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We all know what spam looks like when it lands in our inbox, yet we’re quick to approve email marketing campaigns that are strikingly similar…
Are you serving prospects spam? Image source
That’s the realization that Steven Moody, founder of Beachhead Marketing, had one day — and what he cautions against in our latest episode of the Call to Action podcast. In the episode, Steven chats with Unbounce’s Content Strategist Dan Levy about how to woo the people on your email list (so they don’t mark your emails as spam).
- The secret ingredients of a successful email course that will continue to capture the attention of subscribers.
- How to give your biggest content fans that extra nudge they need to go from handing over their email to handing over their wallet.
- A creative trick that one software company used to re-engage a segment of its inactive email subscribers.
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Read the transcript
Dan Levy: You open your post with a story that I think we can all relate to: starting your morning by deleting and unsubscribing from a bunch of spammy emails. But then you said you had a revelation later in the day while approving your own email campaign; what happened?
Steven Moody: Yeah, so I work with a lot companies that use marketing automation, and kind of this growth of this great thing that isn’t quite spam because it’s officially allowed, but it’s just kind of not something anyone likes. So I found myself going to my mail in the morning and kind of grimacing, as I think a lot of marketers do when they see all of their emails, and all these outbound emails that say, “Hey, you know, why haven’t you responded to me?” and these kind of tactics. And then I was doing a campaign for a client and we’re getting set to do the same thing, I was like – I just stopped – I was like, why, why am I doing this? I know it’s not what I would want as a user. Why are we creating marketing that we wouldn’t actually want to receive ourselves? And just thought, you know there has to be a better way.
Dan Levy: Right. Well your post is about lead nurturing, and I feel like you hear a lot good lead generation these days, but not nearly enough about what happens after you generate that lead. Why do you think that is?
Steven Moody: Yeah, it’s kind of like dating. Everyone talks about how to get to a date, and no one really talks about how to maintain relationships once you have them – there’s not a lot of conversation there. All the tactics are around how to trick someone to do something. And I think it’s the same with marketing – it’s all this information on A/B testing and these things you can do to get more people to sign up. And there’s this excitement when you get a new lead, especially when you have a tool that sends you an email that says, “There’s a new lead.” And it just feels great – it’s this dopamine rush. But nurturing is actually where the magic happens. It’s when someone’s already downloaded something and you have the chance to create that relationship; you can actually show that you’re a business they want to work with and show your colors, and unfortunately most companies show their colors by just trying to go for a close. But properly nurturing is talking to people that just aren’t ready to buy yet, but they might buy in a year, and just having the foresight to say well, this might be a prospect a year from now, but we should still be talking to them.
Dan Levy: That’s such a good point. There’s so many dating sites and dating apps – sorry, I’m stuck on your dating metaphor here – but no relationship maintenance sites. I wonder what that would even look like.
Steven Moody: Yeah it’s like the opposite actual of Ashley Madison, right, like why –
Dan Levy: Yes.
Steven Moody: – is Ashley Madison even exist? There should be – as an aside actually, a few years ago I was at a hackathon and we built a tool that it was like a Tamagotchi for your relationship, and if your girlfriend commented on your Facebook on your post you’d have like a minute to reply back, or like the emoticon for her would go down to an unhappy face.
Dan Levy: Okay.
Steven Moody: And it was kind of as a spoof of like what’s going on, and everyone thought it was creepy, but it also – it was really about a thing that we need to actually measure the relationships we have. And I think also with all social networking we’re kind of in this mindset of grabbing as many friends and connections as we can. I think I have a thousand connections on LinkedIn now, and how many of those people do I actually, would I actually trust to come over for dinner? I don’t know.
Dan Levy: Right.
Steven Moody: There should be a balance there. It has to be kind of a shift back to that – of thinking about the people in your network as opposed to trying to just keep expanding your network.
Dan Levy: Well, the post breaks down four lead-nurturing recipes that marketers can use to nudge prospects without spamming them along the way. The first is creating a targeted newsletter for blog subscribers. How are blog subscribers different from other leads who fork over their email?
Steven Moody: Yeah, it’s a real interesting question. I think – there’s been a shift in a lot of companies in the past couple of years. I don’t see as much in technology companies – they’re not quite aware of this, but there’s this idea of someone subscribes to your blog or they subscribe to your newsletter versus they download a white paper or an ebook versus they subscribe to your newsletter and the ebook is a bonus. And that’s a really interesting shift, just in intention, you know, when someone knows what they’re going to get from you and they get it. That’s very different from someone signing up for one thing and getting something else. And I think a lot of people will sign up for a blog – they kind of just want to get something. It’s kind of like exiting through the gift shop and making sure they don’t lose touch. But it’s not really clear what they’re going to get when they download an ebook, or a white paper they know they’re going to get that and then they kind of brace for impact knowing they’re going to probably get something else and they don’t really know what you’re going to get.
Dan Levy: Right. They know that’s a transaction. It’s like we’re going to give you this piece of content for free, but in exchange you’re going to give us your email address and you can expect further marketing down the line, whereas with a blog you’re actually giving the email to get something very specific in return, which is blog posts.
Steven Moody: Yeah, the blog subscriber is your best in a way. They might be less qualified as a buyer, but they’re the person that actually appreciates your content so much they want to get it more, and so they’re sending such a strong signal, and it’s not transactional, right. It’s much more like they’re asking for more as opposed to the other one, which is kind of their trading their email address, which is worth something, and in exchange for something they think they might want, which is probably just an overblown sales brochure.
Dan Levy: So how do you put those blog subscribers on the path to conversion without pulling the whole bait and switch on them?
Steven Moody: So most marketers, they have a product and they know they have to sell so they kind of are focused on getting that done. We’ve been lucky in the past few months not having a specific product that we have to sell. We started just go back to our list of subscribers and asking them where their problems are and what they want to solve, and it actually had great success just reaching out to people and identifying and recognizing that they subscribe for something, like a lead nurturing course or they subscribe to the blog, and acknowledging that in the email and just getting on a call and hearing what their problems are. And that’s hard to do if you have a product because you just want to qualify them as fast as you can, so I’m not sure there’s a thing there to do except your subscribers are potential referrals – they don’t have to buy from you to know someone who will buy from you, and so just shifting the thinking from every person is potential customer to every person is a potential evangelist first can really change how you message your subscribers.
Dan Levy: Right. It sounds like what you’re talking about here is patience, and also trust in different pieces of your marketing doing what they’re intended to do. So, your blog plays a very specific role in the funnel, you could certainly nurture them through the content that you’re creating, but don’t try to jump the gun and like hack your blog email list for a quick conversion because that’s not what it’s there to do, and I think you’re going to lose a lot of trust that way.
Steven Moody: Yeah, and your subscribers can sense that, right. People are always kind of on the lookout for that in their mind and they unsubscribe – the biggest reason I think people unsubscribe is it’s just not relevant to them. So relevancy is just so important, and it’s so easy to get off that track. But if someone subscribes, and you can see what they subscribe to, just send them more information. I think the essence of marketing and content marketing is gifting someone the knowledge that they need, and in doing so you become the person that they trust to give them that knowledge, and then whatever problem that they have they’re eventually going to start thinking of you as the source for that knowledge.
Dan Levy: Can you share maybe an example of a blog newsletter that you receive that you think stands out from the pack and does that well?
Steven Moody: Yeah, so I was mentioning the blog post newsletter I was really inspired by was a16z; it’s Andreessen Horowitz the VC firm in Silicon Valley. They put together this newsletter every week that is just incredible information on what’s going on, the future of technology and the internet and funding and it’s not – I’m not even completely in the audience, I’m not trying to get funding, I’m not, you know, necessarily a technologist, but what’s interesting about it is they’re giving it away for free, and they’re not even doing that much work. If you look carefully, what they’re doing, they’ll often have someone on their podcasts that’s – what I think they’re doing is they’re researching a bunch of information about that person’s topic, and they’re finding the best articles about that topic and putting them in the newsletter around that podcast. So they’re creating basically a read more section around their main content. So it’s, it’s not even a lot of work, but it’s this incredible, it ends up being this incredible newsletters. Just because they’ve taken that small extra step and said here are the best authority top pages on this topic if you really want to dive in. And they just know their audience very well. I think they’re a targeting kind of product-focused founders and entrepreneurs and so it’s very, very dense. They don’t waste time with too many words. They don’t add images even though everyone will tell you that you images in your newsletters. It’s lightly formatted, but it still has some color, so you realize it’s not a text they’ve put some work into it. It’s just really well done, and we’ve taken a lot of our ideas for our newsletter from that and have had a lot of a lot of positive feedback.
Dan Levy: Cool, check that out. Moving away from blog subscribers, here at Unbounce we run a lot of webinars almost weekly, and also have a bunch of ebooks that we give a way through our blog and your email list for free in exchange for someone’s email address, like we talked about that, that transaction there. Can you talk about what sets these subscribers apart?
Steven Moody: Yeah, so the big difference to me of someone who registers for a webinar or does anything like that, downloads an ebook, it’s just the education level. You can talk to them about where they are at that level of what they’re trying to and how much they know. So someone downloads an ebook on how to get started with A/B testing – now you know that they have an intention to get started with A/B testing, and they have some idea of what that means if they read the ebook, or if they attend the webinar and you think they might know something from the webinar, in reality it might not be a very high amount of retention from that knowledge. So there’s a limit to what you can assume there, but overall I think the big thing is you know what you can say next, and you can kind of move them along the buyers journey by figuring out what’s the next thing that they would want to have in that process.
Dan Levy: Yeah, you suggest ecourses as a good way to follow up with people who download an ebook or who register for an webinar. Where do ecourses succeed where maybe regular sales type of emails don’t?
Steven Moody: Yeah, I could talk for hours about this. What do you guys use at Unbounce for lead nurturing, do you have any products in place?
Dan Levy: It’s funny we are currently running a – we call it a slam. There’s four people in a room right now and they will be for two weeks to completely overhaul our lead nurturing process here.
Steven Moody: Wow.
Dan Levy: So – yeah. I think like a lot of marketers realized that we’re putting too much emphasis on lead generation and not enough thought perhaps, or that it’s time to refresh our lead-nurturing strategy, so we just switched over to HubSpot, so that’s going to be our tool, and right now we’re figuring the strategy as we speak – pretty exciting.
Steven Moody: Yeah, that’s fantastic. It’s great to hear because also I think a lot of companies when they have a product they get focused on that right, so Unbounce, you guys are so good at acquisition it’s easy to ignore lead nurturing. We use HubSpot as well and it’s great for email courses and setting up nurturing, it’s not the best but it’s a very effective. What – lead nurturing is difficult because people have different ideas of it. I talked to one person and they think that means just send an update from your blog. Another person might look at and say, it’s trying to get someone into a track of specific content. So there’s always different ideas about lead nurturing, but an email course is this plutonic ideal of lead nurturing. I hate the phrase growth hacking, but it really is a growth hack in the definition of Patrick Vlaskovits, one of the early guys to coin that term.
Dan Levy: Okay.
Steven Moody: He defined a growth hack as content or offer that’s perfect for the channel, so Instagram using Facebook was a great growth hack because people kind of were automatically using Facebook for images and so they could quickly get into the feed.
Dan Levy: That’s such a good definition, and I feel like 99 percent of growth hackers probably completely ignore that, right, they don’t go for the tactic that’s perfect for the channel. They maybe go for like the easiest tactic or the lowest hanging fruit, but keeping the channel in mind is so key.
Steven Moody: Yeah, and so when you ask someone to download an ebook, the channel they’re on is your website or your blog. They’re consuming content online in Chrome, or Firefox, or Internet Explorer, Safari, and they might be on their phone, they might be on the computer, and then you say, hey, I want you to talk to us by email. I want you to give me permission to send this thing to your email. We both know we could just give you a link to this, but we want you to pay with your email address. And so you’re making them switch channels. And people will do it, but they may not even use their email for a channel, they kind of know that you’re doing it to get their email address so you can talk to them and those there’s this weird feeling there like it’s like someone buying you a drink at a bar, you don’t really know why and you just hope it’s worth it.
Dan Levy: You don’t –
Steven Moody: With the –
Dan Levy: – you don’t even know what drink it’s going to be.
Steven Moody: Yeah, exactly. But an email course is amazing because first the only way to get an email course is by email, so of course you need their email address, and so you know in the back of your mind you’re not wondering why you’re signing up with your email address, you do it automatically. And we’ve found that people will actually – so we don’t get fake email addresses for a course, you know it’s like less than one percent of our signups because people actually want the content. We don’t get temporary email addresses that expire after an hour because they know it’s going to be a seven-day course.
Dan Levy: So to be clear you’re not talking about having people subscribe to or download an ebook or register for a webinar and then be put on an ecourse, you’re talking about people actually subscribing to an ecourse and knowing that they’re going to get that.
Steven Moody: Yeah, so what we discovered – it was a surprise to us because lead nurturing is not usually thought of as top of the funnel – but an email course actually makes it top of the funnel because it’s something someone signs up for from the beginning. They kind of want to get educated on a topic, or category, or how to think about what they’re doing, and so they immediately go to a course. So it’s a way to use lead nurturing very early on where most companies don’t have that. They kind of get someone in the process, they don’t know where they are and then they try to kind of guess by sending them different offers and see what resonates, but they really don’t know what they’re doing. The other big thing especially using a tool like HubSpot and Marketo is with the email course you actually know how much they read, so when someone downloads an ebook and white paper you have no idea if they actually read it, and we tested cold calling people after they downloaded a white paper and they would have no idea what we’re talking about. It turns out a lot of people will go online and download 20 white papers from different sites and then put them in a folder and then forget about it. So you get a very small impression from a white paper. It’s not as much as most marketers want to think it is, and maybe that’s why they’re usually not very good, because we all know no one’s reading them. But with an email course you get a chance to talk to someone every day, or every other day for a while and have an actual name behind it, because we’re used to reading these emails this way. And when you call someone after seven days of emails to them they actually recognize your name. They actually know who you are, and you know who’s going to know who you are because you can score them based on who’s actually opened all the emails.
Dan Levy: Right.
Steven Moody: For us we only get about 10 percent of people who finish the course. We’ve seen other companies we work with, they get about 30 percent to open every single email. But what’s amazing to me is that before an email course you couldn’t even get that information on that ebook or white paper, you have no idea. And I guess you can use some tools to kind of put it in a hosted online PDF so you can track what they read, but no one wants to use that. People want to use the formats they’re used to, which is download a PDF or read something in an email. So it’s a natural way to get this visibility into what’s happening and actually know what to do next.
Dan Levy: That’s awesome. Okay, so I’m a content guy. I get that first and foremost these email courses have to have amazing, relevant content in order for people to sign up for it, in order for people to keep receiving those emails and not unsubscribe after the first or second one, but the success of those courses, it’s ultimately measured by how many people end up converting further down the line, if not right at the end of the course. So how do you go about working in that sales pitch, or that call to action in a way that seems natural?
Steven Moody: So I see it very differently. We’ve kind of approached demand general marketing from a naïve perspective because I built my own team for the products we had. What we realized is most marketers think in terms of campaigns and they think about how do we get this person to buy. To me the measure of an email course is how many people actually would pay for it, so – especially because an email course it feels like you’re learning something. It’s appealing to the person, not the business because it is going to this one person. It’s actually harder to share within a company, so it’s really for, it’s really a consumer product in a way. And we started actually asking target customers, would you actually pay for this course? And that’s our criteria for, is it effective. So we see a course as a way for every company to have a freemium version of their product. So for Unbounce, for example, you should be teaching people in an email course you know, how to get started with doing your own landing pages, how to do A/B testing yourself, how to work with the developer you already have for your website. There’s a lot of ideas around what you’re doing where people might just – they might need to try it themselves before they appreciate how valuable it is to work with Unbounce.
Dan Levy: Right.
Steven Moody: So if people are going to do it themselves anyways you might as well share the information you have on how to do it and then let them try and hit their head against the wall, and then they’ll naturally come back to you because, okay, yeah, that was not the great way to do it. Other cases the email course can really be something like a buyer’s guide in a way where it’s here’s the five things to think about in this space. It’s more of a larger sale in the middle of the funnel. So it definitely depends on your audience and what you’re doing, but in principle, in general, we see an email course as a product on its own. We will go to customers of our clients when we build these courses and actually make sure the customers want this course. And we found that if the customers actually sign up for it then that means the prospects will probably want it too and it will end up working.
Dan Levy: Don’t you think though that if your ecourse is solving a particular problem, like let’s say in our case not being able to easily build customized landing pages, or not knowing how to optimize them and A/B test them, and the content addresses that problem and then part of the solution is your product or service you’re not almost obliged to let them know that towards the end of the course, that, hey, we actually have the solution for you.
Steven Moody: Yeah, I think you should. It can even be in every single email, just at the bottom. You know, most people read the PS so you can just put something in the signature: hey, by the way, here’s what we offer, want to make sure you’re aware of it. And if someone’s looking for it they’ll be happy to see it, and they’ll actually be more comfortable with you because they know why you’re doing the email course, and there’s an understanding of what’s involved. I don’t think it has to be a big call to action. So we worked with a client and set up outbound emails to really try to push people to a free trial, and everyone loved the email we wrote, it was really heavy hitting direct response, and got sent out to 10,000 people and got one sign up. Then we looked at an event that was coming up and we created an information page around an event that they knew that their audience was going to go to, but it was a curated page around their audience, around their specific problem set, and we had more sign ups to a free trial even though there was no offer, or call to action actually in the email, and we had people were replying and saying thank you for this email, it was useful to me. And I think that’s a criteria – we’ve lost the standard in marketing of what it means to actually have a good email, but the criteria should be that people actually respond to your email and say thank you.
Dan Levy: Totally, yeah.
Steven Moody: If they’re not doing that then you’re wasting your time.
Dan Levy: Yeah, that makes, that makes a lot of sense. Actually just last week on the podcast we talked about you need to measure your marketing by the numbers, but you have to remember that behind those numbers is a person, a human being engaging with you, and so I think, you can’t lose sight of either of those things. Yeah, you’re ultimately looking for results, but that’s not going to happen unless you’re reaching people speaking to them and that kind of qualitative feedback, that very human feedback is super important along the way.
Steven Moody: Yeah, my favorite example for this is Ramit Sethi from the iwillteachyoutoberich.com. Have you seen any of his other stuff?
Dan Levy: I don’t think so.
Steven Moody: He’s probably one of the best copywriters in the world, and he doesn’t write for anyone else so it’s easy to miss, but he writes incredibly engaging emails. He’ll launch an information course, a paid course, and a thousand dollars for many of them, but he’ll go through a two-week campaign where he’s warming people up and he’s sending them very useful information, a lot of free information around the same topic. And his basic principle is he gives away 95 percent of his knowledge for free, and you’re going to pay a lot of money for that last five percent. I think that works for a lot of spaces and a lot more than most people try because if you want someone to really use that last 5 percent of your product then you should make sure that they get the first 95. And it doesn’t matter whether they pay for the 95 or not, so it depends on if your goal is to get them to use the first five percent or the last five percent.
Dan Levy: That’s really interesting. Well, the last group of leads that you tackle in your post are what you call inactive prospects. Can you talk about what that means and also how Citrix used an American holiday to reengage a segment of its inactive subscribers in one lead-nurturing campaign.
Steven Moody: You know any company’s going to have a lot of people that stop engaging with the content and with their email. A lot of reasons that can happen: someone might actually just not get the email anymore, Gmail’s tabs might move them to a spot where they don’t see them, they might have changed jobs and the company didn’t set it up so the email address would bounce, so if might still just be going to an empty inbox. But some people just might lose interest and get busy. So there’s a few ways to approach that, and kind of just keep emailing them, which I think is what most marketers do because they measure themselves by the size of their lists.
Dan Levy: Right.
Steven Moody: And so they think, well, we can’t rid of these people, but it’s actually really useful to just ask them if they actually want to get the content and clarify who’s in your market. Sales people understand this, right. The biggest part of sales is not actually trying to close, it’s trying to qualify if someone’s in your market, and marketers who think the same way would look at their email list and ask, you know, how can we get visibility into the real size of our list? So I was working at a division of Seagate a few years ago, and we were sending webinar offers all the time. We’d get maybe 100 people to show up to webinar – it’s a fairly large company, a hundred million dollars or so – and then we actually sent an opt-in request to the list and about 80 percent of the people on our list did not opt in. There was a massive loss of a list and it was like, oh, wow, that’s scary, right. You’re like, oh, there goes the job. But then the next offer to a webinar actually had doubled the attendance. So there’s immense value in actually someone identifying themselves as wanting your content just by taking any action, and then they’re going to be consistent in the future once they’ve taken one action in that direction they’re going to start to see themselves as the person who wants your content. Another example from for Ramit Sethi is really interesting, he’s launched in his course in the past week and he had this specific email trying to get people to go to a 40-page Word doc – and very long, very great at copy – and the first line was something like, hey, if you don’t want the course, here’s three other links you might find interesting. They were just very funny things like here’s a YouTube video of a cat doing a somersault. And it’s amazing because what he did was he wanted to know if someone’s not clicking on this course is it because they’re not getting my email, or because they’re not interested.
Dan Levy: Right.
Steven Moody: And so someone clicks on this irresistible link and they don’t click on the course then you know that they’re just not interested in the content. And it’s really hard to get that information, so that’s a great way to just to figure out what’s so irresistible to your audience that they’ll click on that but not on your thing. So it’s almost a way to do – it’s not quite A/B testing, I guess, but something similar where you can just get a perspective on what’s your total clickable audience.
Dan Levy: That’s really smart. I like that. Of course, isn’t it possible that these leads are inactive because they’re just not that into you?
Steven Moody: Exactly. And that’s the best reason to send them something else, figure out what they would be into. That’s why we – most weeks our newsletter is a 100 percent other people’s content. And what I realized by accident making this newsletter, we really started it because we wanted to try a different way. We liked the a16z approach and also I had someone on my team who needed to learn marketing, so it was a way for him to really get in tune with what people are thinking about. What we discovered is if someone clicks on someone else’s link in your email, one, you know what they clicked on and so you know their intention, you know what they’re trying to achieve, and you actually know they clicked and you know you’re engaging them. We had a link to HubSpot’s recent post, ten interview questions from a real CMO and, and we immediately put that in the post, and we know anyone who clicks on that is either hiring or trying to get hired. And so there’s incredible knowledge in just seeing who clicks on what. Our list is small enough I can personally go in every Sunday and kind of see who’s clicking on what and get an idea in my mind of what they’re thinking and build that up. But you can do a lot of thing if you want to see who in your audience is trying to get funding, just put a bunch of links around how to think about funding. And now you can actually segment your audience on that, and you can send them specific information about that. So we get stuck I think as marketers trying to always do our own marketing, our own content, but the curation is more important than actually having it be yourself, having it be your own content. Just knowing that someone is interested in something saves you a ton of time, and that interest is so easy to measure in email but most marketers just don’t take advantage of that.
Dan Levy: And if they’re not interested then at some point it’s okay to just let them go, right?
Steven Moody: Yeah, if they’re not interested – there’s a downside in marketing to letting someone go because you feel like there’s no cost to email them, so why would you want to let them go. There’s a lot of hidden costs though: someone might be marking you as Spam, someone might be on a company list that is used by Barracuda, who’s using all this data to determine what should go into people’s inbox.
Dan Levy: Right.
Steven Moody: So you might actually be unable to get someone else’s inbox because no one opens your list. And then there’s just the fact that you think you have a bigger list than you do. So the easiest thing to do if you’re worried about it is just create two different lists, one of everyone who’s actually opened an email in the last six months and one list of everyone who hasn’t, and send separate emails to them – the same, maybe the same content, but separate ones and measure them differently, and you might find that you think that your open rate is five percent and you feel like you’re not doing a good job, but it might turn out your open rate is 40 percent among a certain tribe, and your list wasn’t very good. So just understanding over time how that group of people that are interested in you – are they still interested, are they maintaining interest or are they losing interest – is much more valuable than just kind of these general open rates.
Dan Levy: Yeah, I guess what all this boils down to and what the discipline of lead nurturing boils down to is stop just being obsessed with growing the size of your list and start thinking a little bit more about the quality of your list and who are the people that you’re actually sending emails to.
Steven Moody: Yeah, there’s real people behind most of these email addresses, hopefully. And they actually want something from you, and they have a chance to buy what you have but they’re probably a little scared about buyer that. So just treating them like people and thinking about what they would want, and understanding how to have a human connection with them and while being scalable – it’s not easy but it’s doable – and not thinking of it just as a giant list you have and trying to measure it by the numbers, because there are people on the other side and if you lose sight of that then it’s easy to do tactics that you wouldn’t do to your parents.
Dan Levy: Cool. I think that’s a great note to end on. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat, Steven.
Steven Moody: Yeah, thank you.
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