The Kula Ring podcast is essential listening for manufacturing marketers who want to grow their digital presence and compete online.
Sponsored by Kula Partners—an agency committed to helping leading B2B manufacturers craft digital experiences that transform how they engage buyers, serve customers, and outpace their competition—The Kula Ring podcast features conversations about marketing, sales, and technology with top manufacturing executives from across North America.
The Kula Ring podcast is co-hosted by Kula Partners principals, Carman Pirie and Jeff W. White, both of whom are frequently sought after for their digitally-focused B2B expertise. They regularly share their insights with audiences including conferences like B2B Online and HubSpot’s INBOUND, the Gardner Manufacturing Marketer blog, and other podcasts focused on B2B marketing and technology.
Marketing is critical for your customers to understand the value of choosing your product. In this week’s episode, Syndi Sim, VP of Marketing and Business Development at Diamon-Fusion International, Inc., discusses how she supports her customers with marketing agency services and end-user support to help their customers thrive. Learn the importance of customer marketing, product education, and customer monitoring and engagement to help transform your customer relationships.
How Diamon-Fusion International Provides Marketing Agency Services and End-user Support to Help Their Customers Thrive Transcript:
Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White.
Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to you by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, how you doing, sir?
Carman Pirie: I am happy to be here as always, and you?
Jeff White: Yeah. Really happy to be here.
Carman Pirie: Nice.
Jeff White: Glad we’re getting to meet some new guests and get some great new shows on the go.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Today’s guest, I think it is a very unique industry, no question about that, and certainly unique dynamics, but I think in some way the challenge is more commonly held than people maybe think about. This notion of kind of the go-to-market arm of the industry that is maybe closest to the customer maybe isn’t always the closest to appreciating marketing.
Jeff White: Closest. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Today’s guest I think has really navigated this in an interesting way and I’m excited for today’s show.
Jeff White: Yeah. Certainly not a common solution to this issue we’ve seen come up before, and I really like how they’ve approached it, so joining us today is Syndi Sim, and Syndi is the VP of Marketing and Business Development at Diamon-Fusion Welcome to The Kula Ring, Syndi.
Syndi Sim: Thank you, Carman and Jeff. I really appreciate the opportunity.
Carman Pirie: Guys, I don’t mind telling you if you’re listening here that this was a big win for me, because I’m not actually visible on screen. Syndi suggested that I would not be referred to by my name-
Jeff White: Because she can’t see you.
Carman Pirie: Because she can’t see me. And then I think I got mentioned first.
Jeff White: You did.
Carman Pirie: I mean, it’s big. It’s huge. We peaked early in today’s episode.
Jeff White: I don’t think we’ll wrap up just yet, though.
Carman Pirie: No, no.
Jeff White: Haven’t offered anything of value, really.
Carman Pirie: No, no. That’s enough about me, let’s talk about me.
Jeff White: Syndi, tell us about yourself and what you do at Diamon-Fusion.
Syndi Sim: Well, thank you again, gentlemen. I appreciate it. Diamon-Fusion International, we are a manufacturer and developer of protective coatings for the glass industry. We also service and manufacture an automated coating machine called the FuseCube Express and the FuseCube, and so what I do at our company is I oversee global marketing as well as business development for our protective coating and the automated machine, and I work with fabricators worldwide to offer our coating to their customers, which are not only glass shops, but GCs, interior designers, manufacturers of all sorts, and we work in multiple sectors, residential and commercial. So, we’ve also been around for a little more than 25 years, and we’re located in Irvine, California.
Jeff White: Very cool. And would you say that one of the hallmarks of your customer’s product is that it includes your coatings and perhaps your processes in it, and that makes you really relevant and important to what they build?
Syndi Sim: Yes. Actually, and so I do 100% agree with you, and I’m gonna take a bit of a step back to explain the process and help our customers. So, as a manufacturer of a coating, a protective coating that makes glass easier to clean, it also protects the glass, protecting your investment from the outset, we actually try to partner with our customers. It’s essentially a partner of a marketing arm. We like to help them not only sell and market Diamon-Fusion, but essentially handhold them through the process, because the end consumer is really the customer for all of us. So, it is critically important that we actually make sure that our product is sold to the end consumer.
So, how do we do that? What’s the best way to do that? Well, we partner with the fabricator, who then we help educate and market their customer, which is generally the glass shops, and then ultimately selling our product to the homeowner. And so, it really is a… It’s almost like channel marketing and yet we’ve been very fortunate to have really impressive, open-minded customers that have allowed us to really benefit the homeowner through our work.
Carman Pirie: And so, do you work directly with the glass shops, as well, via the fabricators? Or do you arm the fabricators to be of service to the glass shops? I guess just how does that work?
Syndi Sim: So, the way it goes is our number one customer, our direct customer I should say, is the glass fabricator. So, we do a tremendous amount of work marketing the glass fabricator and then generally their customer is the glass shop. So, we market the glass fabricator’s features and benefits, what they sell, whether they sell shower doors, whether they sell glass railings, whether they sell interior glass, whether they sell storefronts, so we help that glass fabricator market Diamon-Fusion to their customers. So, again their customer being the glass shop. Then, oftentimes we will go out into the field. We call them retail ride-alongs. And we will go out into the field with our glass fabricators as the manufacturer’s rep to help educate the glass shops, and they are the real important point of the sales process to ensure the glass shop has a true understanding of how to sell Diamon-Fusion, so the homeowner understands all the benefits and the responsibilities when you buy a Diamon-Fusion-treated piece of glass.
Carman Pirie: And apologies for my ignorance on the glass market, but I’m just curious. Would the end consumer at some level ask for the coating by name? Is the brand extending that far? Or has it not quite gotten to a point of consumer resonance?
Syndi Sim: We actually, we do two types of marketing, so we do absolutely target the consumer. Even though our customer is the glass fabricator, I call it a bottom-up approach and a top-down approach, so with the top-down approach, it’s really what I mentioned. It’s going after the glass fabricator and then going after the glass shop. With the bottom-up approach, it’s going after the consumer via Facebook, via SEO, and via house, via these social media platforms to get to the consumer, and then we target up. So, then we want the consumer to walk into the glass shop and ask for Diamon-Fusion by name. So, it is very, very important that we get the consumer to know of us, to know the benefits of Diamon-Fusion protective coating not only on shower doors, but we’re starting to see a huge uptick in glass railings, in glass tabletops, and the architect is also starting to design using glass a lot more.
So, what is the best way to protect the glass, then, to have it protected with Diamon-Fusion. So, again, to answer your question, we do a top-down and a bottom-up approach to make sure the consumer is well aware of the name Diamon-Fusion.
Carman Pirie: I don’t want to presuppose too much, but I guess I’d be curious. If you look at the split of your marketing or whether it’s your marketing spend, or energy, investment in time, what have you, kind of how does it break down between the pull and the push or the top-down and bottom-up? Just help me understand in some ways what level of priority you put on one versus the other. And I guess to lead the witness a bit, I would say it seems to me on the marketing to consumer side that trying to get your brand in front of a household, a homeowner, what have you, you could almost spend unlimited money there and be hard to know if you made a dent. Potentially. But again, I’m very much leading the witness now.
Syndi Sim: No, excellent observation. I would say it’s probably a 60-40 spend, maybe a 70-30 towards the fabricators in all honesty because I think what we have learned is that if the fabricator carries our product, and the fabricator believes in the benefits, and more importantly if the fabricator has our machine, so we have, as I mentioned earlier, we have an automated coating machine, and the glass industry specifically is going towards automation. So, you do want to get your glass treated by a machine as it’s much more of a consistent coating every single time. And so, once the fabricator has purchased a machine, they are invested in selling that product and getting an ROI, therefore they are more than likely going to market it and push it, and the key really is the manufacturer’s reps.
So, I’ve always said that I can sell a CEO all day long, and the CEO can buy the machine, however, is it their salespeople, is it their reps that actually are the ones that are really gonna make a difference by selling our coats into the glass shops. So, that’s a critical component and when we supply them with all of the marketing materials, we literally co-brand all marketing materials for the fabricator when they are a machine customer. We also do industry advertising within the glass industry, so we advertise in Glass Magazine, and U.S. Glass, and Glass on Web, to have the ability to push the Diamon-Fusion name with that glass fabricator. We have seen excellent results getting that name out into the industry and then by educating the glass shop, again, I know I’m repeating myself, but I think it’s critically important that you see the supply chain, that once the glass shop is educated with all the marketing materials that the fabricator is bringing into the glass shop, and then the glass shop is then educating the homeowner, oftentimes we see an uptick in the Diamon-Fusion sales.
Therefore, we balance it out with the 30-40% of the marketing spend to the consumer, whether it is SEO, whether it’s YouTube, whether it’s Facebook, and we’ve seen… Honestly, during COVID we’ve seen a huge spike in Diamon-Fusion requests because not only are they, the consumer, sitting at home and researching, but they’re also investing in their homes and they want to protect, again, they want to protect their glass investment. So, it’s really a 60-40 spend, 70-30 spend, Carman.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, yeah. That’s really interesting I think.
Jeff White: Yeah. And you know, I want to kind of back up to that, back up to the top-down, is it? I don’t know. But you know, you spoke about the pandemic and the impact that it’s had, but even before that I think you would say that probably… and I don’t think it’s unkind to suggest that the glass fabricators are necessarily not the best at marketing, and you’ve become something of their outsourced marketing agency. How have you approached that with them and is it the kind of thing that you’re actually using as a differentiator when you go in to find your customers?
Syndi Sim: Well, thank you for that great question, because that leads to the witness as well. So, we learned a long time ago that the glass industry may not be the best marketers, and they are all welcoming of the marketing partnership, and so you also see that for years and years and years, you didn’t have to market within the glass industry. It was the fabricators. It was word of mouth. It was referrals. And so, I would say about maybe five to 10 years ago is when the glass industry really started embracing marketing and really saw the benefits, and so for the larger fabricators that may not have the opportunity, and even going down to the medium size fabricators that don’t have the opportunity or the bandwidth to market, they really embrace our marketing support.
And we have come out of the gates as a true marketing agency for the glass fabricator. As I mentioned, we supply all of the materials. We write the content for their website. We create the videos for them. We create social media for them. We create email campaigns for them. We know that they don’t have the bandwidth to market well and some may not even have the experience, so when you buy Diamon-Fusion, whether it is the hand-applied product or the machine, you are going to get the support of the marketing team and often, more times than not, that is what differentiates us from our competitors, because we’re not just selling a coating. We are selling a strategic solution. And I know that sells a little cache, or a little hyperbolic, but I do honestly believe when you are buying our product and our machine you are getting a true partnership, and it is a win-win because the more we support them, the more opportunity they have to sell Diamon-Fusion.
Carman Pirie: Do you throttle that based upon the amount that they spend with you, or do you have a kind of a ramp-up time that a fabricator might have, but then maybe then their marketing support gets adjusted based upon how much business they’re throwing your way?
Syndi Sim: Yes. Without a doubt. So, if you are a machine customer and you purchased a machine, we go all out for you. It is again the benefit for both of us to help them market to the best of our ability, so if you are a machine customer, we give you the five-star treatment within the industry, et cetera. If there is potential for a machine purchase, we will also go out five-star. It is critically important that we get the word out for these fabricators because there’s a lot of competition out there. There is a lot of opportunity for our competitors to step in front of us. However, if they have the support of all our marketing, if they have all the co-branded materials, and they are interested in a machine, it really sets the foundation for a good relationship and we do scale back should we need to, but generally we’re scaling up for our machine customers.
Carman Pirie: I’d be curious, does it ever get to a point where they kind of start treating it like a bit of an all-you-can-eat buffet? Do you have to put the brakes on this at any point? Because I could see this being a bit addictive. I might hire you to do some marketing for me.
Syndi Sim: Well, yes. Yes and no. The reason why I answer it like that is again, we… In all transparency, it’s a printer and ink model. So, you buy the machine, and where we make our revenue, obviously, is in the cartridges, okay? So, you are going to… The more cartridges you buy, the more revenue you make, so the more opportunity for us to sell is better for us.
Now, we do watch. I watch all my customers, their order, and their order history, and if I see a dip in their order history, I will call them. What can I do to get that production back up? I really watch the order history and if I need to fly out to the customer to see if I can go on the road with them face to face to increase their production, I will absolutely do it. It is really, again, I know I said this before, but it’s really important that we monitor the customer because it does fluctuate. You know, obviously the economy is a bit fluctuating as we speak right now, so we want to make sure that the homeowner is getting all the advertising as possible, so right now we’re ramping up our consumer marketing to make sure the consumer goes and asks for Diamon-Fusion by name.
So, it’s a balance, but I think watching our customers daily, looking at the order reports daily to see what’s shipping, and if a large order is shipped, I reach out. I thank the customer. If they haven’t ordered in a couple months, I reach out and I say, “What can I do to help you?” So, it’s really monitoring what’s going on with each customer.
Carman Pirie: Very cool.
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Carman Pirie: Now that you’ve mentioned the consumer side of it again, I guess I am curious. I have this thought that there’s going to be a whole lot of marketers out there that had some slam dunks on social media during COVID, because-
Jeff White: Because they could.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Captive audience, right? And I think we’re gonna create some benchmarks in those campaigns that won’t be seen again for a number of years. I could think of one recent guest on the show, actually, where I would say that would be the case for them. So, I guess I’m just curious. Are you finding right now as you’re starting to go back to market a little bit more aggressively on the consumer side, here we are in Q2 of 2022, are you starting to see a bit more of a return to pre-pandemic level of engagement, et cetera, on the social side? Or are you still keeping those high watermarks that you experienced in the early COVID days?
Syndi Sim: That’s a great question, actually, because we’re actually fortunately still seeing an increase in social media. We’re still seeing a lot of action. We’re still seeing the consumer engage with us. We have a find a dealer locator on our website, which is incredibly important, so when the consumer sees advertising on any of our social media platforms, they can go to find a dealer, and so we monitor that. Obviously, we’re heavy into SEO and we are sharing our consumer marketing with our fabricators so that they can see that we’re driving business to the glass shop. So, again, to kind of give you a roundabout answer, it is a top-down, bottom-up approach because I want my fabricators to see that we are pushing consumers, driving consumers to the glass shop, whereas the glass shop is doing business with ABC fabricator because they sell Diamon-Fusion protective coating.
So, fortunately for us we’re still seeing a high level of engagement and we do hope that’s gonna continue, but we’re also monitoring the economy. We’re monitoring the glass industry and what it looks like, and because we’re heavily involved in the residential and the hospitality industry, we’re monitoring all commercial development, as well.
Jeff White: I think it’s really interesting because as you mentioned, you have the find a dealer feature on your site. You’re also playing a bit of a support and service role, as well, for those end consumers, which is something that great marketers in a pure B2B play are learning is important these days, but I think it’s especially interesting when you’re doing it as kind of two or three levels away from the consumer and kind of providing that air cover and support on the service, and warranty, and support side of things. Has that always been part of the offering or is it something that you’ve kind of learned as you’ve developed these more 360-degree relationships?
Syndi Sim: So, we’ve learned the hard way the importance of supporting the consumer, and we have learned also that oftentimes glass fabricators and their customers don’t necessarily… and I shouldn’t say don’t want to support the consumer, but they don’t necessarily want to take on additional warranty. So, what we do is we support the residential market with our warranty customer service center. So, we have a customer service center that supports the shower door residential warranty, the residential glass railing warranty, and the residential window warranty, so all three, the windows, the glass railings, and the shower doors, we take the calls. And for anybody listening to this podcast, taking calls from consumers is a lot.
Yeah, so when you get a call from Mrs. Smith, whether it’s in Canada or in the United States, and she has an issue with her glass railings or her shower doors, we take the calls when it’s regarding Diamon-Fusion. So, again, we have learned through the process of giving the best level of customer support for our glass fabricator and glass shop customers the importance of speaking with the homeowner. And so, not only do we take the calls, but we give the customer, the fabricator or the glass shop, the warranty cards, and they have a unique code specifically for the fabricator, so we know who was applying the Diamon-Fusion. Again, whether it’s on windows, whether it’s on glass railings, or shower doors, we know if it’s ABC fabricator and they sent out thousands of shower doors, we know exactly who treated those Diamon-Fusion shower doors.
So, there is a very important process that takes place with helping the consumer, and we’ve also realized the importance of that, and quite honestly what a selling point that is. So, again, that’s part of our marketing. That’s part of our sales support. And when you have an opportunity to sell your product and sell it as a service, you want to not just offer a coating. You want to sell the whole service, including taking care of the consumers as part of the service. And we’ve done very well taking those calls.
Carman Pirie: Man, it goes against what so many manufacturers… They just do not want to deal with-
Jeff White: Customers. Oof.
Carman Pirie: You mean… Seems dangerous. But to your point, it gives you an incredible lens into partner performance management. You can kind of know who’s… On the fabricators and on the glass shop, who is doing well and who maybe needs some additional training on even a piece of equipment, I would think.
Syndi Sim: That’s absolutely right. We monitor. If we get more than three or four calls in a quarter from one particular fabricator, you know, Carman, you just hit the nail on the head. We know that they need training, or their machine may need some servicing, or they’re not applying it correctly, so we monitor all of that and we don’t generally bother the fabricator until there is a number of calls that have come in over a quarter, so we monitor the customer service calls. Is there something that we need to do to improve our FAQs online? When a consumer registers their warranty on our website, we send them an email thanking them and then here’s a list of FAQs, here’s our phone number, here is anything you need to help you care for your Diamon-Fusion-treated glass, and so we do know the importance of helping the consumer and how important it is for our customers to feel like we are taking some of the work off of them.
Jeff White: Man. What an incredibly proactive way of protecting your own brand, too.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. The early warning signs you get to see.
Jeff White: Oh, yeah. Yeah. No, you’re gonna see that well before things start coming in after it’s had to go through several other channels first. Yeah. I love that. That’s really cool. I have a weird little technical question for you and it’s not about glass coatings, because I wouldn’t know what to ask, but you mentioned that you’re preparing a lot of content for your customers, for the fabricators, and things like that. Have you run into any issues where… I don’t know how much you’re customizing it for each one, but are you running into any issues where you have duplicate content problems or anything like that in terms of indexing? Or is it all just so specific and geographic that it doesn’t matter?
Syndi Sim: Well, fortunately we haven’t run into any problems. We have… We call it a style guide. We have an online style guide for our machine customers and our hand applied customers, and it’s all imagery that we’ve taken ourselves. It’s all videos we’ve taken ourselves. The content is something that we create ourselves. We have an amazing marketing team here at DFI that produces all of our own content and I’m highly involved with our fabricator customers, so testimonials from our current customers, video testimonials from our customers. We really focus on ensuring the quality of the content is not only beneficial for obviously DFI, but to promote our customers, so having… As we all know, content is king. Having a diversified content streamlined is very important, so we are huge advocates of social media, and email campaigns, and having beneficial content for the industry is very important.
So, we have our content that has been developed not only for glass fabricators, and then we also have content that is targeted to the glass shop, and then we have content that is targeted to the homeowner, and then we also have various different target audiences, so if we are marketing to the residential shower door company, that’s very different on marketing to an architect. We have a huge architect campaign outreach program where we work with the American Institute of Architects and we work with GBCI, which is the Green Building Council, and so we do webinars to architects, and again, marketing to an architect and an interior designer is far different from marketing to the consumer.
So, we have, like I said, an amazing team of players here who have different roles to create content, to make sure it’s diversified, and it’s released on all our platforms.
Jeff White: I’m thinking back, Carman, to our episode with Vince van den Brink from Breakhouse. He’s an architect. And he had a specific incident with a curtain wall fabricator that they specced, and what was it? It had gone completely sideways and they-
Carman Pirie: It had to be replaced. I seem to remember it was like a quarter-of-a-million-dollar error or something.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: And I think they got sent a coffee mug and a hat.
Jeff White: Or a water bottle or something.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. To try to make up for it.
Jeff White: But yeah, the marketing to architects thing is a special art. They have very unique needs.
Carman Pirie: Well, and not only that, but people that market to them, I think Vince pointed out, a lot of them do the same thing. It’s like lunch and learn agogo, all day, every day.
Jeff White: I think Vince would really appreciate this perspective.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Bad sandwiches and even worse brochures, you know? Sounds like we’re doing something a bit better here.
Jeff White: Yeah. No question.
Syndi Sim: Yeah. We try. We try. I mean, they are a unique bunch, but they are so critical, and they are so insightful into the whole process of what we all do, and so it is very important to include the architect and the GC, and we need to be specced in the design phase. I can’t tell you how often we get phone calls that they want our product applied after construction. So, as you can figure, it is far more cost effective to have Diamon-Fusion applied at the design phase, at the fabricator level with a machine, rather than to send a team of hand applicators to a job site after completion.
So, spending time educating the architect community is very important, so we just have to know that the content and the marketing campaign is gonna be different for the architect versus the glass fabricator.
Jeff White: For sure. No, I can only imagine what applying the coating in situ would be like. It’s gotta be way less clean an environment to put on something that probably has to be perfectly clean. Yeah.
Syndi Sim: And very expensive, you know? It’s very expensive. And so, you know, and it’s funny, I actually do a lot of architect webinars, and some lunch and learns, and the importance of educating the architect at the beginning is so important. And I understand that projects can become over budget, I get it, but I’m telling you when I get a call from an owner saying, “I wish I knew about this,” it’s enlightening and frustrating. So, again, you hit the nail on the head. It’s probably double the cost if not triple the cost to apply it on site with insurance and everything you could think of, liability, than just to have it applied by a machine in the factory.
Carman Pirie: I’d be curious, as we’re probably reaching towards the end of our time together, I think when you’re crafting marketing support for the fabricators and the glass shops, you probably have… I can imagine that there’s sometimes that maybe there’s something that you didn’t think would go over that well, and dramatically exceeded your expectations, or vice versa. You were really excited to get this out to the community and it just completely flopped. I’m curious on either side of it, what stands out in your memory as, “I didn’t expect that to,” either work that well or work that poorly?
Syndi Sim: Well, I’m gonna take the one that we were very excited that it’s doing so well, because we had I don’t want to say low expectations, but we just weren’t sure if the industry and the homeowner was ready for it, is to apply Diamon-Fusion to glass railings. So, I had been following the trend of architects speccing glass railings more and more, and it is not only a design feature, but we’re seeing glass railings not only on high rise residential, on hotels, but as really a true design element. So, I thought, “What a great place for Diamon-Fusion,” so about two-and-a-half years ago, I started marketing glass railings. I started approaching glass fabricators. Glass fabricators are a little slow to go to market with something new unless they can really feel, and talk, and touch with their colleagues.
However, I found that architects really thought what a great opportunity, so we started marketing, started marketing, and again, not a lot of interest, and it was honestly during the shutdown, during COVID, is when the calls for glass railings, when the fabricators started embracing it, when we started working directly with glass railing manufacturers, and now I would say that it’s easily 50% of our machine customers are treating glass railings in their FuseCube Express. We actually just did a survey and asked what is the glass type that you are putting in your machine, and we had shower doors 50% and we had glass railings 50%. I would never have expected that huge spike in glass railings in a two-year period, so we are pleasantly surprised.
We are getting so many views and likes on social media for glass railings and it’s really becoming as standard as the shower door market. So, not only is it an easy to clean coating, but if you think about glass railings up high, how difficult it is to clean the outside of the glass railing, so this just makes it easier to clean, and glass railings are treated on both sides of the glass, so again, much easier to clean. With so much human interaction, even with interior glass railings, so think about all the interior glass that you see within malls, within office buildings, within hospitality. It is so much easier to clean when you protect your glass on both sides of the railing.
So, again, a positive in an environment that we really weren’t sure if it was gonna really take off, so we are thrilled with that.
Jeff White: I think it’s great that you were prophetic enough to be able to see that this was potentially going to be a thing and then had the ability to follow through with it when the opportunity was more obvious to others. Yeah. I really like that.
Carman Pirie: Syndi, it’s been awesome having you on the show. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and expertise with the listeners today. I’ve just really enjoyed this conversation.
Syndi Sim: Well, thank you, Carman and Jeff. I really appreciate you calling on me and having me on your program, so thank you again.
Jeff White: Great to have you. Thanks.
Carman Pirie: All the best.
Syndi Sim: Thank you.
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