If standard email marketing templates are so cringy and boring, why do so many companies use them? Are people clicking through just to be nice?

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Good question. And it's one of many that we address in the latest episode of Marketing Smarts with Oli Gardner, founder of Be the Keynote and co-founder of Unbounce.

Oli hates crappy marketing and often gets angry about public bathrooms, too. He also has some choice advice about how to become a speaker and thought leader full-time.

"If you ever do a webinar, stand up." And wave your arms around.

"If you're naturally not funny, don't try that." Instead, find out what you're good at.

"A lot of people do audience participation wrong." So how do you do it right?

Check out the episode to learn more, including what components make up the Marketing IQ, how to practice your speech (short sections first), and what to do if your boss is making you send those cringe-worthy emails. 

Listen to the entire show now from the link above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode.

This episode brought to you by MNTN and Sitefinity.

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MNTN builds advertising software for brands to drive measurable conversions, revenue, site visits, and more through the power of television. MNTN Performance TV is the world's only Connected TV advertising platform optimized for direct-response marketing goals, redefining what advertisers can do with television.   Sitefinity is a content-driven digital experience platform for delivering compelling, multichannel user experiences. Designed from the ground up with developers as well as nontechnical users in mind, Sitefinity is easy to manage and scale so you can create remarkable experiences with a fraction of the time and resources.


"Marketing Smarts" theme music composed by Juanito Pascual of Signature Tones.


Full Transcript: Creating a Better Audience Experience

Matt Snodgrass: Welcome to another episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast brought to you by MarketingProfs. I am excited to welcome Oli Gardner, the co-founder of Unbounce and the founder of Be the Keynote.

Oli, welcome to the show.

Oli Gardner: Thanks for having me on. This is great.

Matt: We're going to have a lot of fun. We go through a little bit of pre-podcast chat and, as usual, I realized that is what I should have recorded because it was a great conversation. So, we're going to get to all of those things as we go through here.

We like to start out the show with three quick questions to get to know you. The first question is what are you reading right now? Either physical book, digital book, audio book, what's in your head right now?

Oli: Nothing.

Matt: Okay. That makes for a real short podcast.

Oli: I'm really good at buying books. I'm terrible at reading them.

Matt: That's fair.

Oli: My wife Nicole listens to a lot of podcasts, so I jump in on those occasionally, but I don't know what they are.

Matt: I think you might be the first one to answer nothing to that question. Kudos to you for being different.

Oli: I was thinking about it. I could dig deep and make something up, but I thought no, I'll just tell the truth.

Matt: That's fair. If I'm telling the truth, I've been reading the same book for over a year and I can't stand it, but I won't let myself move on until I'm done with it.

Oli: What's it called?

Matt: It's called Earth, it's a science fiction book written in the '90s. It's got a million rave reviews and I love sci-fi, but I just can't get through this book. I've been reading it since the Spring of 2020, and I'm just wasting my life on this damn thing.

Oli: It's your COVID book.

Matt: Still. Yes. How about what are you drinking? What's your drink of choice right now in life?

Oli: If it was a cocktail, it would be a White Negroni, a pinot noir from New Zealand, or if I'm drinking beer, it would be a Deshutes Fresh Haze IPA from Bend, Oregon.

Matt: All right. I've never had any of those three things. I'm really simple, I will drink an occasional Guinness or a rum and coke, and that's about as fancy as I get.

Oli: I've moved to Guinness in the last week. As soon as the weather turned bad, Guinness.

Matt: Just to sort of thicken things up a little bit.

Oli: Yes.

Matt: Now, the real deal. What are you thinking about in terms of the business world, in terms of marketing, in terms of what you do? What's on your mind and what's keeping you up at night?

Oli: It is Bubble.io, actually. I recently started building some software. I needed to get something done for my startup, Be the Keynote. I spoke to my co-founders, "I can't afford to hire a developer," even though I used to be one. They mentioned No-Code, so I dug into Bubble. It's mind-blowing. It's the most useful and interesting software I've used in a decade. I'm just fascinated and obsessed by this, building this product for the Be the Keynote and building tools for Unbounce, marketing-specific tools. That's all I'm thinking about right now is how to make more product-based marketing tools on the Unbounce side. It's amazing.

Matt: Tell me about Bubble.io. You're doing this all without formal coding, am I understanding this right?

Oli: It's a No-Code platform, yes. It allows you to just build functional web experiences. It's technical, that's why it's better than some of the other No-Code ones. Like I said, I used to be a developer, so I understand the structure of all of it behind the scenes, so that helps me do a better job.

A simple example is you could create a little web app where it has authentication, so sign up, including with Google or something like that, sign up, login, logout, have a Google Map or something where you drop a whole bunch of pins on your favorite places. It would then have a list of these things ordered by how many votes they've gotten, etcetera.

You could build that entire thing in 20 minutes with full security, the database, everything. It's mind-blowing, completely game changing.

Matt: Wow. Very cool. We'll put a link to that in the show notes because I know a lot of folks listening to this are doing their own thing, working on side hustles, or have ideas, so this would certainly be helpful for the marketers out there.

Oli: If you're a technical marketer, this will accelerate anything you're doing, if you're doing product-led growth or anything like that.

Matt: Bubble.io, awesome. Thanks.

You are speaking at our B2B Forum on October 13th and 14th.

Oli: Yes.

Matt: I was reading your bio a couple weeks ago, and the first sentence is, "Perpetually pissed off by shitty marketing." That sold me. I was like I have to get this guy on the podcast, this is awesome. Let's dig into that a little bit. I'm wondering what got you here. This is your mission, to get away from that sort of mediocre marketing, crappy marketing. How did you get here? Did you have an a-ha moment where you thought, "This is absolute garbage. No more." What got you to where you are?

Oli: When we started Unbounce, 12 years ago now, I had never done marketing before, but that's what we needed. From the six co-founders, the hole we had was marketing. I had a background in optimization already. It was usability, I never thought of it as being optimization. It was a natural thing to get into that. I was writing, building the website, and I learned to be a marketer.

I hated what I perceived as the salesy or bad side of marketing because I had experienced that a little bit, and I didn't want to be considered one of those people. It was kind of my mission to find better ways of doing that so that people could actually respect the work that marketers were doing, and just try to teach people how to create better experiences while teaching myself, because I knew nothing about marketing.

Matt: What did you find that really turned you off? What sorts of things were you seeing, what was this lightbulb that said this isn't working, this sucks?

Oli: It's hard to remember now. I probably blanked it out because it was so bad.

Matt: A little PTSD.

Oli: I just get angry about stuff, whether it's in the physical world or online, which just fuels most of my talks, to be honest. Usually, it will be a bad experience I come across and I'll be ranting about it in my head or out loud, and that is the genesis often of we have to fix this, what's a bigger concept around fixing that.

I looked at lots of landing pages, over 100,000. People try to call bullshit on that, but I did. At the beginning, our CTO set it up where he would export a big dump of thousands of our customer landing pages, and I would just sit there on a screen clicking through them trying to find good examples, which was really hard. I'm not trying to say bad things about our customers, but there were a lot of bad things.

That set me off. I thought I definitely have to help our customers do better, because we care about them. Other folks in the shady side of marketing, not so much, but I wanted to have an impact at least with our customers.

Matt: I like hearing that you solved these problems from a place of rage or anger, or frustration having experienced something that was just awful. You're not taking to the streets to complain about it, but you're actively looking for ways to make the future experience better and to get past these problems.

Oli: Yes. There's definitely a period of complaining. Nicole probably suffers through that more than anyone else. I also get really angry in bathrooms. It seems like a constant thing, especially faucets. I don't know.

Matt: Your own, or public bathrooms?

Oli: Hotels and public ones. Just simple terms. I'm going to get annoyed right now. The faucet is too close to the back of the thing, so you have to touch it if you're washing your hands. Just extend it three more inches, it's really simple. I don't know. There are so many bad designs in the world.

Matt: Does the bathroom work its way into your talks at any given time?

Oli: Many times it has, actually. In the talk I'm doing at MarketingProfs, I believe it made it into the thing, I'm taking a photo in a bathroom in a bar.

Matt: Perfect. We won't spoil too much more of that. We try to be a spoiler-free show. I do want to dig a little bit into this. You talk about the Marketing IQ Manifesto, I know that's what your talk is covering. Again, I don't want to spoil that. I'm curious just if you could give us a high-level overview of what that is and what that means to you.

Oli: Yes. I wanted to take some of this observation of bad experiences, so I took traditional IQ, which in a simple way has four elements. It has spatial awareness, language ability, mathematical ability, and memory. I transposed them into marketing-related things; optimization, so convergence around design, conversion copywriting, analytics, process, and then I layered in strategic thinking and emotional intelligence.

Then I just tried to break it down by low IQ being the really scummy side of things, fixed IQ is what most people do, and high IQ is what I wanted to teach people to get to a better level. You'll know what low IQ is. It's when you get all those emails, "If you've got 15 minutes, I want to talk about fixing…" Everybody hates those.

I'm really curious, actually, the people who do that, unless they're so insignificant that nobody emails them, but they must get them, too. Right? They're getting these things. Either they're like taking a lot of 15-minute calls thinking, "This is awesome, this is what I do, I'm going to talk to all these people," or they hate them like we do. Then they're hypocrites and they keep doing it themselves. That's a general sense.

I'm also really annoyed constantly, and I figured it out today, but I get emails all the time and they call me Kirsten. I've never met a Kirsten in my life. It's just so annoying. I'm like, "You should stop buying email lists. This is terrible. My name is not Kirsten." Then one guy wrote back to my anger and said, "Sorry. It's this platform we use." I forget the name, but I guess it's scraping or predicting email addresses, so a shady tool kind of thing to use, and it assigned that name to me.

Today I was like, "How do I figure this out?" I got one of the emails and I looked at the raw thing. It was my email address, but then the name was Kirsten Oliphant, so it has Oli in it. Then I searched for her, and she has a lifestyle and mom blog.

Matt: Right up your alley.

Oli: Not even related to marketing. What is going on there? So, that made me laugh a little bit more, understanding that. I also get a lot of things saying, "Can I do a guest post on the Moz blog or the Active Campaign blog?" I don't work for those companies.

Matt: We get so many of those. They hit our customer support box by dozens a day. We get tons of stuff like that. You talk about why people who are doing that keep doing that, or if they're doing it, do they get the same types of emails. We actually had a discussion internally a few months ago, and we were talking about a campaign. One of our marketers said, "I knew what it was, but I clicked through it because I kind of felt bad. They're doing the same thing we are and they're trying to generate leads. I know that pain, so I just clicked through to be nice."

I wonder if there's not an element of that. These guys are sending these things out and they're sending these, "Can I get a spot on your calendar," and "Moving this to the top of your inbox" type of emails. When they're getting them, maybe they're clicking through just to be nice. I don't know.

Oli: I don't know. Occasionally, before I get angry about it, I will catch myself and I will look down, "What is this company," just in case it's a really good company or I know them or something.

Honestly, I think either these people are lazy and they're just copying what other people are doing, even though they don't know, or they know it's not successful. Maybe to a degree, but it has to be a really small degree. Either they're lazy or their boss is making them do it because that's what they believe is a good way of doing it.

My advice, if you're doing it, stop doing it. If you're doing it because you have to do it because your boss is telling you to do it, do some amazing work, get promoted, become their boss, and then fire their ass.

Matt: Do you feel like there's an element of this has to be working because of how many organizations are using this sort of template and standardized sales email? There has to be an element of it that's pulling, otherwise wouldn't everybody just scrap this and try something else?

Oli: Maybe it converts at like 0.005%. If you send enough, maybe that's meaningful. Actually, we should probably do that. We should start replying to people in a respectful way and try to get some data on that.

Matt: Try to find out if it is actually even working.

Before we went on air, we talked about your methodology for putting your talks together. I was fascinated by this. I was looking through your Instagram the other day and I saw you had taken some pictures of some plans, whiteboard plans, and I think you even did one on the back of a napkin that you wrote on at one point. You whiteboard out the whole diagram and flow of your talk. It wasn't just a line or just up and down, but there were inflection points and emotional points and interaction. This thing looked like a technical electronic schematic by the time you were done with it.

I'm wondering, is this is your normal everyday process that you put together for every talk you give, is this something that you did just for one specific thing, or is this the way that you're working?

Oli: I do it for every talk. When I was starting out, I did more talks, I'd do a new one, but now it's gotten to the point where typically once a year I'll come up with a big new concept and then I'll speak about that, I'll go around covering that. It's usually a very big talk that's new, conceptually, and it's a new methodology or something, a new process when we think about optimization. Because it's such a big idea, it has to be broken down.

I've just found that's the best way for me to do it. I just map out the flow, but then I know my stuff, like who do I want to be as a speaker and what do I want the audience to experience. For me, my top three are entertaining, all my energy comes from making people laugh. The more they laugh, the better I get. Then educational and actionable. Those are the three things that I focus on. Actionable, and then inspiring or something. It changes. When you know those things about yourself, you can direct how you create your talks to match that. I very specifically plot I want a tweetable moment for actionable, I want a download here, I want an emotional moment here, I want a funny moment here, here, and here.

Then you can step back and go 45-minute talk, there's 15 minutes in the middle where it's not funny at all, I know I'm going to lose energy, I need to change that. I need to purposely insert something there, change a story, add a story, or something that is going to be funny to maintain that. Or here I need to slow it down, I'm talking about an emotional or meaningful moment. I'll design that often by having a blank black screen so that the room goes dark, everyone has to focus on me because there's nothing else to look at. You lower your voice, you slow down. All these types of things you can design very intentionally into a talk. It looks crazy complex, but when you follow the process that I follow, it's really easy and it makes you get to a better presentation faster.

I'm actually reverse-engineering that right now and pivoting Be the Keynote from being purely informational coaching to being SaaS, a software platform based on this process, which is what I'm building in Bubble. It's kind of centered around this thing called a pulse line, which is the heartbeat of your presentation. Each little part of your story is a pulse, and you design these as you go through.

One of the key elements that I do when I'm coaching people is practice each one individually. Kind of like a comedian does, they have their bits, and they practice them until they're perfect. When you do this with your presentation, if you try to practice a 40-minute talk, you'll do it once or twice, you'll be exhausted and you'll not do it again. Some bits will be good, some won't. If you break it into little sections, practice them until they're awesome and you know how to do them, so that even if you're nervous or whatever, when you get to that part, you'll be excited, "I know how to do this bit."

It's just a much better way of doing it. I build all of that into there. I could talk about that for hours.

Matt: It really is interesting. It is like a comedy routine because at certain points they segue from one main topic to the other, but there's always that callback, there's always something that references back to what they talked about earlier. If you diagram out any good comedy routine, you'll see the same things, that it's broken down into these segments, but they're all tied together, they all have this overarching thing that brings them together.

Oli: Exactly. That recall technique is amazing, where you tee something up, you don't give it all away, and you bring it back later. It's a wonderful technique that comedians use.

I also put in a thing call shit hits the fan. Because I have a lot of technical presentations, if something can go wrong in a talk, it happens to me every time. I purposely also go these are the five parts that can go wrong, I'm going to design and practice an experience based on if that happens what I'm going to do. That way, in the moment when things go wrong, you have it covered. It's a really good technique for if things go wrong, which they do.

Matt: Start to finish, the day you start conceptualizing a new talk to the first time you deliver it, do you have a sense of how many hours you have invested in this from soup to nuts?

Oli: Sometimes I'll spend months on it. I'm very fortunate that when I transition from running marketing or being creative director into just being a speaker that it can be my full-time role, so I have the luxury of spending all of my time doing it, which is why I got so in-depth with it. So, yes, it can take me a long time.

Some come very quickly. The talk that I'm doing at MarketingProfs conceptually came very quickly to me. It was a simpler idea than a lot of the ones I do, so it was a really fun one to create because it just flowed very naturally, because it was a strong concept.

Matt: We're now going to do what the kids call a callback. We mentioned earlier that Oli is presenting at the MarketingProfs B2B Forum on October 13th and 14th, so if you want to check that out you can. You can hear all about Oli being perpetually pissed off by shitty marketing, you can hear about his story, you can learn more about Marketing IQ Manifesto and being a high IQ marketer. There's going to be a lot of great stuff in there.

If I'm remembering, you've crammed it into a fairly compact timeframe. Right?

Oli: I think I had half an hour with 10 minutes of Q&A, and I couldn't do it, so I begged for it to be combined. It's a 48-minute talk, so I kind of pared it down. Now it comes in at 40 minutes and 1 second.

Matt: It's going to be awesome. I can't wait. We're recording this on September 30th, but you'll hear this before October 13th, so there's still a chance to check it out. This idea of transitioning into a full-time speaker, tell me a little bit about that. How'd you get there, what was your lead up to that?

Oli: I think it's a fairly common pathway. I didn't want to do it. I was terrified, I was like no way am I ever going to be a speaker, that's an awful concept. But I did a lot of writing in my role as a marketer. That's typically how "thought leaders" become thought leaders, because you're putting new ideas out there. My writing was funny because, again, that's one of my goals. I got a lot of people asking me to come speak because they saw that. They'd say, "We like your ideas, we like the style. Come speak?" No. Okay.

Matt: I have to interrupt real quick. Did you find yourself writing from a place of rage as well? Did you have that sort of same paradigm in your writing?

Oli: I didn't. I was more funny than angry in the writing. There were definitely rant elements in there, for sure. Then we did the show Page Fights, which was an unfiltered thing where me and Peep Laja would just kick the crap out of landing pages. Then eventually I got coerced into doing it and I started doing some things.

I did a webinar, I hated it, it was so low energy. If you ever do a webinar, stand up. If you don't have a wireless set up or whatever, just raise your desk up or something. Make sure you stand up and wave your arms around. You'll be way better than anyone else who does one that sits down because there's no energy. I didn't like that. Then I did a couple more. Then I did a 10-minute thing for Joanna Wiebe for her Copyhackers. For startups, I did a little old-school flip chart thing, which got me the first time in front of a camera. Then I was doing voiceovers for our landing page course.

So, I got a bit more comfortable and eventually said yes to be on a panel critiquing landing pages. Then I was like we can't tear into people's landing pages live at this even unless we teach them a little bit about how we think, so I offered to do a seven-minute intro about some concepts before we did it. The other two guys said great. Then I took that really seriously, I practiced my butt off for that.

Matt: For the seven minutes.

Oli: Yes. It actually turned out to be 10. I did some weird skit in the middle about chicken in Montreal. I don't know. It was funny, and I won an award for best presentation, my first time, out of 64 speakers. It was like that light bulb moment of this is where I belong even though I'm terrified, I'll do this.

Then I did a few more. It was clear that they didn't need me in marketing anymore. In some way they do, conceptually and for helping out on special projects and what have you, and some other things, but they're good, so I'm going to try this. That's how I met my wife, speaking at a gig in Vegas.

Matt: It all kind of came around. That's interesting. I know that we have a lot of marketers in our audience, probably a lot of listeners who are really at early stages of developing their voice and thought leadership, eventually with the hopes of moving into the realm of doing what you're talking about. What advice would you give folks who are just starting out and just starting to figure out what their voice is and to start down the thought leadership path?

Oli: Try to define what you are, who you are, and the audience experience. If you're naturally not funny, don't try that. Bombing on stage when you're trying to be funny and you're not is terrible, it's very stressful. Find out what you are good at. If you're amazing at process diagrams or the way you can analyze data, whatever it is, just make sure you're amazing at that and practice that so that people are blown away by the way you do that. Practice is the main thing. A lot of people don't practice. It's essential.

Also, realize if you have imposter syndrome, which is a very common thing, realize that everybody has that. All speakers have that or had that. You're not alone in that kind of thing. Also, imposter syndrome is kind of like this weird thing that was created in 1979 or something by people, it's a systemic workplace thing. I don't think we have time, it's too long of a conversation. It's quite a sexist concept that was applied to women in the workplace back then and it's been expanded from there. It's not a good thing. It's worth researching.

Matt: When you first started down this path, what was your thinking? You mentioned that you were funny. From a business or marketing standpoint, what was your angle of attack? I can't imagine that you were just writing about humor.

Oli: It was all about landing pages, honestly. If I never look at another landing page as long as I live, I'll be very happy about that. I wrote 300 blog posts about landing pages.

Matt: That was your niche, that was your specialty that got you into things.

Oli: Yes. That was kind of my tagline. That's also a good thing to do as you're starting out, try and give yourself a tagline or something. Put it in your Twitter bio, whatever it is, and try to live up to that. Mine was I've seen more landing pages than anyone on the planet. A simple thing like that. Then it transitioned into the perpetually pissed off thing. If you can have something like that that you try to own, it's also very good for people asking you to speak. When they see things like that, they know this person has a stance, they have a strong perspective.

Branding is important, I think. It's like when you get a great domain name. Be the Keynote, prior to getting the name, I'd had this idea for a long time, but I couldn't do anything with it because it didn't feel like a real business. As soon as I got that, seeing the processes, if you do a process that's your thing, give them a name, or give them an acronym. If there are six steps, give each one a letter until it says something fun or interesting or memorable. When you do that, it becomes yours, it becomes unique. That's what people want to learn about. Whatever you do, wrap a process around it and give it a name, and that will help you progress as a speaker.

Matt: You had an acronym used in one of your talks, I don't remember. It was questions that you can't help but answer, something like that. What was that?

Oli: Questions that are impossible not to answer. Because when you're doing audience participation, a lot of people do it wrong. They come on stage and go, "How is everyone doing," and everyone in the crowd is thinking that's open-ended, I don't know how to respond to that, and it's early, like shut up. But if you give them a question that is impossible not to answer, something that's fun or very polarizing…

A classic example that I give is I do a poll for whether you do the toilet paper over or under. Everybody has a perspective on that, everyone thinks it's funny in the moment. I do raise your hand if it's over, and then most people do, then I say under and a few people do, and I say, "You're wrong." It's fun. Use questions like that to segment the audience so you can learn a bit about them and direct what you're doing in your talk, so you can actually gesture towards people, "This group over here." Then it feels personalized, then people enjoy it because you're engaging with them.

Those kinds of questions are really useful, and they help take your talks to a different level. You can also then take that anecdotal data that you gathered looking at the audience and shift that into your next talk, and you can evolve.

Another thing, original content mindset is a very important thing. Photos, videos, everything you put in your talk, try to make them yourself. If you're describing an experience, say it's in the offline world, go take photos of it, record a video. Make it your own, make it unique. When you're traveling, when you go to a city, take photos or record something in that city that makes people know that you cared about coming to their city and doing something relevant to that. That really ingratiates you to an audience. Yes, acronyms.

Matt: I like that in one of the talks that you said, "Who has heard of this acronym? No one has because I just made it up and I'm talking about it right now, this is not a thing anyone has heard before." It's certainly something that is eye-catching and ear-catching that will make people stand up and take notice.

Oli: Yes. My first acronym that I did when we started Unbounce was NSMCWDLP.

Matt: Rolls right off the tongue.

Oli: I'd get speakers, I'd go to a conference, and I'd video all of the speakers there. I'd hold up a piece of paper and ask them to say it and I'd have it in the talk, it was hilarious. It stands for Never Start a Marketing Campaign Without a Dedicated Landing Page.

The first time I did it, I thought I should grab the domain. By the time I'd gotten off stage, someone in the audience had bought it.

Matt: From your talk?

Oli: Yes. They transferred it to me. They just thought it would be funny, and it was.

Matt: Talk about rubbing salt in the wound right there. Oli, thank you so much for your time today. It has been a pleasure talking with you.

Oli: Likewise.

Matt: This is one of those things where I sent you some questions beforehand, I kind of had an outline of where I wanted this conversation to go, and we went in a totally different direction. It ended up being way better for it. That's the spontaneity of doing these things that I really enjoy.

Oli: Me too. It was a lot of fun.

Matt: Where can folks learn more about you and what you're doing?

Oli: @OliGardner on Twitter is the best and fastest way to get in touch. Check out BetheKeynote.com and check out Unbounce.com, but Twitter is the best way to get in touch.

Matt: Sounds great. Folks, if you want to learn more about The Marketing IQ Manifesto and you want to hear Oli give his formal presentation cut down from 48 minutes to 40 minutes and one second, you can check him out at the B2B Forum on October 13th and 14th.

Before we leave here, I have one favor to ask of each of you, my friends. Do me a favor, find one marketer, find one thought leader, an influencer or someone who wants to be, and let them know that you just listened to this podcast and there's a lot of great information in here. We don't need a five-star review, we don't need you to write a whole paragraph in iTunes. Just tell one person about this podcast and help us spread the word. That is a wrap for today. Until next time, this has been the Marketing Smarts Podcast.

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