How Dell Is Innovating In Native Advertising

We’ve talked a good deal in this space about converged media, the blending of paid, owned, and earned in digital channels. Now it appears a sound barrier of sorts has been shattered with the selection of a native ad that Dell created for Forbes.com for publication in an actual book.

This month, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published “The Best American Infographics 2013,” which includes an illustration that Dell published on its Forbes BrandVoice page in April 2012. The credit reads “Dell Inc. on Forbes.com.”

Dell Managing Editor Stephanie Losee regards this as a watershed moment for content marketing. “In other words, one of the most prestigious publishing houses in the world just called Dell a publisher, and they did it because of what we posted on our DellVoice page. Native advertising, meet traditional publishing.”

“As far as I know,” Losee told me, “This is the first time a traditional publisher has affirmed sponsored content as editorial, particularly as prestigious a publishing house as Houghton Mifflin. They were fully aware of the source. They knew it was native advertising, yet still selected the graphic and gave us credit.”

Read the rest of this post on iMedia, where it originally published.

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Four Epic Native Advertising Fails

As a research analyst, I just completed a study of native advertising. The report, based on months of research and dozens of interviews, contains eight critical recommendations for successful native advertising campaigns.

We help our clients incorporate these recommendations in their native advertising strategies. What happens when best practices and tried-and-true practices are disregarded or ignored? That’s what iMedia’s editors asked me to share in this article. Not for the sake of schadenfreude really, but as a set of object lessons. So let’s take a look at a handful of native advertising fails and also map them to the whys of their shortcomings.

Best practices matter in native advertising a lot, and soon they’ll matter even more. Recently, 73 percent of Online Publishers Association members said they offer some form of digital advertising, a number that is swelling daily. Spending in the sector is expected to swell to $4.57 billion by 2017, though that’s a figure that bears some scrutiny, given “native advertising” does not yet bear the distinction of a formal, much less universally-agreed upon, definition.

Nonetheless, if we can agree that native advertising is a form of converged media (regardless of whether it appears on a publisher site or a social platform) that combines paid media (i.e., an ad) with owned media (i.e., content that isn’t “advertising-y” in nature), best practices and success elements do begin to emerge.

Trust and transparency

The Atlantic-Scientology debacle is the poster child of native advertising gone horribly — no, hideously — wrong. Under a small-ish “Sponsor Content” box, the site published a sunny and upbeat piece about the extremely controversial leader of the Church of Scientology: “David Miscavige Leads Scientology to Milestone Year.” An uproar ensued, causing the piece to be taken down in short order, and an apology was issued. In short order The Onion followed up with “SPONSORED: The Taliban Is A Vibrant And Thriving Political Movement.”

In a further apology issued the following day, The Atlantic stated, “We now realize that as we explored new forms of digital advertising, we failed to update the policies that must govern the decisions we make along the way.”

What’s a best practice in this area? Disclosure, transparency, and trust are non-negotiable. Period. And come on, we’ve danced this dance more than once: With search engine advertising, paid blogging, and word-of-mouth marketing. Do we really even need to have this conversation? Disclose to readers that it’s a paid placement. Link to the relevant editorial policy. Create a channel for inquiry.

There. That wasn’t so bad now, was it?

Strange bedfellows

The Economist teamed up with Buzzfeed to create a promotional listicle entitled “Dare2GoDeep,” the stories behind the venerable publications’ serious hard news and policy coverage. The piece, and indeed, the pairing, was widely mocked as “inane” and “cringeworthy.” It is kind of hard to draw the line between one of the world’s most respected news magazines and a website known for its lists of all things LOL and feline.

Sales-y

At the heart of native advertising is content marketing, which is soft, not hard, sell. Last holiday season, “A Gift Guide for Surviving Your Family at Home This Holiday” on Gawker Media read more shill than article. The body copy doesn’t really deliver on the headline’s promise, which feels bait-and-switch.

Collaboration and earned media

I hate to single out Buzzfeed again (the publication does so much native advertising so very well), but last August the site was involved in an imbroglio that should have been nipped in the bud rather than allowed to spiral into scandal. A conservative anti-abortion group published its own listicle bashing Planned Parenthood in Buzzfeed’s then-new community section. The post violated Buzzfeed’s community guidelines, yet it wasn’t immediately taken down, causing a media, as well as social media, fallout. The Guardian followed up: “BuzzFeed is taking trolling to a new level by pandering to right-wing nuts.”

Please read the rest of this post on iMedia, where it originally published.

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A Big Deal for Content Marketing: Oracle Buys Compendium

oracleToday Oracle announced that it’s buying Compendium, a company that offers cloud-based content marketing workflow solutions.  Compendium will be integrated into the Oracle Eloqua Marketing Cloud.
     At Altimeter Group, I’m just now embarking on a research project to map the content vendor landscape (slated for publication in Q1 of 2014). There are literally dozens and dozens of companies on the scene, all offering solutions that address small niches of the very broad content workflow requirements. The first and most immediately apparent finding is that there will be many such mergers and acquisitions in the sector.
     Oracle’s acquisition of Compendium is indeed a watershed moment for content. It’s acknowledgement that content is the foundational element of marketing. Without content (and all that it necessitates: governance, workflow and strategy being paramount), there is no advertising, there is no social media, PR, or other forms of marketing. All are fed and nurtured by content,  the demands for which are increasing exponentially.
     There’s also a need to integrate the existing tools on the market that facilitate content marketing: workflow, process, measurement, production, distribution, aggregation and curation, etc. Expect not only more acquisitions by enterprise players, but also M&A activity among the smaller companies as content “stacks” begin to form that address marketers’ end-to-end content requirements.

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FTC Legitimizes Native Advertising

FTC-logoThere’s one sure way of telling if a new form of digital marketing is becoming legit: the FTC decides to take a long, hard look at it. And that’s exactly what they have announced they’ll do with native advertising, holding public hearings in Washington on December 4.

We’ve danced this dance before. Back in 2003, I testified at the FTC’s Spam Forum, which led to the enactment of the CAN-SPAM act passed by Congress the following year. The previous year, the FTC published guidance on search engine advertising. In 2000, the FTC published its first guidance on .com Disclosures, aimed at eliminating deception in digital advertising. Guidelines governing endorsements and testimonials (and, by extension, word-of-mouth marketing practices), were published in 2009.

Having published the first independent research report on native advertising just days before the FTC called this public hearing, it’s pretty gratifying to see what was clearly inevitable happy with such alacrity. Almost synchronously with the FTC’s announcement of hearings, brands ranging from the hyper-established New Yorker to not-yet-monetized start-up Pinterest were announcing new native advertising plans and offerings, joining a host of other publisher and social media platforms.

The IAB, anticipating the FTC’s move, already has a native advertising task force at work (disclosure: I’m not an IAB member, but I am a taskforce member).

In December, the FTC hopes to begin to answer questions about maintaining editorial integrity in the face of new advertising products that look a lot like content. The hearings will examine how these messages are presented, differentiated and disclosed to consumers as sponsored content. I’m particularly interested in learning more about consumer perceptions of native advertising (so little research has been conducted in this very nascent discipline), and how disclosures will transfer when native ads are shared and amplified in social channels.

Doubtless much will emerge from the hearings, as well as in the coming months around industry self-regulation for native advertising. (It’s highly unlikely that actual legislation will emerge on the issue.) In the meantime, I’d like to share the recommendations we make in our report on the issues of transparency, disclosure and trust in native advertising:

Transparency, disclosure, and trust: We’ve been through this before, collectively as an industry. As with the early days of search advertising, when paid search results required clear delineation from organic ones, or word-of-mouth marketing and pay-for-play blogging, industry standards will emerge around the disclosure of what’s paid and what’s editorial content on a variety of media platforms in addition to individual publisher policies. In addition to overt disclosure on publisher and social media platforms, a code of ethics is required to maintain editorial objectivity and the boundaries between publisher and editorial work. Until industry self-regulation emerges (the IAB already has a taskforce at work on the issue), it is absolutely imperative all parties err on the side of caution: too much, rather than too little, disclosure.

  1. Disclose that the placement is commercial in nature.
  2. Link to policies that govern such placement.
  3. Provide a channel for inquiry.

This column originally published in iMedia

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New Research: “Defining and Mapping the Native Advertising Landscape”

Not since the legislative debate over spam back in the early part of the millennium has a digital marketing term been so riddled by obfuscation and misunderstanding as native advertising.

A quick search of the term on Google returns an impressive 219 million results, yet to date there’s been no real definition of what marketers, publishers, agencies, social media platforms, or any other players in the digital ecosystem mean when they bandy it about.

With so much discussion centered around native advertising, we felt it critical to define the term, assess the nascent landscape, and evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of this new-ish form of advertising. That is what we have done in research published today.

Based on over two dozen interviews with  publishers, social networks, brands, agencies, vendors and industry experts, Altimeter Group has arrived at the following definition of native advertising:

Native advertising is a form of converged media that combines paid and owned media into a form of commercial messaging that is fully integrated into, and often unique to, a specific delivery platform.

In other words, we believe native advertising lives at the intersection of paid and owned media, and is therefore a form of converged media. ‘Owned’ media is content that the brand or advertiser controls. Paid media is advertising: space or time that entails a media buy.

Does native advertising overlap with established forms of sponsored/branded/custom content? Advertorial? Indeed it does. Often differentiation can entail splitting hairs. Yet the evolution of so many unique platforms and technologies has made forms of advertising truly “native.” A sponsored tweet can be native only to Twitter, for example, just as a promoted Facebook post is native only to that one channel.

Native Advertising: The Pros and Cons

Native Advertising: Pros

In addition to defining the term, our research looks at how native advertising can benefit the ecosystem players: technology vendors, agencies, social platforms, publishers, and of course, brands and advertisers. Overall, we see opportunities for all players, these being the chief advantages for each player:

For publishers: new forms of premium inventory.

For social platforms: new advertising products.

For brands: new opportunities for attention, engagement, and message syndication.

For agencies: benefits from creative and media opportunities.

For technology: new solutions facilitate and scale both the creative and delivery aspects of native advertising.

The disadvantages? Scale is an issue, and clearly there are (haven’t were been through this before) issues around disclosure and transparency.

As with all Altimeter Group reports, “Defining and Mapping the Native Advertising Landscape” is Open Research. Please feel free to read it, download it and share it.

Tell us what you think.

If you like it, we’ll create more.

Cross-posted from the Altimeter Group blog.

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Content: The Right Tools For The Job

Digital content doesn’t just happen. Marketers require tools to get it done.

software developmentThe range of software and tools serving content marketers has mushroomed in the past couple of years. As researchers and analysts at the Altimeter Group, we started looking at the space informally back in April, building a list of software vendors.

Currently, we’ve compiled a list of 75 vendors offering a range of content marketing software solutions. (It’s a list I plan to share officially in the fall, once it’s been through some winnowing.)

Content Software Landscape Research

In fact, we plan to go one better and conduct deep research into the content software marketplace, beginning next month.

Before we can begin that project in earnest, however, it’s critical to evaluate the actual content use cases marketers face in their day-to-day lives. There’s no realistic way we can evaluate the vendors in a very disparate landscape without knowing what marketers actually want and need out of content marketing solutions.

Let’s assume (and hope and pray!) the marketers in question are beginning with a content strategy. Let’s discount/disqualify related solutions such as social media management software, CMS, DAM and basic Web analytics packages.

The qualities we’re seeing across the content-specific software vendors that remain are (in no particular order) the following:

  • Targeting/Audience Identification (Segmentation/Personas): Tools to help you identify who the target audience(s) is/are, where they are online, and the types of content that would attract them.
  • Curation: Gathering, organizing and presenting existing content in a meaningful, attractive manner.
  • Aggregation: Compiling and publishing syndicated Web content — generally more automated and less specific than curation (above).
  • Workflow/Editorial Management: Tools that aid in processes associated with content strategy including creating governance documentation (style, editing and brand guidelines), content audits, production, review, approval and publishing processes, etc.
  • Editorial Calendar: Sometimes included in workflow tools, sometimes a standalone feature.
  • Discovery: Algorithmic suggestions for content readers might appreciate based on usage or social patterns.
  • Syndication/Distribution: Tools that help content publishers find audiences via, for example, suggested headlines or stories across publisher sites or social networks.
  • Recommendation: Services that use data such as usage patterns, social connections and browsing history to recommend content to users.
  • Branded Content Creation: Generally offered by agencies and publishers, custom content for brands, products and/or services.
  • Production: A wide range of increasingly complex services. As content moves into increasingly multimedia formats, as well as into new channels such as mobile, content production has moved far beyond “just blogging.”
  • Content Generation: A small but growing set of tools are being developed to help marketers generate creative ideas for content by feeding them multimedia material that is on-brand and relevant to campaign goals.
  • Collaboration Tools: Related to workflow and editorial management, these toolsets help disparate teams collaborate on different aspects of content creation, production and publishing, often from remote locations and with cloud-based assets.
  • Tracking (Content Across Web): A handful of companies have developed tools that help marketers track both images and text across the Web no matter where they appear, and to dynamically update them.
  • Analytics (Content-Specific): Independent of basic Web analytics packages, content tools often contain their own specific analytics and dashboards. These can be wide-ranging and are, of course, closely aligned with tool functionality.
  • Real-Time Capabilities: An increasingly news and social media driven world drives demand for real- and near real-time information, a capabilities being built into an increasing number of tools in varying capacities.
  • Push Notifications: You’ve got… content. Beyond email, some tools do enable alerts when new content is available.
  • Talent Sourcing & Management: Writers, designers, photographers, videographers – tools exist to find them, have them submit their work and manage their billings.
  • Templates/Layout/Design: From websites to infographics, design doesn’t just happen. There are, of course, plenty of standalone templates available. So, too, do content tool sets incorporate templates and design solutions.
  • SEO: Written word content tools, in particular, sometimes incorporate search optimization features around keywords and phrases, metadata, headline optimization, etc.
  • Predictive Analytics: Distinct from performance analytics, these tools predict how content will perform in specific channels or with certain audience segments. Currently aimed more at publishers than marketers, it will be interesting to see if this market shifts with broader adoption of content marketing.
  • Influencer Identification: Brands such as Intel have proven owned content can achieve paid media reach when spread by the right influencers in a given field. Tools that identify influencers who can help spread messages in social channels are, therefore, growing in popularity with content marketers as well as with PR practitioners.

You can help get this first research project on the content software landscape off the ground by helping us to define what real use cases really exist. Are these accurate? What’s missing? What’s not necessary, redundant, or superfluous? What would your dream content solution do — or not do? Do you prefer working with a suite of à la carte solutions, or with a “stack” of seamlessly integrated software?

Please read the rest of this post on Marketingland, where it originally published.

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Consider Attending Our Content Marketing Workshop (Sept. 9, Milbrae CA)

Content marketing has gone from nearly zero on marketers’ radar to about a billion mph in just a few short years.  Organizations are realizing that content is effective – and cost-effective – for marketing as quickly as it becomes abundantly clear that content doesn’t just happen by itself.

We’re here to help. On September 9 in Milbrae, CA, Altimeter Group will host our first half-day content marketing workshop (as well as other Academy offerings).  Drawn from our research reports, books and other publications on the topic of content marketing, the course is designed to equip marketers with the fundamentals of content marketing and content strategy.

Why the relatively recent emphasis on content marketing?

Content marketing is nothing new. Marketers have been creating content for customers and prospects since the days of the newsletter and the filmstrip. However, digital has revolutionized both content creation and dissemination. Web sites. Twitter. Facebook. Blogs. YouTube. eBooks. White papers. Search engines. All of these channels (and many more) remove many of the hard cost barriers that were once a deterrent to creating and disseminating great content.  Yet as brands become publishers (some so successfully that they’re able to actually monetize the content they create), they face challenges.

Content may cost less to produce than advertising, but it’s heavily resource-intensive and only getting more so. Unlike campaign-based programs, content initiatives tend to be ongoing. Content is fundamental to social media, owned media channels and advertising – integrating brand, messaging and measurement between screens, workflow streams and channels is challenging. For many marketers, shifting from “push” to “pull” marketing requires learning entirely new skill sets. Finally, creating a functional content strategy — a foundation to govern and systematize content creation, dissemination, approval, measurement and maintenance —  is only just emerging as a discipline in digital marketing.

What are the two or three big ideas marketers should focus on?

Brands are media companies. Almost without exception, they’re creating content. We believe they should do so strategically and with a view toward integrating messaging across channels. Recent research we’ve published indicates content is now the primary driver of all marketing creative, including advertising. This demand changes workflow, agency and vendor relationships, and the way marketing initiatives are measured and monitored. Content is at the center of nearly all digital initiatives, and as the world becomes increasing digital, content will be the primary driver of all marketing in the very near future.

Who should attend this content marketing workshop? What should they expect, and what will they leave with?

Digital marketers, digital and social strategists, brand and product managers, as well as marketing/communications professionals should attend this workshop to learn the fundamentals of content marketing and content strategy, as well as how to apply those learnings to how their jobs and roles will change in the very near future. Participants will learn the five stages of content marketing maturity based on Altimeter Group research; the three primary types of content; the elements required to build a content strategy; as well as organizational and workflow requirements as they relate to enterprises large and small. It will be a fast-moving morning full of case studies and lean-forward participatory exercises.

Learn more and register for the content marketing workshop

Or consider workshops on Social Strategy and Social Analytics.

Image credit: Wikimedia

Cross-posted from the Altimeter Group blog

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Is the Banner Ad Dying?

Online ad revenues remain on a hockey stick trajectory, clocking in at a record $9.6 billion in the first quarter of this year (yes, a bunch of this is search and video, but still). Yet the demise of the banner ad has long been predicted, and some say the deathwatch is imminent — possibly before the end of the year.

That banners aren’t working very well is common knowledge. You’ve seen the stories: You’re more likely to survive a plane crash/become a Navy Seal/summit Everest/be the next Beatle or Elvis than to click on a banner ad.

That consumers don’t interact with banners is no secret. In fact, it’s entirely possible that most clicks are robot and/or click farm generated. Then there’s the banner experiment the ARF‘s Ted McConnell cooked up, a totally blank ad (no copy, no image, no nothing) that saw interaction rates that in many cases exceed those of “real” campaigns.

The result of all this inefficiency, unsurprisingly, is severe downward price pressure on banners, much to the chagrin of online publishers. As one publisher put it in a recent conversation, “It’s more expensive to get readers, and then when we do we can sell them for less.”

Yet at the same time, publishers speak of a “voracious appetite” for display ads and banners. “As publishers we’d tell advertisers that we’re unique and special, but really we’re not,” one publisher confided just this morning, “When demand for banners was too high, we’d just rent an audience. We’d rent from Google, from telemarketers, or rent email lists. The performance isn’t that different, and the advertisers don’t really care.”

So let’s get this straight: Display advertising doesn’t work, it yields ever-diminishing revenues, and advertisers can’t get enough of it?

Houston, we’ve got a problem.

Read the rest of this post on iMediaConnection, where it originally published.

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Going Native

Native advertising.

Everyone’s talking about it, but what is it, exactly? It has something to do with ads that don’t look like ads, but rather provide a degree of value in terms of being content. In that sense, native advertising is certainly a form of converged media as it combines paid media (advertising) with owned media (content) – often with the goal of generating earned media (social interaction, UGC, etc.).

Yet brands have been paying publishers to run their own content since forever. Does that mean “native advertising” simply a neologism for what we used to call advertorial? Or branded content? Maybe it’s sponsored content?

If native advertising somehow differs from older models of advertorial, sponsored or branded content, where are the lines drawn? Does “native” necessitate some sort of technological framework to carry and/or distribute the content in question (à la products offered by The New York Times, or tech start-ups such as OneSpot or inPowered)? Does it mean a publisher’s in-house agency (think Buzzfeed, Gawker Media) was commissioned to come up with the creative?

Bottom line: The term “native advertising” raises more questions than it does answers.

The value proposition of native advertising is, however, clear in a digital environment of banner blindness and plunging clickthrough rates. Pre-roll ads are skipped or ignored, email subscriber rates are eroding. Given any kind of choice, consumers are saying a clear “no” to interruptive advertising.

Native advertising lies somewhere in bridging the divide between content marketing – a pull strategy – and plain, old fashioned advertising, which is interruptive. Somewhere in its definition is probably the fact of paying for space or time (the “advertising” part) is a fashion that’s “native,” i.e. organic, conducive to the user experience, non-salesy, and offers some sort of value in and of itself as an ad (entertainment, education, utility, for example).

Native advertising’s promise, therefore, is better performing ads – but only if metrics are defined that are “native” to “native.” DM goals likely don’t apply in this case. Highly customized ad solutions mean more revenue for publishers (and boy, can they use it now). Also, deeper creative engagements for agencies, and hopefully, a better user experience for consumers.

The fly in the ointment is that without a real definition of native advertising, it means anything you want it to mean. Or anything whoever’s trying to sell it to you wants it to mean. Confusion in the marketplace is not a good thing (though it can benefit certain constituents).

This is why, as a research analyst, my next project will be to define native advertising, as well as to map the landscape of products and technologies related to the practice. (I’m also part of an IAB taskforce that will work to define the term – it’s therefore important to note the research will be my own work, not that of a committee.)

As this project is just kicking off, I’d love to invite your input. What do you believe native advertising is? Isn’t? What are the important companies in the space? Please let me know, either via email or in the comments section.

I’ll report back soon. Watch this space!

A version of this post originally published on iMedia Connection

Image creditwww.bydewey.com

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New Research: Organize for Content

More than a handful of brands publish more content now than a major media property such as Time Magazine did 25 years ago.

Despite the overwhelming and ever-increasing trend toward content marketing, and the need to continually feed an ever-increasing portfolio of content channels and formats, most organizations haven’t yet addressed content on either a strategic or tactical level.

It’s high time they did, and hopefully my new research report, Organizing for Content, will help. It provides both frameworks for coping with enterprise content marketing demands and a checklist of recommendations for organizational readiness.

Consider: The average organization is responsible for the continual content demands of an average 178 social media properties, to say nothing of a myriad of other owned media properties, from websites and blogs to live events.

Those few large enterprises not yet active in social media can easily serve five million email subscribers, as well as multiple millions of monthly unique visitors per month to their sites.

Yet the overwhelming majority of organizations don’t have content divisions in their org charts. Only nine of the brands we interviewed for this report (out of 78 stakeholders, also including content service providers and domain experts) have made explicit content hires, i.e. people with titles such as “editor” or those that contain the word “content.”

Who, or what, governs content internally? Responsibilities and oversight tend to be reactive, highly fragmented and distressingly ad hoc, as illustrated below. This highly typical diagram portrays how one major retail brand divides content responsibilities between divisions that are not necessarily interconnected or in regular communication with one another. This fragmented approach leads to inconsistent messaging, huge variations in voice, tone, and brand, and an uneven customer experience. Channel divisions themselves tend to be ad hoc, assigned more on the basis of hand-raising than any overarching strategic mandate.
Where Does Content Live Inside the Enterprise?
 It’s high time that organizations got organized for content. It’s only going to become more demanding – and harder – in the future.

Native advertising, advertorial, paid influencer, and sponsored content are just a few examples of the paid/owned media hybrids brands are exploring. Content must also be created for an ever-expanding spectrum of media, screens, and devices, ranging from smartphones and tablets to emerging platforms, such as augmented reality, Google Glass, and quite possibly devices like smart watches.

These new channels and platforms, coupled with a trend that de-emphasizes the written word in favor of visual and audio-visual content,  create new skill demands. “Hire a journalist,” a tactic many organizations adopted with the rise of blogging, now is in no way sufficient to address more technical requirements involving deeper knowledge of technology, production, design, and user experience. Requiring overtaxed and untrained staff to “do content” in their spare time is obviously hardly a solution.

Our research identifies six organizational models companies are using to address complex, cross-departmental content needs, and also contains a recommendations checklist for content preparedness. Please download the report (at no cost, we just ask that you share it if you like it), and let me know your reactions in the comments.

I’ll also deliver my findings in a webinar on Wed., May 29 at 1:00 EST. Please register and join us! 

Read and/or download the report below:
[slideshare id=19795236&doc=orgcontentv4-130423141546-phpapp01&type=d]

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