address, company name). Call to action is link to story 4, the “how to buy” piece for those closer to a purchase. 

Story 4: To capture more information about those in the consideration or purchase stages, go deep, long (2,000 words or more) and very specific with a guide for preparing a request for proposal for a cloud provider. This should be a template for assessing a provider, complete with suggested wording for terms and conditions, specific requirements for recovering data in case of failure of the provider and questions to ask about who within the provider is responsible for security and reporting on outages.

This most valuable and expensive content can be further gated with two to three more detailed questions, such as which security standards the reader must meet, the number of servers/storage they have under management or their expected time to purchase. Call to action can be a request for a sales meeting or demo.

Those who make it to story 4 are at least somewhat serious about considering the cloud and have told you, by their story choices and qualification forms, something about their needs and concerns. For those who stopped at stories 2 or 3, continue to marinate them in other useful content until they’re ready for further engagement.

Note: In place of “story” in this sequence feel free to replace with “webinar,” “video”, “podcast,” “white paper,” or other format.) And if you have a product or service you’d like to see a sample sequence for, drop me a line or call at 781 599-3262.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

I’ve recently been working with a client on a series of “thought leadership” white papers. They have a lot of great, innovative ideas, but when I ask for case studies and proof points to prove their ideas work, they often come up short.

how to produce thought leadership

I think, therefore I think I’m interesting.

My research uncovered an excellent post from Candyce Edelen, the CEO and founder of content marketing firm Propel Growth, who said she’s run into the same issue in the financial services market.

She argues content marketing and thought leadership are two different things. Content marketing, she says, helps prospects understand their existing needs, build awareness of the benefits of what you sell, and driving sales of what exists today. (Emphasis added.)

Thought leadership, on the other hand, is about “being a longer-term change agent, building awareness of unrecognized needs and generating demand for what’s coming in 12-18 months.” She cited the example of a financial services firm that coined the term “naked access” in 2007 to describe the practice of allowing high-speed computerized stock trades without the proper filtering or checks.

The firm “launched an extensive content and PR campaign…They wrote about the topic, educated the press, and spoke at industry events. They even encouraged competitors to jump on the campaign to push for regulatory reform.” But it wasn’t until late 2010 that the SEC recognized the issue and took action.

I deal all the time with technology and services vendors who say they want “thought leadership” but lack the details to back it up. Especially in large organizations, a call for experts to develop “thought leadership” can produce intriguing, academic-sounding approaches they think might work but have never proven.

The Three Musts

The three things it really takes to produce “thought leadership” are:

  • Prove Your Theory: Nobody cares if it doesn’t get results and has been proven to work. Getting it wrong with your high-blown forecasts or “paradigm-changing” insights can be worse than staying quiet.
  • Keep At It: It ain’t thought leadership if you only talk about it when it springs to mind. Be consistent. Note how long the financial services firm had to fight to get its message out, amid initial skepticism from regulatory authorities and others. It takes time, money and effort to keep shouting into the wind. Make sure it’s worthwhile and you have the commitment of those who hold the purse strings and have the loudest voices.
  • Focus: This means two things. First, make the tough choice to put most of your limited time and money into your true insights rather than the “just interesting” musings on industry trends. Second, determine what are the “next steps” you want your audience to take after reading your content. Is it downloading a gated white paper? Subscribing to an email newsletter? Or sitting through a demo?

Random efforts produce random results. You can pay me or another copywriter to whip some so-so naval-gazing into something readable now and then. Or, you can get more bang for your buck by proving what you’re claiming, committing to pushing it for the long haul, and focusing on the revenue-producing next steps you want your readers to take.

 

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Are You Wasting 25% of What You Pay Me?

matching messages to b2b buyer's needs Or any other writer to produce white papers and other marketing collateral? A new study from the CMO Council and B2B advertising network NetLine, “Better Lead Yield in the Content Marketing Field,” says the answer is yes.

It found that that:

  • A whopping 25 percent of marketing budgets spent by CMOs is largely squandered.
  • B2B marketing organizations need to bring more discipline and strategic thinking to content specification, delivery, and analytics.
  • The big challenge is how to make the content relevant and how to deliver it.

What Works, What Doesn’t

Their survey of more than 400 business buyers across a wide range of global industries, found that 86 percent said online content plays a “major to moderate role in vendor selection.” Which is why vendors are throwing so much business to writers like me these days.

But when asked what are the most trusted and valued sources of online content, only nine percent said “vendor white papers.” That suggests that not just 25%, but as much as 90% of corporate content marketing budgets could be a waste.

While B2B marketers spend $16.6 billion each year on digital content marketing, “Their content [tends to be] over technical, product-centric, and self-serving,” Donovan Neale-May, executive director of the CMO Council, told CMO.com.

So what do B2B buyers want? Their top four picks in the survey were:

  • Breadth and depth of information.
  • Ease of access and understanding.
  • Originality of thinking.
  • Timeliness of content.

And what they hate the most:   

  • Too many requirements for downloading (such as registration forms LINK)
  • Blatant promotion.
  • Nonsubstantive or uninformed.
  • Overly technical or complex.
  • Poorly written.

Are We Really Doing So Poorly?

Most of my clients get the need for quality and try to help. Before writing, I push for their most original, timely, useful insights and ask every dumb question I can think of to make sure I can answer it in the copy. And, of course, I relentlessly polish the wording to make it easy to read.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Eight Votes for Telling IT Prospects the Truth

Bigstock_48447038 (2)A month or so ago I suggested a daring concept: The IT vendors tell prospects the truth about the shortcomings, as well as the strengths, of their offerings.

My rationale: Customers will find out anyway, and telling them first strengthens your credibility, and also helps filter those who aren’t a good fit anyway.

Turns out at least eight marketers in the Spiceworks Tech Marketing community agreed. “If you don’t position your solution with a customer candidly, all you’ll end up with is a dissatisfied customer that is not referenceable and who will eventually leave you,” wrote “JBarnet” from Promys, a vendor of professional services automation software. But first they’ll tell other prospects how badly it all turned out.”

Disqualify Early

“I’ve trained many salespeople over the years, the ones (who have) killed quota consistently sell exclusively to ideal customer prospects and quickly weed out poor fit prospects,” he continued. “The reps who struggle try and turn weak fit prospects into customers,” and being honest is a great way to qualify prospects

“Within the first five minutes I state the OSes we support,” wrote “Josh” from cloud VPN vendor Pertino. “There are some variables that we can’t always uncover in the process, but I’d rather disqualify (the prospect) early and know that we may have a shot with them later than have them try it out and be disappointed.”

“If you’re not going to be honest, someone else online will be and those reading your content are going to call it out,” wrote Angela Cope with hardware and services provider softchoice.  “…there are pros and cons to everything, but if you outline which tech is best for (the customer) based on his/her needs, then the customer is going to start to build a deeper relationship with you that is based on trust. Getting your boss to think that way may be a challenge, but will be worth it in the end.”

The MessageOps team from the migration consulting services firm of the same name asked not only that vendors admit their weaknesses, but offer a fix. “I would certainly value a vendor telling me that `xyz’ isn’t something they believe they are the best at but I would appreciate it more if it came with a solution,” they wrote.

Let the Customer Decide

“…as a small company, we have to make sure that we establish our identity early on as not just another product, but a platform to partner with,” wrote “Josh” from Pertino. “We want to know that our customer is going to be 100% happy with deploying Pertino, and thus, we almost try to disqualify prospects.”

One example of a potential shortcoming: Pertino offers no command-line interface for admins to write their own commands. “…some ITers actually like the power of knowing CLI commands. So does that make it a weakness? We think no…” but their strategy is to “…Lay it all on the table and let the customer decide which are strengths and which are weaknesses.”

A similar vote came from Matt Stephenson, who manages Symantec’s presence on on-line communities such as SpiceWorks. “There are times when the facts are going to be batting practice fastballs about what makes our products shine,” he wrote. “Other times…the facts are 100 mph fastballs that blaze right past our strengths to our biggest faults. Owning those faults and admitting them….even…dare I say…pointing out where a competitor might be a better fit…establishes each of us someone who can be trusted.”

Honesty for the Rest of Us?

I’m wondering if my responses were skewed because the SpiceWorks community is, admittedly, all about blunt feedback to vendors and its members.

But how does how approach work out in the wide world, especially with more conservative management or with vendors who are in a downturn and struggling for survival with every sale? Have you proposed this and succeeded, or been laughed out of the room?

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

A Spicy Role in $500 Billion of IT Sales

SMB IT marketing

Not your father’s trade show.

More than a thousand “SpiceHeads” and vendors descended on Austin this week, complete with bandanas, unicorn disguises, green capes, alien outfits, tattoos and kilts.

It wasn’t Halloween and it wasn’t part of a “Keep Austin Weird” campaign.  It was SpiceWorld, the sixth and largest gathering of users of SpiceWorks’ free ad-supported network management and IT help desk software. The kitsch was not the usual “at the edges” trade show goofiness, but an essential part of SpiceWorks’ competitive edge.

Giving the mostly male, geeky IT support world a sense of community and fun generates tremendous engagement with the SpiceWorks site. Four and a half million IT pros visit the SpiceWorks site each month, spending 5.5 billion minutes in SpiceWorks (easily outpacing time on other tech sites just as TechTarget and CNET,) claimed co-founder and CEO Scott Abel. Most importantly, the ads and advice on SpiceWorks influenced more than $500 billion in IT purchases in the last year, he said.

Based on their browsing habits SpiceWorks serves up customized ads, along with the ability to solicit bids from advertisers such as CDW. One attendee called it “Facebook for Techies.”

(Customers download SpiceWorks’ ever-expanding stable of free software to run on their own servers, to ease concerns about SpiceWorks knowing too much about their internal systems. SpiceWorks collects data which it can use for services such as recruiting virtual focus groups for vendors.)

Community Uber Alles

It’s a model vendors and IT trade pubs have been trying to make work since the pre-Internet days of bulletin boards. But none of them thought to sweeten the pot with free software that solves real problems for the grunts in the trenches. None also gave so much control and recognition to folks who rarely get attention, much less respect, from tech giants.

SpiceWorks didn’t plan on such a central role for the community. It jumped on the bandwagon when it was how much heartfelt advice users were sharing. It ranges from problems with switches to bad bosses to charity drives for injured pets. SpiceHeads rate each other’s contributions, as well as those from the “Green Guy” vendor reps who answer questions and respond to complaints.

The 225-employee company accepts — even depends on — real-time, unvarnished feedback from its users. So do vendors such as Pertino, which relied on SpiceHead suggestions in designing its Cloud VPN (virtual private network). SpiceHeads will even trash an ill-conceived vendor advertisement on the site, and a smart vendor will openly admit it’s wrong, thank the community for its guidance and even encourage SpiceHeads to spoof the ad.

Stick It to the Man

Knowing its customers usually toil in obscurity and rarely get noticed when things go right, SpiceWorks goes out of its way to celebrate them as heroes. Super-hero or fantasy themes abound, as in the orange dinosaur mascot “SpiceRex” or the – what else? – alien at the AlienVault unified security management booth.

SpiceWorks doesn’t compete with its advertisers, says Technical Program Manager David Bsbbitt, because it deliberately limits its own offerings to the 20% of capabilities that solve 80% of most customers’ needs. Enough SpiceWorks’ users, especially as their organizations grow, will always need more sophisticated or scalable products, leaving plenty of room for all.  “You guys using tools developed by other software vendors is how we make money,” Abel told the audience.

SpiceWorks just announced APIs to encourage other vendors to integrate their offerings with SpiceWorks. One recent example is Fibrelinks’s MaaS360 mobile device management software. Like other vendors, FibreLink offers basic functionality for free, with other features such as the ability to wipe devices or reset passcodes, available at a discount for SpiceHeads.

The “we’re all in this together” sense of community is palpable. One attendee described her husband’s nervousness about her getting rides to the convention center from fellow SpiceHeads she’s never met.  “If I’d trust them (for advice about) my network, why wouldn’t I trust them for a ride?” she replied.

Show Me the Money

The privately-held company is not yet making spicy profits, said Abel, but it “is not wildly negative” and is focusing on new features such as “user profiles” that help SpiceHeads showcase their skills and projects. The goal is not so much to move into the recruitment business a la LinkedIn, he says, but to keep more SpiceHeads on the site longer. Spiceworks is also beefing up its content creation services for vendors, especially in the fast-growing video segment.

If you’re looking to market to CIOs or CEOs, SpiceWorld is not yet the place. Khakis and a button-down shirt was over-dressed; jeans, or even shorts, and a “Back the F: /** Up” T-shirt (“F” as in “F” drive — get it?) were more typical. SpiceWorks has to keep managing its users’ expectations for new features they’d like to see but aren’t on SpiceWorks’ radar. And as they grow, it will be a challenge to keep their “SpiceHeads first” culture intact.

But if you want to reach passionate brand recommenders in the trenches – and are willing to take some tough feedback from them when you don’t deliver – SpiceWorks is unlike any other marketing channel I’ve seen.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.
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