8 Marketing Lessons from RIM’s Slow Death

blackberry

It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago, Research In Motion (RIM) was the smartphone leader. Now the joke is that there is nothing smart about a BlackBerry.

It’s also hard to believe that so-called “crackberry users” are now giving up their beloved phones for an Android or an iPhone device.

What happened?

A lot, in fact, has happened that allowed RIM to lose its grip on its market. You can learn a few marketing lessons from RIM’s failure that you can apply to your business to keep you and your business growing.

Here are 8:

Lesson #1: Control the conversation with social media

In the social media world, RIM has taken a beating in the last several years from its critics…mostly because RIM sat back and did nothing.

They’ve never used social media to their advantage.

For example, when the new RIM CEO announced his first earnings report…one in which the company said they lost money for the first time in seven years…you think they would’ve created some kind of a social media campaign to fight back against all the negative attention.

But they didn’t.

The sentiment on Twitter for RIM during that announcement was 59 percent negative and 41 percent positive.

rim analysis

The conversation dominating Twitter looked like this:

‘Sorry! We’re closing this page because it is too large to load.’ —the tiresome, #memory #bullshit refrain from #BlackBerry #RIM #sorry

It’s not like the company doesn’t have a faithful fan base. It has almost 11,000,000 likes on its Facebook page as of writing this post…

rim facebook

…a community the company could’ve easily tapped and asked to rally to help fight back against all the negative sentiment.

Unfortunately, they’ve never fostered a community with those Facebook fans. They used them more like a focus group to bounce ideas off, so the fans weren’t primed to help out in this situation and become brand advocates.

Marketing Lesson: Your social media strategy should involve at least two things. One, create real connections with your customers. And two, use those customers as a loyal base of advocates who can help you engage critics and get greater control over the brand conversation.

Lesson #2: Build a cult…not a company

Apple probably has the most loyal fan base of all companies in the world. It’s the most recognized brand. And that’s because people who buy Apple products don’t do it because they need these products…they buy Apple products because it says something about them.

Compare RIM to Apple, and you see a company who builds a device that is more popular than the company. Search Blackberry and RIM on Google Insights, and you will see way more volume for the product than the company.

Here’s a search for Blackberry and RIM…

rim trends

The blue line is for RIM mentions. The lesson here…the product is way more popular than the company. Do the same thing for Apple and iPhone, and this is what you see…

apple trends

While the iPhone outpaces Apple, you’ll notice that spikes in mentions always coincide…which means people recognize the product and the company…and people talk as much about the company as they do about the product.

Marketing Lesson: Build an emotional, almost cult-like connection with your customers by creating experiences and products that enhance those experiences. As I’ve said before, Apple started with the why…and made the why they exist way more important than what they do.

Lesson #3. Create a culture that values user experience

You’ll never be able to build that cult-like connection with consumers if your own people who work for you don’t value input from end users.

RIM failed because they had technical wizards at the helm who never valued the end-users’ input. It was an engineer-driven culture…which worked as long as there wasn’t any competition.

Consumers had to accept what was handed down to them. The BlackBerry Storm, launched in 2008, showed that RIM didn’t understand its consumer.

Then came along Apple and Google who built companies that focused on the end user…and who truly knew their customers by giving them iPhone and Android devices…and ate up RIM’s market share.

Granted, some people still prefer the thumb-click wheel and tactile keyboards over the touchscreen, but that market is small.

Marketing Lesson: If your company doesn’t have a culture that puts emphasis on the end user, start a campaign to change that right now. And if your company already has a focus on the consumer…keep it that way!

Lesson #4: Don’t be afraid to listen to employee ideas

The researchers, engineers and marketers who worked at RIM understood that their technology needed to change. RIM management, for whatever reason, refused to listen to them and innovate.

Sure, they rolled out iterations, but it was nothing that ever drew in new customers. They were making money and didn’t want to mess with the formula. In fact, they looked down at the iPhone as a toy that enterprise customers would never take seriously.

Because they never thought of a better way to navigate than with a thumb-click wheel, they were hemorrhaging cash.

Marketing Lesson: Never confuse iteration with innovation. Innovation is when you create something that may even destroy your favorite product…but could be another true winner. Create a skunk works in your company…and create a culture where people are not afraid to challenge the status quo.

Lesson #5: Make passion for the product a relentless mission

Being the first mover in a market allows you to dominate it for a very long time. But it can also lull you into sleep and have people in your company…from the management down…get really complacent.

There was nothing bold or brash about the BlackBerry…it was never sold aggressively, and it never tried to penetrate new markets or drive deeper into current ones. It was satisfied with the status quo…and people started to lose passion for the product, allowing competition to gain market share.

Marketing Lesson: If you have a product that is revolutionary, you need to figure quickly out how to support the demand…and aggressively chase new opportunities like DropBox did. Always innovate to meet what your customers want. Chase new markets. Keep that passion.

Lesson #6: Maintain your first-mover advantage

RIM’s main problem was that they thought they had made it and beaten their competition. In 2007, they were on top of the world

rim growth

They figured that they had so much market share that nobody could beat them. But sales have been dropping ever since as has their market share…

rim share

What happened?!

They stopped innovating and rolled out boring iterations. They lost their edge and stopped listening to their customers because they thought they had it locked in.

The same thing happened to Kodak and HP. They thought their hold on the market share would give them time to respond. But we’ve seen that markets can change in less than a year. Just look at what happened when Apple and Google came along to eat their lunches.

Marketing Lesson: Never stop researching your competitors and paying attention to even the smallest of players…because they may hold the key to future earnings for you.

Lesson #7: Replace complacent management

RIM’s problem was that their management refused to make any necessary changes. They were constantly bullish about RIM’s position, confident that the money would pour in until the end of time.

They refused to consider Apple or Google as competition to worry about because they felt that as first-movers they had locked in the market. Sadly, they never came up with another great idea since launching the BlackBerry.

It was long overdue for a new team of management to be introduced.

Marketing Lesson: Get people into leadership positions that can bring a refreshing perspective to your company and products. Surround yourself with creative thinkers. Never let the complacency of management hold back the company because it will lead to failure.

Lesson #8: ALWAYS Create more than one product

Like I mentioned above, the BlackBerry is more famous than the company. That fame was spread due to so-called “crackberry,” and it seemed that BlackBerry was invincible and would dominate for a long time.

But you can’t survive as a company if you only have one product. It is never enough. The BlackBerry Mobile Fusion was a good step in the right direction for the company…but it may be too late.

Only time will tell.

Marketing Lesson: Surround yourself with people who will continually push for new ideas. Think of Google’s Labs and all of the products that rolled out of there. Its people were passionate about creating a better product for end users. Not all the products were a success, but some really major ones, like Gmail, have changed the game. Multiple products allows you to consume from different markets and instead of relying on just one.

Conclusion

Any company can fail to engage customers in the social web and build products that engineers love but consumers hate, and any company can get complacent and ignore the value of its employees’ innovation potential.

What’s happening to RIM can happen to Google, Apple or DropBox. It can happen to you. That’s why the real marketing lesson in RIM’s slow death is to always be on your toes. Like Intel’s former CEO Andy Grove once said, “Only the paranoid survive.”

What other marketing lessons can you learn from RIM’s failures?

PS: I am currently a BlackBerry user and have been for over 5 years.

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Comments

  1. The Blackberry had an incredible cult for over a decade. The highest concentration of it began in DC where everyone who “mattered” had a Blackberry so they could communicate from anywhere. Ask a Blackberry fan to describe the keyboard. It’s distinctive tactile feedback is one of the thing former users say they miss the most. RIM lost their cult, but they sure as heck had one and it was huge.

  2. I think this article reflects the same exact answers RIM would get if they did an internal “What do you think we are doing wrong” survey at their headquarters.

    Great Analysis

    Thanks Neil.

  3. Great post Neil. I really like the “Marketing Lesson” below each lesson.
    I’ve saved those and will remember to re-read once in a while to plant in my head :)

  4. Its definitely sad to see Blackberry falling out of the market (same with Palm).

    It just shows that technology market has become so competitive that unless companies innovate every year, they’re out of the market.

  5. “Build a cult not a company” thanks Neil…good lesson

  6. A lot of great points here. RIM had an epic fail when it came to online marketing strategies like social media, when they could have used them to their advantage.

    The former CEO had some rough interviews as well, which reflected poorly on the company and could have easily been spun around.

    That said, they still have a lot of traction considering their high level of security and although it seems like they may only have one product, I can guarantee there are military grade products that are kept under wraps that never see the light of day in the common marketplace.

    They are severely beaten right now, but I wouldn’t count them out yet!

  7. Thanks for the analysis of the rise and fall of RIM, from a social business perspective. You hammer on the fact that products don’t sell themselves, and you can leverage engineering prowess and first-mover advantage for so long. The disrupters are not immune from disruption.

  8. Hey Neil,

    Its always good when you share about successes, but when you share about failures it definitely is very useful. It is good to know these things even before one’s company is a success.

    I think this article can be an explanation of the saying, “Pride comes before a fall”.

    Thanks for sharing this.

    David

    • Many helpful lessons can come from others failures. I myself like to share what has not worked for me, in order to help other not make similar mistakes. That is a great quote, I might have to steal it sometime. ;)

  9. Really great thoughts Neil.

    RIM’s lack of innovation and focus on user experience was clear in the launch of the PlayBook. The tablet offered hardly any additional value over an ipad and was launched at a very similar price point. As I remember, the two main selling points were its ability to multi-task and play flash video, two points that I don’t think the average user would even understand, let alone care about. Only a few months later they had to significantly drop the price to move units.

  10. Creating more unique products and having a love for customers that will fight in order to get the products will set them apart from the rest. And now they are sucking their pride. But all is not lost, they still have customers but not as raving as it is. We can ask Pres. Obama if he still using Blackberry.

  11. IMHO, RIM can still bounce back because they once had a cult and with right marketing put in place, people will still value them.

    Its a matter of retracing their step and getting to know where they have gone wrong.

    Sheyi

  12. Thank you so much for a very thoughtful article (I had stock in RIM). I think I realized quite some time ago how much I needed social media, as I had been reading Seth and you, but was distracted by so much “noise” on social media & everyone has their take on how to succeed. Bombarded constantly.

    I, too concentrate on building product lovers, customer service is our forte and helping people to better health is so rewarding in personal gratification as well as monetization. Keep writing Neil, I’m listening.

    • Thank you Kay,

      There are definitely many opinions and ways to go about social media. It is best to listen to others success, as well as failures and then try different things to see what works best for you.

  13. Do not underestimate a company that goes by a name such as Research In Motion. True, they seem to have tilted more towards the “black” than the “berry” by an apparent fan base and social media “black”-out; all they need to do now is begin to shift their research towards a more sweeter and dynamic customer experience. As for the BB phone, no matter what happens, it will command some respectable niche.

    Sent from my BlackBerry smartphone from Vodafone.

    • Thank you for your thoughts Robert. There is know doubt BlackBerry will always be a name recognized. Hopefully they find a way to shift to better satisfy their customers like you said.

  14. I’m a case in point for #2 – I had NO idea the company behind the BlackBerry was called RIM!

  15. Love your breakdown of all the ways RIM is shooting themselves in the leg.

    Your conclusion is a lesson any marketer needs to keep at the forefront of their mind and I would beg to differ with what Andy Grove said in the form of another quote . . .

    “You aren’t paranoid if they’re out to get you.”
    William Burroughs

  16. Really good reflexion on the blackberry brand! I personally never understood its attraction. I don’t think the company was successful on communicating the benefits of the product and creating a whole cult around it. iPhone is another story. It took me only a few seconds after seeing it, to feel like i wanted to have one.

  17. I disagree with the view that a product mustn’t be more popular than the company. It lies in being able to sustain the popularity and being dynamic enough to remain at the top of people’s expectations. Many examples abound where top drawer products eclipse the company that produces them.

    Your other points were right on track as usual

    • Yeah, I’m with you on this one. Great post but the product whether the product or company is popular doesn’t matter much. I mean, when you use Google Trends and search for Unilever vs. Dove – Dove comes up. Dove is considered Unilever’s product, same with Axe. From there, we also have to keep in mind that an Apple is simply a much more popular fruit than a Blackberry.

    • A product could be dynamic enough, that it could dominate over the company itself. In the long run though it would be more beneficial for the company name to be remember than the individual product.

  18. Good article. But more importantly RIM dropped the ball when selling to distribuitors that couldnt handle their marketing well in latinamerica. Example, cell phone companies would sell you the IPhone at half of what a Blackberry costs here. Blackberry tablet only saw it on youtube never sold here. In the end they set up processes to help them as a company, never satisfy customers or provide an added value.I loved it.Good article!

    • Thank you Oscar,

      That is definitely a problem, you have to be careful not to over price your product especially when your competitors have the upper hand on you.

  19. G’Day Neil,
    Thanks for this post. After over 30 years in business the one thing I’ve learnt is that marketing isn’t everything but everything is marketing. And my special field is improving staff performance without training programs!

    Last year, I noticed that “Positioning” by Al Ries and Jack Trout was voted “Best Marketing Book Ever” by the readers of “Advertising Age.” It was first published in 1981!

    I recently published an article called “Best Staff Performance: Why It’s Impossible Without Great Marketing.” I always find it interesting that when Borders, Kodak, RIM and all the rest of them disappear, the gurus rarely consider marketing as a major contributor to the business failure.

    I’ll send a copy of the article to you separately.

    Thanks again for the post.

    Regards
    Leon

  20. I would not disagree with this analysis but would like to draw everybody’s attention to other aspects.
    1. Apple had similar issues: Antennagate, overheating, stock issues, the first iPhone’s security and management issues, etc. Did Apple react the way it is proposed here? I believe not. Did it matter? Nope.
    2. Shitty product is still a shitty product. There is no marketing know-how that could replace a shitty product on the long run.
    3. As I have posted before several times before, RIM is not aware of their key “subjective” components such as the most secure phone in the world and the “instant” feeling of it. For long time they were THE instant thing in telco. Now everybody seems to be instant (“push” messages, gmail with “push”, etc.). RIM did not focus enough on the international turmoil challenging their security (India, Arabic countries).
    And the way they are dropping the best keypad in the world from their marketing is again a nice topic for a case study.

    They simply lost focus on their key markets and opened to markets which they could not serve with quality products. (like everybody would love to have a Caterpillar truck, because it is big and looks awesome but still you cannot not make a turn in Manhattan) They were simply over 100% relative market share. And jeez change that BB service pricing. It is really helping you to lose customers. Or do the math and be a software company and not a phone maker. OR better: make two companies: one phone and one BB service company.
    Perception is reality, that they should be aware of.
    Everybody is now instant and no one believes they are secure or trendy or beautiful. So why buy it? (and I love what BB had to offer) And I see no change in strategy although we need somebody to challenge Apple.

  21. Another factor I see as a problem with RIM is to keep your eye on the ball. Jam Balsillie seemed to have gotten wrapped up in sport team acquisitions and a very public fight with the NHL. That public fight went on for waht seemed like forever. I wonder how much attention was paid to the RIM cash cow during that time. There has to be a lot of people (me included) that wonder if RIM will be around in the future and why I should buy their product today.

    I recently messages back and forth with another digital giant CEO and asked about future planning given the competition. The response was I don’t think we’ll have to worry about ___ company. My response was that RIM said the same thing about Apple.

    • Very good point Jan,

      It all comes down to what your priorities are. If your business is your mane priority then make sure you do not give into distractions. You can to keep focused or it may all fall apart.

      RIM certainly underestimated Appple, a mistake many companies can make. Never underestimate your competitors no matter how small.

  22. Pratik Umrania :

    Truly a very well written article. I am from India, I dont really see a downturn of blackberry phones here. One of my friend sold his i-phone, to buy a blackberry when he migrated to mumbai because, all his friend group over there were using bbm.

  23. The fourth lesson is wonderful because any of the organization or company must have to just listen the idea of the employee because sometimes little innovative idea can make possible to bring beneficial change in the way of success.

  24. I know it’s a small thing, but how many people refer to the company name as RIM and how many refer to it as Blackberry. What does RIM create? Blackberry right? Now if RIM created more than one product as Apple does, as Microsoft does, then I could understand using RIM as the name.

    Who knows, maybe at one point RIM considered creating more than one product. You even have the Blackberry Playbook. NOT the RIM Playbook. The name Blackberry is ubiquitous throughout the industry. Having a company w/two monikers can’t help in the short term or the long term.

    I’ll say it again:
    How many people say RIM and how many people say Blackberry?

    Chris

  25. Neil,

    I sort of disagree with some of this and agree with some of this.

    I just want to say that a company can stop the “slow death” and speed up a recovery with one thing: innovation!

    Remember Apple slowly dying before Jobs came to the rescue? Now they are the #1 company in USA in terms of market cap – kind of incredible.

    All RIM needs is a leader focused on product innovation, the rest will take care of itself… My opinion :-)

    – Kevin H.

  26. I think RIM needs to hire you Neil. Also, I’m totallly shocked you use a blackberry.. Shocked!

    My first smartphone was the BB Pearl, and I was confused when I couldn’t send to get a picture message. So lame, and I switched quick!

    • I use my phone for calls and emails mainly, so for me the BlackBerry has worked best. I may need to switch to a different phone though, lately I have been needing more than BlackBerry may be able to offer.

  27. Blackberry also failed as it was not open to tie up. Nokia lost market share but was quick to respond with the Windows Phone 7.5 OS.

  28. Interesting Post! The fall of RIM is actually unbelievable. It’s amazing that only a few years ago Blackberrys were superior to iPhones.

    • That is how it is for today’s technology, one day you are in the other you are out. You have to constantly keep innovating and changing if you want to continue to stay in business.

  29. Could you imagine what the market would look like these days if RIM stopped all internal software development for mobile devices and simply switched to Android when it first came out all those years ago? They would have instantly gone from creating the “old man’s phone” to creating a hip phone that everyone wanted. The fact is companies who ignore perfectly good 3rd party technologies are the ones who fail. Always. Even Apple and Google utilize 3rd party technology in their most successful products (or nowadays they just buy out the 3rd party, but that’s another story).

    I truly believe RIM was afraid to make such a drastic move for one big reason: alienating their existing market. However, they were too stupid to realize by following the status quo (see above) they were already alienating their users. It’s becoming increasingly rare these days to see a business person carry a blackberry – most of them use iPhones or Androids.

    Why? Because that’s the world we live in nowadays – and it will be that way until some other company comes along with the next hot mobile device.

    • Yep, sometime you don’t realize the opportunity missed until it is to late. Most people are afraid of change so it is natural to understand why RIM held back. A great lesson to learn is to take risk and not be afraid to make a mistake because if you don’t make changes you won’t make progress.

  30. Wonderful analysis Neil,

    really great job. keep posting such a wonderful information.

  31. Nobody would have thought that RIM will get down to this place where they are now. Got to learn from their mistakes. Thanks Neil for this informative post.

  32. They’re not the only phone maker to fall from grace – Nokia failed to see how important smartphones would become and have fallen from grace. They’re trying to catch up by partnering with Microsoft and releasing Windows phones, but I think that Windows will have a job catching up with iOS and Android.

  33. I remember buying my blackberry curve three years back and to this day its wi-fi connection is the slowest I’ve ever seen. Their apps are difficult to install. The only thing it does well is texting and being able to turn on very quickly. I really wanted to love my phone, I really did.

    • I mostly use it for email and calls so for me it has worked. However most people today want apps and stream videos so they need a phone that has the technology to support it.

  34. so it’s not just marketing and promotion, it’s the quality of the product that counts a lot.

  35. Neil, great article, I feel like you analyzed RIM fall perfectly and its clear to see that even the giants of a industry can fall off if they don’t stay entrepreneurial and hungry.

    Tomas

  36. I have been a BB user for 2 years now and it’s time to get a new phone . I dont want to buy a BB but for some odd reason I cannot user a touchscreen device like an iphone to type out long emails.

  37. I find it shameful, I used to have a blackberry Storm, and I absolute loved it, it just isn’t a match against an iPhone or more popular Android who just have that much more to offer.

  38. Its funny how only 2 years or so ago, everyone was using a blackberry as they were on the best back then when it came to smartphones.

  39. R.I.P blackberry, you were lots of fun while you lasted.

  40. Change is one thing which will not change.
    Companies which are ready to change can make favorable changes for them in the market.
    No one can take things for granted.
    Innovation and Support is the key to success.
    Let the companies understand that.

  41. You are really wright …Time of Blackberry ended…It made big “bum” on the market.But would You believe me that today is my
    very first time hearing name of factory making Blackberry

  42. The company is so poorly managed. I remember when the Pittsburgh Penguins were going through financial problems, the CEO of Blackberry was at the games entertaining the idea of buying the team. This was when major competitors of Blackberry was taking market share, but he was shopping for a hockey team.

    I loved my BB Bold except for the screen size and browser speed. BB is for business users who text, call and email. There is no other phone out there that can do these tasks as fast as BB. If BB just makes there phone faster while keeping it simple and improve their browser, they will maintain a huge market in the business world.

  43. In regards to #8, RIM does have more than one product, they have two big ones: the Blackberry, and Blackberry Messenger.

    In this regard though, I think what hurts them is that they have several iterations of the same product, the Blackberry, where if they had just one, they’d probably do much better.

  44. I remember last year, I think it was around the fall when bbm was down for a couple of day and people were going nuts lol (I’m not sure if the problem was worldwide but we had that problem here in Canada at). I thought people’s reactions were abit extreme since they still had text messenging at their disposal. But anyways I noticed that ever since that incident many people I know switched to iphone in the following months. I’m not sure how relevent this is but I also noticed most of them were female aswell

  45. Great article Neil.
    Looking forward for more from you :)

  46. Being of the “older” generation I don’t use Facebook or Twitter in my personal life – it’s not our thing, so consequently I tend to ignore them in business too, until I realised that there was huge potential for getting my business name all over them. I now employ a teenage wonder to do all the social marketing for me and …………. wow. What a huge surge in traffic and sales.

  47. Good Points, Blackberries lost their coolness factor, got behind in technology and underestimated their competition.

    There’s little that RIM could have done as they were stuck in their own OS and keyboards, people moved on to big touch screens and apps. Same thing will happen to Apple one day, the cult is already getting weaker…..

    Once you are at the top, only place to go is down, only a matter of time.

  48. I am still carrying the stupid phone that I can’t wait to get rid of. So many problems and they just can’t keep up. I use to be a huge BB fan, but could never understand why they never changed their look and feel of their phone to either compete or at least try to make a better product.

    A few years ago I attended a Focus Group for them and that was the biggest argument and why they won’t make a product that compared to Apple. Needless to say, they didn’t like it and its engineers in the session asked us to stay on target with the conversation. Everyone complained about the look and how stale it’s functions were.

    Who wants to stare at a tiny screen anymore and who is still making apps for them anyway? That’s a losing battle if you ask me. They were a true giant back in the day, but now more like a distant memory of who they once were.

  49. Amazing information! I like marketing lesson very much and thanks for sharing with us.

  50. IMHO, more then anything else the product needs to be reliable and the manufacturer needs to stand behind it 100% if the customer says “something is wrong with this”. I am a proud Canuck and really wanted the BB Storm I used to have to be my own ANTI Iphone from Canada. What a failure and utter disappointment it was. Over priced for sure, but it ATE batteries like crazy. When I payed my LAME BELL world to send it in to RIM for service. The answer was, “you must have dropped it in water, now give us 80 bucks sucka.”
    I replied. “Adios Storm, meet my Android speaking Atrix.

  51. I had a Blackberry for about 2 years and Loved it at first, my wife still uses hers, but it really can’t compete with the Android and Iphone sales. RIP RIM

  52. For as long back as I can remember, I have always favoured using a Blackberry as opposed to an iPhone or an Android phone so it makes me very sad to see the downturn in their popularity.

  53. I’m a Blackberry owner also, but I must admit that I’m waiting the right smartphone to switch to Android.

    Rim was a leader as Nokia and both falls under their strong market share

  54. hey neil,
    it was nice to read it. really liked lesson#5 and lesson#6. really liked all the information in it. nice and excellent post.

    Thanks.

    Matt

  55. hey Neil

    great article. I think lesson 3 is most important. focus on the end user. Then create a culture of innovation for all employees to be involved in research and development.

    Next RIM should segment end users as wel as RIM intermediaries based on their needs and prioiritise those segments based on attractiveness.

    As a blackberry user ive been frustrated by the lack of basic functionality given to a business. I cannot open a pdf, I have to download a word processing package, web surfing is slow, emails cannot render full text on html etc etc. Apple and Android do these business user basics effectively. Blackberry was left behind. If RIM engaged in ethnographic studies (field observation) they would have discovered hidden user needs and really gone to town to maintain first user advantage and fight back Apple and Google. Its nuts how the management let themselves slip so far behind.

  56. All of those lessons was definitely right. I would like to try it. :)

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