Category Archives: Social Networking Marketing

While Content May Be King, Conversation is Queen of Market Awareness

king_and_queen_marketing_awareness2Numerous articles have been written on the importance of what we marketers refer to as “content” in order to drive market awareness, lead generation and other sales support activities. Simply stated, you need something to say to gain the attention of your prospects and customers. Google, Bing and the other search engines reinforce this concept – you simply can’t achieve good search engine placements without quality, relevant content that is frequently updated on a regular basis.

As has been mentioned in this blog and other publications, a blog is a great place to showcase your content. Blogs offer a great “home” for you to build a collection of articles and stories that share a common theme, which in aggregate support your brand and help future customers to find your business. Any business plan writer you meet with should have a strong understanding of this topic too – if not, it might be time to find another writer!

Is Good Content Enough?

Here is where you have to ask yourself “what’s next?” Now that you have invested the time and resources to write a collection of articles, how do you now build relationships with your readers, current customers and potential clients? The reward for getting engaged in these conversations is substantial, and includes:

  • Enhanced likelihood these people will read and follow future announcements
  • Improved response rates to future offers
  • Increased chance of that person will ultimately become a customer

Learning by Example

One area where marketers can learn how to drive increased conversations is from the world of e-commerce. Some of the online retailers are quite good at creating a series of interactions that create a group of engaged prospects that likely will become future customers. For example, we all know that if we order a product from a website, we will get an email soon thereafter confirming our order. This is a good thing – we like to have a record of what we just bought. Further, if we receive an email the next day indicating our product has shipped, this is also a nice message to receive – my order is on its way. Then, sometimes you even get an email indicating that the order has shipped, with complete tracking information. Follow up emails might even include customer satisfaction surveys, another great opportunity to suggest or induce conversation.

The conversation, however, doesn’t stop once the order has been shipped and received. Instead, it is highly likely we will get a follow up email from these retailers in a few weeks or months from now, suggesting a similar product for us to order. For some of us, this is an annoyance, and we will opt out. But, for others, this is seen as a nice thing, as a way to make future orders easier to manage and accommodate.

Here is where public relations and social media professionals might take note. What can we learn from the retail establishment as a way to increase our conversation “quotient”? One challenge is we don’t have the same access to contact information that e-tailers do, such as an email address. And, with privacy laws and concerns, it is unlikely this will change. One approach is to add a call to action or value proposition that can then facilitate better access to this data. A newsletter sign up, for example, might be an angle that promises notification of new stories of interest, or of when a new blog post goes live.

If you can accomplish the right mix of content and conversation, then you are worthy of “royal” lineage. You will then have addressed both the king and queen of marketing awareness, through a marketing-based approach to public relations and brand awareness!

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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Leveraging a Blog in Public Relations

blog_lynchpin_public_relationsIt is no secret that social media has a bigger role in the world of marketing communications and public relations. This transformation occurred due to a couple of trends. Notably, the emergence of a “Web 2.0” world where feedback can be provided (and is expected) directly to an author. There is now an expectation that feedback can be provided easily and immediately. Secondly, in today’s digital world, it is increasingly popular and economically feasible to begin targeting ever-shrinking audiences on a wider scope of topics. The economics of yesterday’s printed media world no longer applies. This has had a profound impact on public relations.

Let me explain.

Magazines and other printed publications are really just businesses that must make money to survive. The traditional business model was to drive a large audience, representing a group of potential customers that advertisers were interested in speaking to – becoming a source of revenue for these publications. The path to growth for this business plan was simple – expand your audience. As a result, the natural evolution was a world dominated by a few, large publications with big audiences.

Then along came the explosion of the Internet and Web 2.0.

Now online “communications hubs” sprang up in all areas, on just about any topic. The online “story telling” world became highly fragmented and dispersed. Getting a story out now requires a bit more work … more publications must be sought and more placements must be achieved in order to reach the same sized audience.

At the same time, the cost structure of media publications changed. Gone is the expense of publishing a magazine on expensive paper with capital intensive printing presses. And, no need to pay for delivery or distribution costs … the digital distribution model is basically free. In this new world costs have dropped significantly. So, it can still be profitable for smaller audience publications to survive with a smaller advertiser, provided they can find one. If a value proposition can be derived that makes sense to both parties, then a business model can still exist. The digitization of our newspapers, magazines and other publications made this evolution necessary and, I would propose, also possible.

The Blog as a Lynchpin of your Social Media Strategy

Given this communications transformation, it has now become critical to have a blog as part of your public relations program. A blog provides you with a platform to support Web 2.0 activities – the ability for your audience to directly converse with you – while at the same time offers a highly focused venue for you to speak on niche or highly focused topics. Given the leveling of the media “playing field” and the need to reach out to a higher number of media venues, each with smaller audiences, it can be a real benefit if you have your own platform to manage these communications. With control, you have direct insight as to what topics are more popular, and what pain points are most “top-of-mind” for your audience, which can then be an excellent source for new articles to pitch to other publications.

From a company’s perspective, today’s digital communications world offers a unique opportunity to build an online presence through a self-managed media platform. Of course, transparency is needed, however, wouldn’t you rather find out immediately if a customer or prospect was upset, had questions or was experiencing some other issue that could be addressed? This type of interaction is much better dealt with through a forum that is actively visible to and managed by a company.

Certainly it is an investment to create and build a blog, especially if you are just starting out. But, this investment will pay off once you begin earning a share of voice in your marketplace. After all, a blog is really the only social media venue where any content can be realistically added. It is pretty tough to explain a company’s philosophy or value statement in 140 characters or less. And, even if you could, how long will that message be visible? Blog posts, on the other hand, last for years, provided each post has its own dedicated page that is searchable on the Internet. Over time, you can gain a considerable collection of published articles that are all in support of your value proposition and reason d’être.

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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Giving (and Gaining) Value from a Social Network

The_value_of_a_social_networkRecently I wrote about the concept of identifying “personas” or profiles of your prospective customers, as part of your social media marketing program. Once you have completed this task, considerable value can be obtained by leveraging social media to identify where these Personas “live” or spend their free time. The ultimate goal is to build a relationship from a foundation of trust to gain valuable insights as to how your product or service offers the greatest value to the right audience. Further, if done correctly, this exercise can yield insights as to what future direction you should be taking your product roadmap, or what future markets might be most lucrative to pursue.

The first step is to identify a couple of personas and then figure out what social networks these individuals frequent. Here is where a little market research is needed, as well as a few Google searches. Think like your prospect who wants to learn more about how to buy, use or retire your product – given the wealth of information now readily available on the Internet, this shouldn’t take too much time. Once identified, your next step is alignment – becoming a trusted advisor, an educator or a visionary that offers insights to this group of people that they will value and listen to.

One example of how to accomplish this goal is to reach out to community organizers or owners to see if there is some future event you can sponsor or host. You could even reach out to the community to introduce yourself as a brand ambassador, with the intent of learning how to better improve your product. You could volunteer to offer free trials for new products, or paid focus group opportunities. Public relations can play a role here.

This strategy can help draw out early adopters and others that have a passion for your service or product, which in the end, is the perfect person for you to speak with and draw feedback from. If you gather market intelligence deemed worthwhile and execute upon it, this person will likely become a future advocate.

It is as simple and as complicated as that. I say “simple,” in that if you do these steps and your future product vision is in alignment with the feedback, you have a “win-win.” Things get a bit more complicated if a gap exists between your product direction and the feedback you obtain. At that point, you have to ask yourself, what is the right direction? Either you are going down the wrong path or you are speaking with the wrong prospective customer. After all, if you aren’t designing your products and services for end users to gain value, what is the point?

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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In Pursuit of a Social Media Persona

social-media-marketingIn a prior post I made a few observations on the incredible proliferation of social media, and what a great thing this social transformation has been for marketers. Never before has it been so easy to reach out to a group of prospective customers (or clients, which are different according to Mr. Godin’s recent post) that all share a common attribute, interest or buying behavior. This exercise is a given for anyone writing a business plan or hiring a business plan writer today.

The next question is “what do I do next?” How do I take advantage of this built in community?

The first step is to identify a couple of top profiles or “personas” you are most interested in getting to know. Your objective is to identify what type of person is most likely to gain the greatest value from your product or service, and hence could become a future brand advocate. Ideally, this person will become so passionate about your offering that they become an influential reference to secure new business not only for themselves, but for others in their community – your target audience.

It might be helpful to consider where some of your best customers or clients came from in the past. Were these people that bought your service or product for themselves, or were they buying on behalf of someone else or the company they worked for? Was there a life event that triggered the purchase? Or, was their purchase tied to an entertainment choice? In all likelihood, you will identify several of these personas that make up 80 percent of your buyers, based on the 80/20 rule.

Once you have identified the first profile, the next step is to figure out where this persona “hangs out” in social networks. If they don’t, then social media may not be of much value for you. Assuming they do, your next task to join that community. Here is where a line must be drawn – don’t try to fool others that you are a potential buyer – full disclosure is necessary to build trust into your relationship. Deception might get you one sale, but it won’t build you a following.

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Why So Many Social Media Groups?

social_media_choicesI remember back at the start of the 2000’s learning about Twitter and what it could do for marketing. I attended a marketing association meeting at the University of California, Irvine. Over 100 different individuals were in attendance, with each claiming that Twitter was going to change the world. I rushed home to sign up and secure my name (@gbenzie) before it was too late.

Flash forward 10 years, and Twitter has continued to grow and be relevant, even without a solid revenue model. Meanwhile, it seems like another 100 or so social media groups have formed on just about every topic you can possibly imagine. How do all of these sites remain viable and in existence? Who can read all of them?

The answer is “no one.” But, that isn’t such a bad thing.

My thinking on this topic is that social media has become a convenient platform to share a passion. If you have an interest and like to talk about it, then you will really like talking about it to many others. This helps folks to be involved, stay current and aware of changes as they occur. No one can be a member of all groups, and that is fine. Just pick the ones that are relevant to you, and then go after these groups with a passion and pursuit that will be noticed by your peers, prospects and customers. Quality trumps quantity in social media, but you still need both to be successful.

With the incredible efficiency that is now possible by creating a social media group, websites or blog, the cost of joining a new group, adding a new member or maintaining a group has plummeted. In essence, the bar to enter has been virtually eliminated, which has in turn opened the door for groups to form on just about any topic, with many new ones being formed every day.

The Need to Focus

Marketing communications professionals and public relations practitioners must make a decision on how social media should be applied to their marketing or activates mix. Part of this decision involves choosing what social media groups to pursue.

With only a limited number of hours in the day, how much time should be devoted to social media marketing, outreach and interactions? The answer depends on several factors, including where your audience is located and how active they are in these types of sites. Further, it is also dependent upon your own knowledge of social media and how much you are engaged in talking about and sharing the issues facing your target market. Let’s be honest … if you don’t have any interest in the issues facing your prospects and customers, then you might be doing more of a dis-service to try and “pretend” to be engaged. Curating a marketing or public relations program through social media can’t be “faked” very well.

In the end, I would argue that the incredible proliferation of social media sites is one of the best things for marketers that has come out of the Internet transformation. Now there is a way to reasonably and cost effectively reach your target audience in a non-threatening, advisor type of role – provided you are willing to make the investment of time and effort to get to know this audience and the challenges they face.

It is for this reason that Social Media is a pretty important factor that should be a part of every marketer’s arsenal of tools and resources. Likewise, it should be no surprise the popularity Twitter now shares with reporters, writers and public relations professionals … even if they haven’t quite mastered the revenue model. If there is a news story that is breaking, somehow it manages to be trending on Twitter before anyone else has figured out that there is a story!

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing communications professional and business plan adviser that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+

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In Pursuit of Effective Communications

While discretion may dictate speaking “on the QT,” the most effective business communications tend to include more of an open dialog and, ideally, a feedback loop for clarification.

I would propose that part of the reason why social media has made such a rapid impact on the marketing world is because it has helped to facilitate more effective communications, both from a content perspective as well as from a “trust” point of view.

Take, for instance, the list of top 100 PRs on Twitter that Liliana Dumitru-Steffens put together on her blog. If this list were published on traditional media, it would have been printed and distributed to her readers, as a static list soon forgotten. This online social media list, however, has taken on a life of its own, being modified and updated based on feedback she has received from her many readers. In the end, this feedback loop has increased the accuracy of her communications – a luxury afforded this type of communications medium. If only some of our verbal conversations could be updated after the fact, to better communicate what our actual intent was at the time!

Marketing communications is a challenging task. It isn’t that speaking or writing is hard – but getting the right message of what you meant to say is where the challenge lies. There may be times when you are speaking to an audience that does not understand what you are saying. Often, however, they simply won’t tell you their confusion, contributing to a poor communications feedback loop. While it may be easy to blame your audience for just “not getting it,” in reality, it is your responsibility to communicate your message.

In fact, these challenges exist in personal communications as well.

As a marketer, I would propose that there are only two media communications “vehicles” to convey your message – the spoken or written word. Each medium has unique challenges. Address these challenges, and your messaging accuracy will improve, helping you to be a better marketer.

The Spoken Word

Here the issue is consistency … how can you be sure everyone at your organization will say the same thing and speak in the same language or tone? An engineer, for example, may talk about your product’s benefits differently than an executive. Both must be able to speak comfortably, on their own, when telling your corporate message.

We can’t control what others will say. But, we can provide guidance. As new products are launched or new customer values are identified, it is critical to invest time with each of your stakeholders to coach and train them to get it right. Practice makes perfect.

One approach is to provide visual clues or “cheat sheets” to your teams, as a handy reference that can be viewed to help remember the key points of your company’s messaging strategy. For example, a placard hung in a customer service support center explaining the benefits of a recent product launch might help function as a reminder to the team.

The Written Word

The written word offers greater consistency of message. Collateral and other content can be prepared and distributed to your employees, customers and prospects. However, without a feedback loop, it can be difficult to gauge understanding. As mentioned previously, the growing use of social networking websites now offers this capability to help address this challenge, by offering readers the opportunity to post comments and replies. Of course, if no one finds your message, then you won’t get any responses!

One way to address this potential communications challenge is to seek feedback on your marketing collateral, business plan or other written marketing communications prior to distributing to the general public. While it may be obvious to you what you were intending to say or speak, you would be surprised how often ambiguity exists, especially when your message is heard by someone from another “walk of life,” such as a different department, country or culture, or even someone that reads or speaks English as a second language (assuming your communications are primarily in English).

In the end, it really doesn’t matter what you meant to say … prospects, customers, investors and others will come to their own conclusion, based on what they thought you said – what they heard you say – and make their decision accordingly. Take ownership for this action and recognize that the responsibility for accurate communications lies on your shoulders, mouth and arms!

 
Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.

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Another Evolving Social Behavior to Consider in Your Marketing Communications

Words are flying out like endless rain into a paper cup;
They slither while they pass; They slip away across the universe.

– John Lennon & Paul McCartney

The words and way we communicate today is obviously very different than in the past. In fact, over the past 5 years, the increasing usage of Twitter and texting has been nothing short of spectacular. Twitter reported that more than two billion tweets were sent just last month. Wow!

What is interesting is that as a new communication medium is launched, we keep compressing the time frame to contact someone and expect a response. Back in the 1960s when the Beatles were writing their legendary songs, the only way to talk to your girl was on a rotary dial up phone – an answering machine didn’t exist. If you had to reach someone, you simply kept calling until they were home. Then, along came the answering machine. Now you could leave a message and probably get a call back later that day or the next. By the early 2000s, email broke through the next threshold where a response could be expected within 24 hours.

Today you can text or twitter someone, and if they don’t reply back within a few minutes, some might be offended. Worse, they might think you lost your phone or are in trouble! The time required to reach out and talk with someone anywhere in the world has been compressed from days to minutes with texting and twittering. And, not only has the length of time for response been compressed, the actual content of the message has been shortened from having a 30 minute phone call to sending a 140 character tweet.

twitter-logoAs with other technology advances (see “Evolving Social Behaviors Necessitate a Change in Marketing Communications“), a new social behavior has also evolved with this communications transformation. The concept of where and when to meet someone for dinner, a movie, etc. has changed. Now, it is acceptable to simply suggest a general area and time for your social interaction … details can follow later. And, if you are running late, no sweat; texting has made it socially acceptable to be late, as long as you communicate your delay to the affected party.

But, as a marketer, it is highly unlikely that your target audience will be as forgiving.

If you approach your marketing communications in the same way, you might not be very effective. To start, if you are meeting with a client, you are the one that is expected to be prompt and on time; if your prospect is late, then that isn’t a problem. The same holds true if you are advertising your product’s availability or a promotion. Even if it is a 20 minute special, your decision to text your prospects about your current offer might not be seen as relevant or appropriate in their minds, causing frustration on their part from your message.

Or, it might be just fine. Let me explain. A twitter user or company that sends out a 140 character message that is perceived to have significant value to a recipient will be welcomed, such as a tweet announcing free concert tickets to the first 100 people that arrive at a certain location. But, the line between what is appropriate and what is not is a fine line, with the potential of alienating your target audience if you get it wrong. Best to choose those 140 characters very carefully!

Personally, I am offended at every one of the marketing or sales texts that I have received, such as to call now to refi my home mortgage. Seriously, is this a message that I need to drop everything regardless of where I am and immediately start a refinance process? This is an excellent example of an evolving social behavior that must be addressed by marketers, and not abused. It may be totally inappropriate to expect an instant response from your prospect, even though today’s technology could support it.

It is critical that we, as marketers, choose a medium and expected time frame for response that matches our offer if we are to avoid alienating our prospects. For example, if I am offering a service targeted at residential real estate agents, then an email might be most appropriate for matching the time to reply to the offer, especially considering that most real estate agents now carry smart phones capable of reading and responding to emails. A text, however, sent to an agent out in the field while showing a prospect an open house might be disruptive, annoying and ill timed. Be careful when exploring these new communications mediums. Given the ease of today’s mass communications, a poorly executed marketing communications can go viral in an instant, causing potential long term damage to your brand or company.

Texts and tweets now fly out like endless rain while they slip away across the cyber universe … best to be sure your message is relevant and time appropriate when trying to reach out across your universe.

 

 

Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.

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Applying Humor to Your Business Communications

“Computers are useless.  They can only give you answers.”

Pablo Picasso

When considering the question of “How do I improve my business communications?”, humor may be the answer. The decision should be based on what type of communications you seek. There are several roles humor can take … to grab attention, to make a lasting impression or to build a longer term relationship with your readers. Alternatively, a more serious and “professional” sounding message may be better suited to a more formal communications, in which case humor may not be appropriate.

Let me explain. It might not be the best idea to use humor when talking about a financial institution’s lending practices, or the way that a customer’s money is managed.

When we write or speak to an audience, often we are really trying to build a relationship with our audience in order to convey a thought, a message or a suggestion to purchase a product r service. As part of establishing that message and gaining credibility, it can be quite effective if you are communicating more as a friend or advisor. In that case, humor can definitely play a role in helping to build the relationship, earn trust and communicate on a more personal level.

South West Airlines (SWA) is an excellent example. They have effectively used humor in their verbal communications. Each flight attendant was clearly encouraged by their peers and supervisors to include humor as part of their pre-take off, FAA required announcements at the beginning of every flight.

In today’s YouTube age, there is another incentive: to become the next big hit.  Watch this video for an example of a video that has gone viral, with nearly 1 million hits so far. Interestingly, SWA’s practice began before the age of the Internet. Now these videos are actually a form of advertising, helping to increase brand awareness – and might even generate a ticket sale or two. Clearly, humor can lend itself to social networking marketing quite nicely.

While SWA’s topic is serious, the message has been effectively conveyed in a joyful, playful manner, with short one-liner jokes intermingled with information on what to do in an evacuation, and how the seat cushions also works as a life vest. In the end, passengers felt more relaxed and at ease, trusting that SWA had things under control in the passenger’s best interest while helping to pass the time during the boring announcements that business travelers all know by heart.

TD Ameritrade is an example of when a more serious communications was best. Their selection of Sam Waterston as a spokesperson conveys a serious message that TD Ameritrade is a secure institution you can trust, based on our associating him as being a District Attorney for Law and Order, even though it is just a character he plays on a television show. But don’t expect Sam to crack a joke during his endorsement during the ad.

Similarly, if you are writing a business plan to demonstrate intimate knowledge of your industry or market opportunity, it is trust that you are trying to build. As you might not have the opportunity to build a relationship over time with multiple interactions of your readers and prospective investors, you might only have one chance to make a first impression. In this case, your tone should probably be authoritative and professional, demonstrating you are serious about your business plan and the investment funds you are requesting. Probably not a good place for humor in your communications.

Each of these examples offers best-in-class leveraging of humor – or a lack of it – to accentuate and exemplify business communications. Deciding whether or not to use humor, however, is harder and riskier. Your message must indeed BE funny, or else the opposite effect will occur, possibly even alienating you from your target audience, and clearly hurting your communications objectives.  As it is more riskier to use humor, the choice is often to simply avoid it.

Next time you ask yourself whether humor might be appropriate in your next business communications, the answer won’t come from a computer.  It should be based on your subjective decision, half-based on theory and half-based on a gut feel if it really is appropriate.

 
Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.

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Evolving Social Behaviors Necessitate a Change in Marketing Communications

I would propose a correction to one of Benjamin Franklin’s famous quotes.

“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

benjamin_franklin_nothing_certain_but_death_and_taxes_and_technologyI think he missed a third certainty:  technology advances.  Since early inventions such as the cross bow or sword to the digital society of today, social patterns have changed as new weapons, inventions or technology advances are introduced into a culture or society.  Early warring nomads with a weapon advantage expanded their geographical reach to take precious resources, land and women … and as a result, these actions then changed cultures.

Today’s technology advances can be attributed in part to the proliferation of digital data that is increasingly universally available – viewable to an audience of one, or to a much larger group.  The way we interact, communicate and entertain as part of our social lifestyle has changed, and will continue to do so, as a direct response to this technology advance.  As marketers, we must also change.

For example, the changing technology advance of the digital video recorder (DVR) has triggered a new social behavior of fast forwarding through commercials.  Commercial communications effectiveness as a branding or lead generation tool has declined, reducing the return on investment of an advertising spot.

These types of changes necessitate a questioning of prior lead generation and business development techniques.  By examining emerging social patterns, new opportunities for marketing communications can be revealed, often better than the approaches they replaced.  The objective of a marketer hasn’t changed.  What has changed is the medium and method of attempting to influence a purchase decision to be in favor of their product or service.

The key is to reach out to where people are socially interacting, to then be part of that community, which will then assist with your marketing objectives.  This is why social networking communities are so hot right now, and why every marketer is under pressure to understand this medium and figure out how to monetize a revenue model tied to this activity.

Look at the Internet, as a form of lead generation, and an example of how good can come with the digital revolution.  Google is a very profitable company because their ad revenue model is highly effective.  Never before have marketers been able to pin point prospective customers by filtering search activity by selective words and phrases, with very calculated return on investment to better fine tune spend rates and ad performance metrics.

One of the toughest challenges to deal with in times of technology advances is when your own business or industry becomes a victim in the steadily advancing society.  No one wants to be the next buggy whip manufacturer, yet in order for change to occur, there must be a thinning of the herd to make room for a new wave of advancement and enlightenment.
Gordon Benzie is a marketing adviser and business plan writer that specializes in preparing and executing upon business plans and marketing strategies. Gordon can be found on Google+.

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