Category: Copywriting Secrets

The Science of Love and Persuasion

kissQuick — what do testosterone, estrogen, dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin, and vasopressin all have in common? They’re the chemicals of “true love.”

 Yep, some jerk has reduced romance to a science.

What’s this got to do with selling? Plenty, it turns out.

Just ask Prof. Robin Dunbar of Liverpool University. Dunbar — according to the BBC — spent the last half of the 1990s studying personal ads. And no, not because he was lonely.

Rather, Dunbar discovered that the copy used in all kinds of personal ads, from people of all different kinds of backgrounds, shared a strikingly similar subset of “hot button” words. And virtually all those words fell into just five categories: Wealth, Commitment, Sexiness, Social Skills, or Attractiveness.

These are, of course, some of the same basic drivers we lean on when we write copy for “products” other than a date with a significant other (“Double Your Income in Less Than a Year,” “Win Friends and Influence People,” “Look Sexier This Spring”… and so on).

 But here’s where Dunbar’s research gets even more interesting…

Once Dunbar had the categories, he then asked 200 men and women to rank the appeal of ads that contained a mix of the most common buzz words.

 Women responded most to “Commitment” heavy ads. Then, in order, ads that emphasized Social Skills, Resources, Attractiveness, and — last — Sexiness.

 Men put attractiveness at the top of the list. Perhaps no surprise. Was sexiness second? Not at all. Instead, they focused on ads that suggested Commitment followed. Then Social Skills, Resources, and — last again — Sexiness.

 Surprised? Other than men putting “attractiveness” at the top of the priorities, the lists are virtually the same. And even the ad copy personal ad writers created for themselves — to attract mates — reflected that, pitching the traits they instinctively knew would be important to their prospects. But then, in follow-up interviews with the men and women in the study, Dunbar found deeper shades of difference.

 For instance, both men and women in the study placed high value on “a sense of humor.” But to each gender, it meant different things. Women said it meant they wanted someone witty and quick to make others laugh. The typical man, however, said he mostly wanted someone who could get his jokes so he would seem like a funny guy.

 Which actually works out well for both parties.

 Likewise, the average woman wanted a man about five years her senior. The average man, on the other hand, wanted women that at least looked younger — with smooth skin, glossy hair, and the like. Not coincidentally, say the researchers, they’re all signs of high estrogen levels.

 But here was something surprising. Older women that looked younger had a better appeal to men then women with a fresher birth certificate. Possibly, say the researchers, because the younger looking women just seemed like they came from a better gene pool.

 (Hey, I’m just reporting the results here!)

 There’s more…

Younger guys, in general, have less wealth to offer. They also seem to have lower requirements than older men. Likewise, older women polled suggested they were more open to less handsome or wealthy men. But younger women, on the other hand, have lots of youthful beauty as an asset. And, it happens, end up being the choosiest of all.

 And all this, it turns out, adds up pretty neatly to creating ideal conditions that work best for cranking out offspring. Which is, after all, how the species survives. Cold, perhaps, but that’s over a decade of research doing the talking. Kinda puts a different light on that romantic candlelight dinner you had planned for tonight, doesn’t it?

 One last thing: The one thing both men and women wouldn’t stand for in the ads… but encounter all the time… was lying. Instinctively, match-hunting advertisers know what prospects want. They will even bend the facts to promise it. But it almost always backfires in the end. Just like it would in any other kind of advertising.

Do I personally believe love and romance are as cold and scientific as all that? Well, let’s just say I would LIKE to believe it’s not so simple as all that. The heart, said Pascal, has its reasons which reason knows not of. And Dickinson, the fact that love is all there is is all we know of love.

 I’ll agree… but can’t promise you that it’s not just the oxytocin talking.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Seven+ Ways to Keep Your Clients

shake.jpgOver the years, have I written my share of crotchety emails to product managers, traffic managers, legal assistants, publishers, and graphic designers?

I confess — I have.

A tiny handful have even made it past the “send” button… most, after sitting in my “draft” folder to cool, have landed in the trash can.

But rather than air out my own dirty laundry, let me share some insight from my friend and fellow marketer, Lori Allen. Lori runs Travel Writing and Travel Photography seminars for our mutual pals over at American Writers & Artists Inc.

She deals with lots of copywriters and other freelancers. So much that she once gave a
presentation at the famous AWAI boot camp, “Confessions of a Marketing Director: 17 Ways to Keep Clients Coming Back.”

Here are some of the highlights she shared…

1) Don’t complain or badger the client.

Imagine waking up from surgery only to have the doctor hovering over your bed, complaining about the mess you made in the operating room. You’d feel a bit, er, put out.

Yet, one copywriter Lori hired wrote her a letter complaining about the migraines and sleepless nights… she had “caused” because of the project she’d given him.

Guess what — she never hired him again.

Likewise, it’s not a good idea to badger clients for feedback. Sure, sometimes a response comes way too slow — I know, I’ve been there — but a gentle nudge is better than a searing cattle prod, in the long run. Believe me. I’ve been there too.

Of course, the longer and better you get to know the clients, the easier it is to be frank about what you need to get the job done. But even then, don’t mistake familiarity for a license to act like a jerk (Believe me, I’ve been… ah, you get the picture).

2) Offer to help not to destroy.

If your marketing client has a mailing control you think stinks, what should you do? Write them, of course, and tell them what idiots they are… right? Wrong.

Yet, Lori has letters from copywriters who say exactly that. Outright, they try to get new business by telling her that their layout stinks… the headline is insipid… and so on.

Is that the way your mama taught you to behave? Nope. And you shouldn’t behave that way with a client you hope to keep or win over, either.

One of the great things you learn as a seasoned writer is how to TAKE criticism… and if you’re lucky, you learn how to GIVE a critique better too. That means knowing when your critique is welcome and when it isn’t. It also means knowing how to make suggestions that get your clients looking forward hopefully… rather than feeling defensive.

3) Emphasize past successes, not failings.

How many poor chumps have you seen trying to “get the girl,” only to lapse hopelessly into awkward self-deprecation? Bottom line: you can’t go far by hiding your light under a bushel.

Talking to a new client? Then let them know what you’ve accomplished. If you’ve got great controls for one company, get samples and share them with the rest of your clients. There’s no need to be modest.

Talking to a longtime client? Don’t forget that the quality of your business relationship is built on reselling yourself to them, too. With discretion, make sure they don’t forget your greatest hits.

What if you lack experience? Don’t cringe in the shadow of your own innocence. Instead, be bold, eager, and well-informed. Be honest. And shine the light on what you’re GOING to do for them instead.

4) Know when to call instead of write.

Like I implied earlier, writing is often an isolated profession. You start to cherish working alone, and might even start using e-mail as your buffer against a disruptive world.

True, email can save you lots of time… sometimes. But here’s the real weakness of working solely by e-mail: It can make you think you control the conversation, when you really don’t.

That’s a problem.

Especially when you’ve got a complex idea to get across… an opinion that could be misread… or a sensitive question to ask.

There’s no way around it — you have to know when to pick up the call instead of write. Better yet, know when it’s best to meet in person. I know, that whole “face-to-face” thing seems like old technology. But you’ll be surprised by how much better it works, compared to, for example, brainstorming by Twitter.

5) Always include your contact information.

Okay, this isn’t about e-mail etiquette exactly. Except in the sense that it’s always right to make
your introductions. Obvious? Perhaps.

But Lori showed us an e-mail from one copywriter that would astound any self-respecting schoolmarm.

He asked her to mail something to him via the postal service… at a new mailing address he didn’t provide… while writing from an e-mail address he said he didn’t usually use. And he signed the message only “J.” And that was it.

Nice going, bonehead.

6) Understand the technical side of the business.

This isn’t so much etiquette either. But it pays, says Lori, to know enough about the print side of the direct mail business. Just so you can talk the talk when necessary. This is especially true when working with graphic designers. Nothing will help you sound more like a seasoned marketer. By the way, this is also true when you’re working with online copy. You don’t need to know HTML, but it helps to know the technical options afforded to you.

7) Get excited about the product.

Again, not an etiquette point. But essential for every communication you’ll have with a copywriting client. If there’s anything that will really make your copy work well and your clients willing to respect you, it’s a sincere understanding and appreciation of the product you’re writing to support. The enthusiasm flows from between the lines. And this will make your writing job much easier, to boot.

In the title to today’s piece, I said “+” after the “seven.” What’s that stand for? Well, naturally, the easiest way to keep a client is to write great copy that sells.

But that’s way too obvious, right?

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How Curiosity Can Save a Copywriter

questionsSomebody once asked David Ogilvy for a list of traits that matter most when hiring copywriters. Above all, he said, they have to have an unwavering, overpowering, enormous sense of curiosity.

I can’t help but think that has to be right. Why?

Because sometimes you need to dig deep — really deep –into a product, a target audience, and so much more to find that one gem that’s going to make your ad sing better, louder, and more in tune than all your attention-seeking competitors. And frankly, those who are uninterested in the world too readily give up before they find that one gem.

Of course, that means you stumble across a lot of stuff you don’t need too. And a lot of trivia that just grabs hold of you. And you never know when that trivia is going to come in handy, popping up in your copy when you least expect it. This is one reason, of course, why you never want to play Trivial Pursuit against a very good copywriter.

But it’s also why I’ve piled up a lot of little facts that I don’t know what to do with. Except maybe, share them here. Are you ready? File these, if you like, in the drawer labeled “truly useless information”…

  • Did you know that King Louis XIV once locked up a nine-year old boy in his dungeon for making a joke about his Royal Highness’ bald head? Yep. And he kept him there, too. Agents of the court told the distraught and wealthy parents the boy had simply disappeared. But they knew where he was — in the basement of Versailles, for the next sixty-nine years. Sheesh.
  • Did you know, too, that you’ll never see a rainbow in mid-afternoon? They only appear later in the day or in the morning, when the sun is 40 degrees or less above the horizon (that’s position, not temperature). Meanwhile, there are approximately 1,800 thunderstorms in progress at any given time during the day. And at lest 100 lightning strikes on the planet any given second.
  • Did you further know that, while nearly 25% of the world’s population lives on less than $200 per year, it costs more to buy a new car in the U.S. than it cost Christopher Columbus to equip and undertake not just one but THREE voyages to the New World?
  • Peter Mustafic of Botovo, Yugoslavia, spoke nary a word for 40 years. Suddenly, he broke the silence. When asked by a local newspaper why, he said, “I stopped speaking in 1920 to get out of military service.” Yes, they prodded, but… uh… then what happened? “Well,” he answered, “I got used to it.”
  • Please read the following passage quietly to yourself for the next 30 seconds. Ready? Here it is: “ .” Congratulations. You have just performed the entire Samuel Beckett play, “Breath,” first introduced to the stage in April 1970. Without actors or dialogue. Even the original presentation lasted only half a minute.
  • Don’t wear blue unless you like mosquitoes. They’ll target blue twice as often as any other color. If it’s a female, she’ll even bite (since it’s only the females that do.)
  • Did you know that Peter the Great had any Russian who wore a beard pay a special tax? Good thing Chopin wasn’t living in Russia then — apparently the composer/pianist habitually wore half a beard. Reason? “When I play, my audience only sees half my face.” No kidding.

Will you ever find a use for these tidbits? Maybe. Maybe not.

Here’s hoping you do.

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Read this NOW, or the Puppy Gets It!

Years ago, I think it was National Lampoon sent out a mail campaign trying to get subscribers… or maybe it was renewals…

With a picture of a man holding an adorable puppy draped over his left arm. In his right hand, he held what looked like Dirty Harry’s revolver. The headline read (I’m  paraphrasing): “Subscribe now or the puppy gets it!”

Depending on how you feel about puppies, that qualifies as an “urgency” pitch. Of course, there are other ways to create urgency.

“Crazy Eddie” yelling on late night TV about his looney low prices on TVs and stereos… firesales and special edition offers… expiring coupons.

The list goes on. And on. And on.

 It’s no accident. Creating urgency is part and parcel of many a winning ad campaign. Maybe that’s why Linda, one of your fellow CR readers, wrote me asking what on earth was going on.

 The urgency plea, she says, is both everywhere and far too often just plain baloney. Sales end up lasting longer, last-minute prices seem to last forever, and so on.

What gives?

I took a minute to write Linda a reply. Then figured it was good enough to share with you too. See if you agree.

Yes and yes, I told her.

You’re right on two fronts.

First, lots of ads do whatever they can to pound the urgency button. Reason being, all marketing is more or less at war with the onslaught of “other” ads you mention — each of which competes for space in the customer’s mind — and more importantly, with the overwhelming forces of inertia.

The customer who reads and ad that encourages him to put it down for later consideration, is generally a customer lost in the long run. Put more simply, those who don’t “act now” tend not to act at all.

For a brilliant explanation of how this works, beyond the obvious, check out the much recommended “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” by Dr. Robert Cialdini. Especially what he has to say about the pulling power of scarcity. People really do want to snap up the “last” of anything, rather than miss out.

That said, the other thing you’re right about is that when every single ad is saying you’re going to miss out, the message starts to get diluted. Everyone starts to sound the same. And in selling, sounding the same as everybody else is slow poison to your business.

When that happens, what happens next?

The clever sellers will come up with other ways to express urgency, other than “limited supply” pitches.

As you mention, they’ll have deadlines before price increases, limited-time offers on extras thrown into a deal, special bonuses limited to the first few respondents, etc. Among the group of info publishers I work closely with, one of the most powerful innovations of the last two years — literally worth hundreds of millions of dollars (and counting) — has been to create online “countdown” offers with time deadlines tracked right down to the hour and minute on which the deal is available. I keep thinking they’ll stop working. Yet they keep working, just the same. 

But here’s one last key.

To really work, the limits need to be real. Even if they’re created just to increase the urgency, they have to be enforced. Otherwise, as you suggest, the customer’s get wise to the ruse. Not only does the seller sacrifice trust in his claims, he also sacrifices the power of the technique.

Even as a marketer, I would also second guess those businesses that don’t make good on their “last chance” offers in the way you’re suggesting. Both for the reasons above and also because, frankly, it’s a bad sign for other reasons.

For instance, I know that with the marketers I work with, legal teams actually scan the offers and make sure that if there’s a deadline mentioned, the offer gets pulled the minute the deadline passes.

And if there’s a “limited low price” offered, the legal eagles make sure it never gets offered again. Price hikes are made to happen. Limited bonuses get retired according to the restrictions printed on the reply card. This keeps the marketers honest.

But it also preserves the power of the technique for the rest of us, when we want to try it elsewhere to the same audience.

Long story short…

You’re right to question the “urgency” pitch as a consumer. But both good and bad marketers use it. And likely, will use it forever.

Likewise, if you ever find yourself on the marketing side of the fence, it’s something you don’t want to rule out too quickly.

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Idea Angst and How to Beat It

padandpenYou hear a lot about something called “writer’s block.”

Then there’s that thing we all used to get when most writing was done with a pencil, called “writer’s cramp.”

This, not to be confused with “writer’s camp,” when a gaggle of would-be-novelists disappear into the Maine woods to drink wine and avoid their manuscripts.

Then there’s what I call “writer’s angst.”

What’s that?

Back when I was going to an office to work rather than working from my “office” at home (a comfortable chair in our living room), I was standing at a bus stop reading a good book.

This, mind you, was not just any bus stop. It’s a block from the apartment we use while in Paris, on a sun-dappled and leafy, on a corner of the Quai de la Tournelle and the Pont de l’Archêché. Boats float down the Seine nearby. The gothic towers of Notre Dame shadow the river. Parisians stroll past while les bouquinistes set up shop.

It was a beautiful day, after almost a week of chill and rain. The breeze fluttered the leaves. And in that moment before a moment, I had just been thinking how much better this was than a 45 commute through traffic to a cubicle in an office park.

But suddenly, it hit me. Out of the blue, a week’s worth of research for a new promo suddenly gelled together. No, collided. Like a tangle of monkeys on bicycles.

Headlines and leads… points and counterpoints… resistance-melting proofs… a battering close… phrases, metaphors, images, and subheads…

It was good stuff and I knew it. Too good to lose. I had to stop reading, for fear that the words in the book might drown my idea. God willing, I thought, nobody would talk to me. Where the h**l was that bus? I fingered the metro ticket in my pocket.

I looked at my watch.

I had exactly 20 minutes from here to my keyboard. Would I make it in time? That big old elevator was so slow. It would take three minutes to climb the stairs. Did I have a pen anywhere? Something to write on? Maybe in my bag. Where the h*ll is that bus?

Ah wait, here’s a pen. Maybe I can get this down on the blank inside cover of the book. Here’s the bus. C’mon people, file in. Show him your ticket. Tourist… question… fumbling in English. Let’s get this thing moving!

Scenery, great. Fountains. Cool. What’s with all this traffic? Getting out, walking from the stop, punching in the door code, up the creaky wood stairs, at the desk, opening the laptop… I made it. Someone says hello, but I’m already typing. It’s in. On the page. Phew.

Years ago, I wanted to be a novelist. And I remembered what a fiction teacher in college once warned us. “You’re not really a writer,” he said, “until you can’t wait to get to your office… or get home, if you have to… to write.”

Now I’m a copywriter instead.

But really, when we’re talking process, is there that much of a difference?

Aside from the pay, I mean. (Holler “copywriter” in a New York restaurant, and someone will hand you a business card. Holler “novelist” and someone will come out of the kitchen and hand you another dinner roll.)

The bottom line is simple: Every kind of productive writer spends time in the chaos of ideas, the maelstrom of data and research that marks the start of a new project. This is the whole theory, by the way, behind James Webb Young’s already short book, “A Technique For Producing Ideas.”

For instance, think about what it’s like — or should be like — to start from scratch with a new client or product. You end up throwing yourself completely into the research, from the ground up, with the hopes of knowing the thing you’re writing about better than the insiders themselves.

At first it’s too much. A mess of notions, no clear thread linking them together. You’re sure it will never make sense. Then it does. In an instant. And it’s all you can do to type fast enough to get it down. You need this to happen. But you cannot will it to happen. The connecting ideas, it turns out, find you. Not the other way around.

You can no more order yourself to be creative than you can order a dog to sneak up on its tail.

What you can do, however, is steep yourself in reports, in articles, in books, in recorded interviews and conversations, in related websites and — for our purposes — past promos and brochures. What you pour in, you’ll get back out. Organized by your subconscious. Stuff it in, pack it in, sit on top of it and pound if you have to.

Then take a walk. Take a shower. Go stand at the bus stop and wait.

Just make sure you’ve got a pen handy when you do.

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What’s Your Best Offer?

“Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry,” Donald Trump once said, “I like making deals. Preferably big ones.” And indeed, coming up with appealing deals and powerful offers can be an art form unto itself. 

Luckily for those of us who aren’t “The Donald,” there are formulas on how to do it. And books that lay out the formulas in simple yet thorough detail. One, for instance, is “Cash Copy” by Dr. Jeffrey Lant.

As an example, you could build any number of deals using Lant’s most basic premium offer formula, which goes something like this: Successful Premium Offer = FREE + limited time + stated real benefit

But you can get even more fancy, with impressive results. Here are some of the offer structures Lant suggests, followed by details on how marketers might use them… along with added details on how to apply them directly in sales copy:

 Offer Type #1: The Tension Buster

 Challenge: By the time your prospect gets to the sales close, what’s he worried about?  He wants to know if (a) You can solve his problems the way you say you can and (b) If you can’t, can he get his money back.

Marketer’s Solution:  Money-back guarantees are standard fare for all kinds of product offers.  Trial samples work here, too. Personally, I prefer strong guarantees to weak ones.  Clients sometimes fear a flood of refund requests.  But when you’re working with good products and honest sales promises, that shouldn’t be as much of a problem… right?

 Copywriter’s Technique: I usually push for  the strongest guarantee possible.  See if you can get permission to offer 100% of money back, even 110% back for dissatisfied customers.  For the extra 10%, maybe you could tally that up in the form of freebies the refunded customer gets to keep. Make it look substantial too.  Certificate borders help.  So can signatures and a photo next to your guarantee copy.  Also, try putting a strong testimonial in your P.S. or on your reply device.

Offer Type #2: The “Instant Gratification” Deal

Challenge: Immediate action-takers want immediate results.  They want to see the benefits as soon as possible after deciding to buy. 

Marketer’s Solution: Bill-me-later options, installment payments, and trial offers can help scratch the “instant-satisfaction” itch.

Copywriter’s Technique: Emphasize ease of ordering and speed of deliver, with simple phrases like: “You pay nothing up front.  Just let me know where to send your trial sample, and I’ll rush it to your mailbox.”  Tell the customer what they’ll get and, if possible, when.

Offer Type #3: The Coupon-Clipper’s Delight

Challenge: Even with good copy and a good product, sticker-shock can be a problem.

Marketer’s Solution: Quantity offers, limited-time offers, and trade-in deals are a good way to show prospects that they’re getting a good deal.

Copywriter’s Technique:  Emphasize the discount with call out boxes.  Do the math in $$ if the savings is a percentage discount. In the body of the sales close, try showing the cost and efficiency of your product compared to similar, more expensive products. If you can make the offer time-limited, do so.  And put that deadline in a callout-box on the reply page too.  Or another device: Try emphasizing the savings by creating a “price-off” coupon that gets sent back in along with the reply card.

Offer Type #4: The Ticking Timer

Challenge: If you don’t get immediate action on a sales decision, you probably won’t get the sale at all.

Marketer’s Solution:  Seasonal offers have a natural time limit.  But contrived time limits can work just as well.  The “speed-reply” bonus is also a common device.

Copywriter’s Technique: If there’s a limit on the number of customers who can sign up, write about it.  Give specifics. For example: “Frankly, after these 2,000 slots are filled, I’m going to have to close the doors.  If I don’t hear from you by then, you’ll be turned away. I’ll have no choice.  Which is why I hope to hear from you soon..” Emphasize benefits that a prospect sacrifices by waiting too long. Fax and toll-free ordering can be used to help speed up orders too:  “If you want to get started immediately, call or fax your order to…”

Offer Type #5: The EZ Offer

Challenge: Even eager customers can get confused by complex order forms, missing BREs, elaborate information requests, and worse.

Marketer’s Solution: Multiple ways to place an order help. Though, more than three options (fax, phone, mail… or… phone,

mail, e-mail) is probably too much.  These days, the ability to take orders around the clock is a big plus.

Copywriter’s Technique: Try numbering the steps: “(1) Fill out this invitation below, (2) Put it in the envelope provided (3) Drop it in your mailbox.” Add this phrase here and there too: “It’s that simple.” And if you’ve got the leisure of a toll-free number, be sure to put it where the prospect can see it.  Make it large.  Make it easy to find.  And put it on every piece in the envelope.

Offer Type #6: The Private Deal

Challenge: People like to feel like they’re getting privileges. “In a world where everyone is as important as everyone else,” says Lant, “people are dying to feel more important than everyone else.”

Marketer’s Solution: Create limited editions, clubs, and “societies.”  Frequent-flier miles and favored customer incentives work on this principal too.

Copywriter’s Technique: Use design to make the invitation look exclusive.  Write in “whispered” tones.  The reply device could be constructed like a real “R.S.V.P.” document. When you start the sales close, make sure you summarize the benefits in the form of privileges for exclusive invitees.

Offer Type $7: The Bachelor’s Offer

Challenge: Some people fear commitment.

Marketer’s Solution: See above for talk about “no-money-down” offers.  But for real fence sitters, consider collecting contact details for future use.  E-mail is great for this.  Give non-committal free information up front.  Then use regular contact to deepen the relationship and set the groundwork for a future sale.

Copywriter’s Technique: Here’s where emphasizing freebies can come in handy.  Especially if there’s little or no other commitment. But remember, it’s not worthwhile if (a) the freebie has no benefit to the prospect and (b) you fail to collect personal information for future contact.

A caveat, says Lant, is that “‘Free’ by itself is almost never the strongest possible offer you can make.” However, he recommends, when you’ve got a really strong offer — no matter what kind it is — one of the best things you can do is bring it out right up front.

 Added evidence — many of the most successful direct mail letters of all time lead with a strong sales offer right in the headline or on the first page. By the way, Lant himself credits another old friend of the CR with some of the best insights in his “offer” chapter — our prolific pal Bob Bly, author of the all-time classic “The Copywriter’s Handbook.” 

Pick up a copy if you haven’t already.

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