Internet, Shimternet

June 14th, 2011

Do you ever feel like your head might just explode if you have to shove one more new business term in there? Or perhaps you’re simply in the mood for a friendly game of buzzword bingo. I have some extra cards right here…

Who could blame you? I mean, I think I actually met with the guys in this VIDEO just last week:



There isn’t room to list all the new words, terms and acronyms we’ve learned in the last few years:  moblog, m-commerce, phishing, NFC, PPC, CPA, CPO, CPS, DSP, skyscraper, pure play, Splinternet, semantic Web, SMS, TCP/IP, VOIP, XML, RSS, API, CSS, SMM, SMO, black hat (and white hat – I mean, duh) SEO, cybersquatting, adware, P2P, spider, favicon, mousetrapping, greenwashing, augmented reality, branded entertainment, geotargeting, behavioral targeting, network effect, SERP, cloud, triple play, (Web) abandonment, (Web) arbitrage, bot, deep linking, delist, linkbait, spyware, widget, maybe a million others… and certainly dinner isn’t dinner without a good forking.   Or something like that.

But there’s a new new term whose fear factor I want to eliminate right away: agile commerce. As defined by Forrester in its March 2011 paper, Welcome to the Era of Agile Commerce, agile commerce is “an approach to commerce that enables businesses to optimize their people, processes and technology to serve customers across all touchpoints.”

There are 15 pages of text and charts delineating the difference between multichannel and agile commerce, and the analyst also penned a Forbes article titled “Why Multichannel Retail is Obsolete.” “Agile commerce is a metamorphosis,” he says. “It is time for organizations to leave their channel-oriented ways behind.”

The problem is that all this relies on what I consider to be a seriously antiquated view of multi-channel operations.

The definition of multichannel commerce upon which the new agile commerce movement depends is a way of doing business that leaves customer touchpoints and transactions in silos: potentially envisioned, designed, managed and measured independently from one another.  It assumes that prospects/customers probably use one channel but not another (e.g. Jack’s a “store person,” Jill’s a “Web person,”), that user expectations in each of these channels do not overlap, that content, design, functionality, payment options, etc. etc. all differ from one channel to another and that it doesn’t matter because consumers don’t really see all the channels anyway.

What contemporary marketer believes this anymore?

Is there a digital-savvy executive alive who doesn’t know all the stats about connectivity exploding, and audience fragmentation, and the accelerating evolution of technologies, and the emergence of smartphones and tablets and ebooks (oh my)?  Is it news that TV watchers also like being online, or that newspaper readership is sliding around? And yet these are the metrics and conversation points that the paper uses to announce that it’s a new world and that ecommerce players better get with it.

For any marketer trained to start with the customer, the revelation that we must strive to deliver a 100% (a girl can dream) seamless experience from one channel to the next and that our business eco-system must be woven together and able to learn so that a user’s behavior is reflected and rewarded as she wanders from one touchpoint to another… well that’s no revelation at all.

Good marketers recognized and began turning their organizations toward this vision many moons ago.  The consumer is where everything begins and ends.  In the future, channels will be like lights in a galaxy that deliver a seamless, 24 hour brand experience.  Rather than you having to travel to the brand (e.g., you drive to the store), all the access points will do the virtual traveling instead.  With you in the center, the brand will constantly update its customized knowledge of and relationship with you, in all directions and in nearly all applications.  A little like “Minority Report” but in a good way – and without having to remove your eyeballs.  [And yes, I wrote this paragraph while entirely sober.]

Now don’t get me wrong here; I doubt there is an organization on the planet that feels fantastic about where it is on this trip we’re all taking together.  Forget even the fantasy of walking into a physical location and having a person (or digital display) interact with you in a way that reflects a 360° level of knowledge of my relationship: I’d be excited just to talk to a call center rep who can see me transacting on his company’s own website in real time and help me out in a normal, knowledgeable manner.

We have a long long (long) way to go.  But this post is my way of saying that no one should be discouraged, or privately assume that keeping up is impossible.  The  next time you see or hear a new Internet/marketing/digital business buzzword, it may be just that: a new arrangement of letters describing a principle you already understand (perhaps better than those making up some of these new terms in the first place) and live by.

Either way – as long as we keep our heads – it makes for a good game.  And, hey! I’ve got Bingo!!!
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A version of this post was originally published on the Marketing Executive Network Group‘s blog, MENGBlend.

Stretching More Than Dollars

October 1st, 2010

by Stephanie Fierman

It’s true that people love certain brands, and it can be awfully expensive to launch new ones.  I started thinking about this after seeing some slightly off-kilter commercials: could it be that established brands are trying to extract value by presenting new uses for existing products?

Witness the following:

* EGGO ON THE GO-GO.  Working three jobs to pay the mortgage? No time to sit down for breakfast? No problem – take Eggo waffles with you! Last I checked, butter and syrup are a real pain on the subway, so this ad shows kids and adults running out the door with waffles in their hands.  A kid is just running with – you know, a plain ol’ waffle – and a woman says that she takes hers with just a “smudge” of (what looks like strawberry) cream cheese.  A smudge? What’s a smudge? And is that waffle toasted? Because raw would be gross, but cold and toasted and hard would be, well, gross… And then you’ve got the smudge… Eeeee!!

* I LOVE THE SMELL OF ASPIRIN IN THE MORNING. Then there’s Bayer A.M. A television ad features a working dad moving in slo-mo while the voiceover asks whether you’ve ever needed a little get-up-and-go in the morning. He takes Bayer A.M. – “an extra-strength pain reliever with alertness aid specially formulated to fight morning pain and fatigue” – and suddenly he’s racing out the door. Specially formulated! My goodness, what is this magic drug?  That would be caffeine – 65 mg of caffeine in each tablet. Less than 1 cup of coffee. So much for pharmacological breakthroughs.

* GOOD DIGESTION FOR DESSERT. Lastly, there’s Yoplait positioning yogurt as dessert. This was new to me, but apparently Yoplait actually sold “dessert yogurt” back in the 80s.  I don’t know – it’s hard to ponder “dessert!” when all I can think of is Jamie Lee Curtis and those animations of little microbes floating around in my gut.  Maybe it’s just me.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these, of course; one could say they actually represent the creativity of the folks behind these brands.  But there are limits: when they start suggesting that we use Stayfree Ultra-Thins as shoe insoles, I’m outta here.

 

 

Now more than ever, consumers want to feel good about the things they do and buy.  I’ve written a couple posts about the phenomenon on aspirational purchasing and making something groovy out of pretty much nothing and, recently, I saw the most fascinating example of turning a cruddy experience into something swanky.

Witness:  Cash4Gold.  You have to be living under a rock to not have seen their commercials, but just to be sure… Here’s the company’s weird Super Bowl ad, in which Ed McMahon and MC Hammer talk while a disembodied hand holds money (“Call toll free now!”):

And here is one of Cash4Gold’s standard ads (“Turn your unwanted or broken jewelry into cold hard cash!“)

Do these ads make you feel like a sharp cookie, or like you’re about to lose your house and have already checked the couch for loose change?  Given McMahon’s humiliating mortage disaster and Hammer’s personal woes, Cash4Gold comes across as a last resort for the truly pitiful and desperate.  Hardly something I’d be sharing over dinner with my girlfriends.

Contrast this to OutofYourLife.com.  It’s the exact same concept, but take a look at the company’s television ad:

I can identify with the woman in the ad because, unlike Ed McMahon, she’s “like me” (or like the woman I’d like to be) – attractive, secure and, of course, smart for unloading jewels from her past relationships.  And fyi, all of these ex boyfriends and their golden effluvia don’t mean she’s a loser: it means she dumped them and now has the perfect man, whom she (you), of course, deserve(s). 

Study the ad’s details:  the way the script weaves in the personal “stories” related to each piece, the sexy voiceover, the website’s design – even the box you use to ship off your jewels.  Everything about the ad is intended to reinforce that you are a sexy, beautiful, enticing, clever woman and that this is what such a person does. 

So virtually the same product, but with a message that permits the customer to create a transformational, positive story out of the fact that she’s got to hock her own jewelry to pay the rent. 

This is an unusually overt example of advertising’s ability to shape not only a message, but an entire experience… even the kind of person you are for being a customer.  ‘Love it!

What other self-worth-threatening activities could be transformed in the same manner? How about selling your car, or buying a used car? Ditto for “gently-worn” clothing. Foreclosure auction advertising?

 

The concept of fulfilling the wishes of poor children who write to Santa Claus is a century-old initiative first started by postal workers who were moved by such letters. In the 1940s, the post office began making such letters available to the public, and eventually “Operation Santa” was born.

New York was the first, but programs exist in NJ, Washington, Dallas and other cities. New York alone gets around 500,000 letters each year.

One year, my mom and I decided to participate. We made the trek to the 33rd Street Farley Post Office on the West Side, and sat on the floor reading letters. Some were goofy, with kids asking for cars and video games. Some made us cry, with children asking for a warm coat for a sibling, or shoes, or a job for a parent. You take as many letters as you can, purchase goods and then mail them to the family on your own.

This week, the program was suspended when a registered sex offender was spotted taking one of the letters. Apparently the guy meant no harm, but – when the program came back days later – it was materially changed.sad_tree.jpg

From now on, personal information on all the letters will be masked and you will have to return to the post office and give your package to a post office employee, who will then address and send your gift to the child whose letter you chose.

I predict that this will suppress participation, as some of the warmth of the process is drained away, and it’s going to put a horrendous level of stress and responsibility on the Post Office at the busiest time of year. Philadelphia mysteriously ended its program yesterday, saying its decision to halt the initiative 4 days earlier than planned had nothing to do with the breach. Unless they ran out of needy families, I doubt that.

As I said, folks, I got nothin’ on this one. No pithy observations. This is just bad bad bad at a time when the poor need more help than ever. I’m really sad about this.

Give to a foodbank, or go to a homeless shelter and offer gifts for children. Donate supplies to schools that cannot afford them. Resolve in 2009 to work with NY Cares or other organization to “adopt” a child in a school in need. Children do not deserve to suffer at this or any other time of year.

Operation Santa

My favorite selections for the week of 1-28-08 share a single theme:  interesting new ways that marketers are using personalized information to drive profitability and provide better customer service. 
 
Multi-Channel Marketer “Retargets” Attritors
Hobby-Lobby International, a multi-channel retailer of radio-controlled model airplanes, is retargeting visitors who abandon their shopping carts.  When the same visitor returns, the site shows the person ads based on her previous click activity.  Hobby-Lobby is seeing a 20% increase among returning visitors shown such ads vs. a control group.


Behavioral Targeting Beats Contextual Advertising
63% of the total online audience is more receptive to ads based on their own behavior vs. ads focused on a site’s purpose and content. In other words – as usual – it’s about them, not us.


My Shopping Cart Is Smarter Than Your Shopping Cart
The supermarket of my childhood, Shop-Rite, is on the cutting edge of behavioral-based advertising via in-store “smart carts.”  When a shopper uses his loyalty card, information on his purchases is stored and analyzed.  When this shopper returns to the store, his shopping cart will be equipped to serve up special offers on products he is most likely to be interested in based on those past purchases.  I didn’t have a “big brother” moment until I read that the carts can also target ads by location, detecting what aisle you’re in and showing you corresponding ads.  Just be aware of your location when these suckers start to talk…

Tappening Continues To Draw Attention With Its Message
Readers of this blog enjoyed an exclusive interview with the creators of the tap water movement, Tappening. 
Eric Yaverbaum and Mark Dimassimo continue to pick up steam, selling 39,000 bottles in the first 36 hours of the campaign.  Good thing they’ve restocked, because Tappening was featured for the second time this year on Good Morning America just yesterday. The first GMA segment in January featured the Tappening reusable bottle in a segment on hot trends.

Tappening is a great lesson in the power of hipness.  The power of cool – of latching onto something positive and giving consumers a device – a bracelet, a ribbon, a red iPod, a bottle – that lets the owner show everyone that she’s “with it” without her saying anything at all.   Consider how much more attention your cause or brand could get if you could think of a way to make it cool.  Which only prompts this blogger to ask:  How can we get Americans to believe that saving money is uber-chic??


Even Presidential Candidates Have Trouble On The Web
How could Presidential candidates still not get the power of the #1 tool on the Web – search? With the new shiny objects being YouTube and Facebook and blah blah, those wishing to be the leader of the free world are missing out on the #1 way to reach voters. Don’t make the same mistake with your business, your brand or yourself.  The building blocks of any sound digital marketing plan is search.


A Blog At Just The Right Time (On Wall Street)
This week, I stumbled on Hedonic Adjustment (www.hedonicadjustment.com), a blog about personal finance.  I like it:  it’s smart, but doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Check it out.


Social Networks Are Gaining, But The News Is Messy
There are several surveys out right now in which a high percentage of CMOs say their companies are going to spend money on social networks in 2008.  A much smaller percentage of those same respondents say they actually understand the subject.  Little wonder.  There are big social networks and small ones.  Ski social networks and Greg Brady social networks.  They are also “slowing down” and “gaining big.”  Simultaneously.  What is phenomenally different is that (a) these sites aggregate masses of people who may share certain interests, and (b) you should wade in only if you’re willing to have customers actually talk back to or at you.  Don’t try this alone.  But beyond these specific insights, the principles of authentic communication, a better mousetrap and compelling creative still apply.


Everything You Wanted To Know About Online Video
This is a wonderful white paper from our friends at the IAB:  the first in a series about the online video space.  14 pages sounds like a lot, but it’s a painless read and will make you sound like you know what you’re talking about.  Quick:  what’s the difference between in-banner, in-stream and in-text online video?  Like I said…


Whom Do You Trust?
Jarvis Cromwell is a great friend to Marketing Mojo  and his own blog, Reputation Garage, is a must read for those interested in the critical topic of building institutional reputation.   Readers get a real bonus by reading a post from guest blogger Paul Dunay on this very topic.   For the first time, Edelman’s annual survey on trust included 25- to 34-year-old “opinion elites” in 12 countries who appear to put more trust in business than do their older colleagues.


The Tipping Point is Fine, Even If We Can’t Prove It
This is a very interesting article about a scientist named Duncan Watts who believes that influentials – the individuals or small groups in society that market puersrsue for their power to spread ideas and trends quickly – is bunk. I’m posting this article because it smells fishy to me. The experiments ring false, and it feels very much like an academic trying to prove the unprovable and almost poking fun (why?) at all of us who believe in the “tipping point” concept. What’s his (or Fast Company’s) angle?  Human behavior – and the spark that ignites or extinguishes a new idea or product – is sometimes unpredictable magic. Marketers know this. Academics, not so much.


“Oh, Yeah?? Well Go Elf Yourself!”
And finally – just in case you were living under a Christmas tree and missed it – no marketing blog would be complete without a shout-out to the Office Max “Go Elf Yourself” viral campaign that allowed users to paste images of their own faces onto the bodies of dancing elves. 26.4 million – NEARLY ONE IN EVERY 10 AMERICANS – visited the company’s holiday site in 4 weeks. Blog mentions were ginormous. So it’s a major bummer that the company’s head of marketing and advertising said that the initiative wasn’t intended to drive sales. “We are third-place players in our industry, so we are trying to differentiate ourselves through humor and humanization.” Geez, that’s embarrassing: an attitude like that just may contribute to the company being satisfied coming in 3rd in a field of 3. And it’s a shame, really, because he’s wrong: if the Mojo was in charge, the value Office Max would derive from that email list of “friendlies” would be bigger and more long-lasting than the campaign itself. 

Retail Cooperatives Move Online
Data cooperatives that track catalog purchase behavior have been around for decades.  Catalog retailers join the cooperative, submit their own anonymous but detailed purchase data and then can use the aggregated data to make targeting decisions.  Now this concept has jumped to the web, which could be very exciting.  An online cooperative called aCerno acts as a clearinghouse for retailers to share data collected from web transactions. “The system would allow an online retailer to contribute information, such as a cookie tied to a customer who bought a lawn mower. Another co-op member could then use that data to show the person an ad for a related product, like gardening supplies, with the supplier getting a cut.”


Online Video-Sharing Site Usage is Huge

43% of female and 53% of male adult Internet users visited an online video-sharing content site in 2007, and the %s in all age ranges soared.  Check this article for interesting and detailed stats.


Top 10 Viral Videos of 2007
Here are Jack Myers’ picks.  The #1 most popular video had 20 million views on YouTube and needs no introduction.  On a personal note, I did not do so well with geography in elementary school myself, so this video makes me feel a lot better.


Taser Home Shopping Parties a “Stunning” Success
The Tupperware party idea has finally jumped the shark.  Proof positive that you can apply a high-pressure ponzi scheme to just about anything!


Match the Medium to what People Actually do with It
This is an article detailing some of Rupert Murdoch’s thinking re. the future of the Wall Street Journal and, of course, he’s a genius.  His simple point of view is that – in a multi-media, multi-channel, multi-screen world – each channel’s content should be based on the interest and needs of its users.  For example:  perhaps the long, long, long stories on the cover of the Wall Street Journal each day would be better off in the weekend edition, when readers could actually find the time to read them.  The WSJ shouldn’t be ESPN, but maybe a simply sports score chart would be useful to traveling businesspeople who might get yesterday’s scores by picking up the newspaper left outside her hotel room. 

This is the process that Time magazine must pursue if it is going to survive.  Forget about the past.  (1) Put index cards up on a bulletin board that say Website / Mobile Web / Mobile Text / Print.  (2) Decide who uses each, when and for what.  (3) Execute mercilessly.  This is the process that the Variety franchise pursued when I was at Reed Elsevier:  Variety online is best for quick visits and breaking news.  Daily Variety is great for finding out what you missed yesterday, with just enough context.  Weekly Variety offers long-form articles and a discussion of trends. 


The Trading Up Phenomenon is Recession-Proof
This is an article in The New York Times (01.20.08) that tries to tie the idea that consumers are reigning in spending at the moment to an overall “decline” of the idea that consumers who are not truly wealthy “trade up” to luxury brands when they have discretionary cash.  This blogger has discussed her interest in this concept before, and recommends Michael Silverstein’s and Neil Fiske’s book on the topic Trading Up: The New American Luxury.  Like Silverstein, who’s quoted in this article, I think the author of this article is way off track.  The whole point is that middle- to upper-middle class people trade down when they are low on funds, and up when they are flush.  “The trading up phenomenon is quite recession-proof,” Mr. Silverstein says.

I’ve been tagged by Stephanie Cockerl to participate in a b5media’s meme about 7 (G-rated) things you may not know about me.   So here it goes.

  1. I went to high school in Texas.
  2. I am still in the same apartment I moved into after business school (two words:  rent control).
  3. I am addicted to Japanese vinyl toys, a la KidRobot in Soho.
  4. I was once ordered to make a halloween costume for someone at work – and I did.
  5. I’m a little embarrassed that I’ve never been to Governors Island (it’s been open to the public since, uh, 2004… hey, I’ve been busy!).
  6. I am a huge fan of subway art.
  7. The only other language I know so far is… Latin.  So if I ever have to take the SATs again, I’m ready.

I have tagged 7 other people to participate:

Mark Potts:  Recovering Journalist

Sam Taylor;  Reputation-Dynamics

Paul Dunay:  Buzz Marketing for Technology

Saul Colt:  Smartest Man in the World!

Jarvis Cromwell:  Reputation Garage

Steve Sieck:  SKS Advisors

Joe Jaffe:  Crayon + other endeavors

According to The New York Times, a meme “is an infectious idea or any other thing that spreads by imitation from person to person… the World Wide Web is the perfect Petri dish for memes.”  It seems like a 21st century chain letter to me but (a) neither I nor any of my family was threatened with death if I didn’t ‘pass it on,’ so that’s an improvement, and (b) it seems a harmless way to connect with people and to promote websites and blogs not only inside your existing network but to a broader audience, as well. 

Perhaps memes could be worked into fresh “Refer A Friend” online customer acquisition campaigns.

Some things about Internet marketing are truly new and different… and then there are some marketing/customer principles that never change.

1. A bad product idea is bad no matter what: no one ever ordered 30 lb. bags of dog food by mail and they didn’t change their behavior once the dog food ordering process took place on the web.

2. Customers like to feel special and, if you make them feel that way, all manner of goodness is likely to befall you.

Let’s talk about #2 a bit in the old and new worlds…

The more customized and personal you can make your widget, your pitch and your customer’s experience, the more likely a consumer will be to see your widget as his. Buy it again. Tell other people about it. Become – eureka! – ‘brand-loyal.”

I frequently explain that an “old school” (like, the early 90’s) background in segmentation, CRM and direct/database marketing was perfect for marketing folk like me who later become involved in creating and promoting brands on the web, because the web is theoretically the perfect platform upon which to create and serve up a custom experience in something close to real-time. It’s all about who the viewer or visitor is, what we know about them and their behavior and then looking like geniuses by pushing content or advertising to them that’s actually relevant. You start with the customer, not the product. Isn’t that the foundation of direct marketing? Why yes it is, and the folks at Tacoda, Visible World, Spot Runner and lots of other fascinating new-world, technology-driven companies are transforming previously mass-market processes into “custom” experiences that can blow you away.

Some marketers are still mastering the basics, like creating modular pieces of content and versioned advertising for outbound email newsletters so that, say, a prospect gets a different experience than a subscriber, or a “high value” client gets more exclusive content than a newbie. That’s ok – everyone’s got to start somewhere! Last week I had the pleasure of participating in an interview for ClickZ (Segmenting and Targeted to Improve the Bottom Line – Sept 10, 2007) on this very topic, including how to get a newsletter recipient to “trade up” to more profitable services.

As a marketer, do whatever you can to make your target customer feel like you do what you do just for her – she’ll come back for more and do the rest of the work for you. Think of it this way: do you remember the last time you were at a dinner or a cocktail party and a friendly stranger took the time to speak to you, really looked at/into you, and made you feel – even if just for a moment – like the only person in the room? You would have followed that person into traffic.

Make your customer feel that way. They’ll follow you anywhere.

“Are we in heaven?”

September 11th, 2007

“Are we in heaven?” asks one of the videos’ guests. 

No, Dorothy, we’re at Neiman Marcus.” Or so the high-end department store chain would have us respond on this, the store’s 100th anniversary.
Neiman Marcus has created a 4-part online video series called “The Mystique” and it’s getting its share of criticism online. For some reason, Neiman decided to run Part 1 on the home page of Youtube.com – and paid for it with some criticism. Comments range from “Neiman Marcus= needless markup” to “This is a seriously pointless video.” Other, more positive comments were logged, as well. Why did Neiman Marcus pay $250,000 to spend one day on the home page of Youtube in the first place? A little undercooked thinking is behind the plan, with the VP of corporate communications quoted as saying “Like with anything, you hear people in meetings say, ‘Did you see the thing on YouTube?'” Except Neiman Marcus isn’t “anything” – it’s not a video of someone killing an iPhone in a blender, or your crazy Aunt Agatha falling off the roof – it’s one of the greatest specialty retailers in the country.  Truly a story of American entrepreneurship, Neiman stands for luxury, fantasy and “retail theatre” in the grandest sort of way. It’s not for everyone – what luxury brand is? – but then again that’s why it doesn’t belong on YouTube.

And speaking of luxury, the videos are beautiful. All four are lovingly shot, produced and inspired in their thinking. I do have a beef with the editing, in that each of the four is a bit of a story hodge-podge, jumping between ideas such as design, store display, the history of the chain, the importance of designer relationships, etc.  Neiman would have been been better off reserving each of the four for one theme, and then naming each segment accordingly, so that each story had its own thread and viewers could tell what they were about to see (i.e., name the first installment “The Story” instead of Part 1, the second installment “What is Luxury” instead of Part 2, etc.). But they were fun to watch all the same. Lastly, I’m curious as to where NM is, in fact, running the series in order to reach its key constituencies, whom I see as shoppers and would-be well-to-do visitors, designers, vendors and partners (outside of employees, whom I hope can find them easily on the NM intranet). This intrepid blogger could not easily find them off the NM homepage, nor by Googling “Neiman Marcus, “Neiman Marcus video” or “Neiman Marcus 100 anniversary video.” I wandered luxury sites and blogs – no dice.

Let’s hope that Neiman is using its own customer list, at minimum, to make sure its most valuable friends and family see and enjoy this work. And how do you get a viewer to watch 4 separate vignettes? Give them something for doing what you ask. Neiman Marcus has long had one of the most successful frequent shopper rewards programs around, InCircle. If I were running the ship, I’d give each viewer at least 100 InCircle points (reward levels don’t even start until one has 5,000 points!) for giving me their email address and for watching each of the four videos. The viewer is inspired and rewarded, and I get them back into the store, feeling the magic.

Using new Internet capabilities – blogging, podcoasting, online videos –not to be part of the media pile-on (“yay, we’re on Youtube!”) but to draw your supporters even closer, make them even more loyal? Magic, indeed.