What Happened to Summer? Back-to-School Marketing Starts Earlier Than Ever

Back to School Marketing
The temperature is soaring, steaks sizzle on the grill, and kids play in the pool, but not everyone is thinking summer. Back to school season is starting earlier than ever for big retailers and the impact trickles over into all aspects of marketing. Both Office Depot and Land’s End launch back to school campaigns at the start of summer – in some cases before school even ended in some parts of the country.

This is a change even from last year; according to AdAge, 2016 saw back to school marketing head into full swing around the middle of July. Time magazine cites the need for retailers to make as many revenues as possible during the highest spending periods as the reason Black Friday, Halloween, and Back to School promotions are being scheduled earlier than ever before.

When does Back to School Begin?

Big retailers working on the premise that earlier is better have begun pushing back-to-school marketing back each year. Back to school is big business for retailers, since it is worth about 78 billion; it is second only to the major holidays for revenues, according to AdAge.

How Early is Too Early?

Office Depot’s back-to-school advertising rolled out June 25 of this year, a full three weeks earlier than 2016’s July launch. Other retailers are following suit, but there is some consumer backlash against the early push. Lands’ End received public criticism on social media when their back-to-school catalog dropped while kids in many parts of the country were still in school.

“We got your #backtoschool catalog in the mail. Our kids still have two weeks of school left this year! #fail #marketing,” tweeted Greg Magin.

@GregMagin helpfully tagged his rant with #fail, #backtoschool and #Marketing, so it was seen by far more than just his followers. This backlash from consumers shows that a too-early launch can backfire. Right now, the sweet spot for back-to-school marketing seems to be right after the 4th of July through the end of the month.

Back-to-school marketing is all about timing. Being aware of this pitfall, and of the enormous potential of this busy season, can help you make the most of Back to School season for your brand and ensure your organization has a visible presence during this often overlooked marketing opportunity.

Make Back to School Time Count for your Brand

Positioning your Back to School promotions in July and working to build not only sales but also awareness can help place you in front of consumers when they’re ready to outfit the kids for the next school year. Since most consumers begin searching online well before they part with actual money, building awareness ahead of this busy season can help you get the results you want without irritating consumers.


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Veterans Use the Internet to Expand Skill Set and Boost Income

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As a war veteran, Shane Thomason knows firsthand what it feels like to experience victory in battle. After being home for nearly ten years from the Iraqi War, Thomason now spends his time giving back to the community and expanding his occupational skill set via the internet. Owning more than 250 websites, including RandomVeteran.com, Thomason enjoys working from home and has found much success in being able to sell unique t-shirts and other novelty items online.

Thomason isn’t the only veteran taking advantage of the internet to boost his annual income. There are veterans located all across the globe who sell items and services online as a way to supplement their earnings, and for many of them, they simply do this for the same reason Thomason does — to pass the time and keep their minds occupied.

A former civil engineer for the US Navy, Zachary Scheel, says, “Veterans are comfortable operating in high-pressure environments that are changing rapidly, where they’re constantly forced to make decisions with incomplete information.” And while many common internet users may not think of the online world as being high-pressure, Thomason is sure to tell you different. From selling websites at exactly the right moment to creating content on a consistent basis, operating businesses and sites online is a full-time job that requires much attention, and more so, much intelligence.

There are many skills learned through the military and overseas that can be used in business. Six of the most valuable skills veterans can carry over from the battlefield are integrity, dependability, sharp decision-making, the initiative to go above and beyond, tenacity, and adaptability. The capability to take advantage of technology is also another skill that veterans are familiar with, making them all the more apt to find success. Whether it be learning new software or performing website coding, veterans often have a knack for training themselves.

Thomason wrote articles for his local newspaper, the Grayson County News Gazette, while serving in Iraq, which greatly improved his ability to write and has translated into an exceptional skill for being able to create web content, including home pages and product descriptions, which he uses to sell t-shirts and other items on RandomVeteran.com.

One of Thomason’s most valuable pieces of advice to other veterans who are considering using their skills for work is not to become a recluse. Thomason says, “helping the community by being actively involved is the primary way I am able to sustain peace in my life. Sure, working from home is great, but getting out in the community and working with the children and other veterans is what keeps me moving forward from one day to the next.” Thomason is the Commander of American Legion Post 81 and spends a great deal of time giving back to his community when he is not working.

Generating business is simple when veterans take advantage of the existing skill set that they acquired while serving in the military. Veterans can also find an abundance of resources available to them. From online training courses to website builders, many of these resources are available free of charge because they have served in the military.


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Indra Nooyi: A Story in Being Yourself and Persistence

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Have you ever heard of Indra Nooyi? Maybe not, but you’ve probably bought her product at one time or another in the past year. Ms. Nooyi is the CEO of Pepsi-Co., the makers of the popular and well-known Pepsi soda brand. However, her position at Pepsi is not necessarily what is the most amazing fact of her story. Granted, reaching the status of being a Fortune 500 company CEO is huge and significant, but how Ms. Nooyi got her start is the real story. That’s because she risked everything with no safety net to fall back on.

Some Compelling Advice

Indra Nooyi came to the U.S. like so many other great minds, arriving as a student immigrant. Ms. Nooyi jumped to a slot in Harvard’s master’s degree program in business. However, graduating wasn’t her biggest challenge. It was translating her academic success into a result: getting a job. Ms. Nooyi’s first real interview was total failure – no connection, no rhythm, no job. However, she received a piece of advice from a professor that Ms. Nooyi has carried forward since then to her role as a CEO. She was told to simply “be herself.”

Ms. Nooyi clearly took the advice she received to heart. Not only has she been herself as intelligent, smart, persistent, and daring, she has also scored an enviable position of 75 percent plus support by her own employees worldwide. See if you can find a politician with as much support even when winning a national election.

What Makes A Person Successful?

For business owners and leaders, the lesson from Ms. Nooyi is to never forget what really makes a person successful. It’s not the suit, it’s not the past laurels, and it’s not the school degree. What makes the difference that catches people’s attention and gets their support is one’s personal confidence and persistence. Ms. Nooyi gambled everything with not just coming to the U.S. to succeed but to also establish herself in a highly competitive arena: business consulting. Had she failed, Ms. Nooyi would have had to return back to India and likely would have disappeared into a vast number of IT companies there; everything for her was on the line. But she persisted. And Ms. Nooyi, with her new advice on being herself, was quickly hired. That in turn became her path to eventually becoming Pepsi-Co.’s latest CEO.

A Better Choice

Business leaders trying to keep a company going will at some point face a challenge where everything has to be put on the line to get to the next level. Many don’t take that leap. It’s too risky, it’s too costly, or it’s too unknown. Yet from Ms. Nooyi’s example, the last thing anyone should be doing is trying hard to fake their way through the issue. Be yourself. Trust your skills and trust your gut to make the right the decision. That’s what got a person to a leadership role in the first place, so why should he or she be any different at the moment that counts the most? Risk, responsibilities, fears of what-if can all combine to make someone think behaving differently may be the best path forward. Clearly, from Ms. Nooyi’s example, there’s a better choice.


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Personalization Matters: Why Going the Extra Mile is Always Worth It

Personalized graphics and advertising
When people talk about the decline of “mom and pop” businesses in favor of the giant, national retailers, one of the things they bring up is that it’s hard to find a store that you can walk into these days where the person behind the counter actually takes the time to learn your name. You can’t walk into a national brand and expect someone to go “Hey, Phil – how did that new garden hose you bought last week work out for you? I’ve been thinking about you, and I thought you might like this other new product, too.”

But the fact of the matter is that these days are not over – not by a long shot and especially not in the world of marketing. You absolutely can inject this much more intimate, fulfilling level of personalization into your marketing collateral – provided that you’re willing to go the extra mile.

Personalization in Marketing: By the Numbers

If you ever wanted a clear cut example of why “going the extra mile” is an investment that pays off in more ways than one, look no further than the following statistics:

  • According to a recent study from Digital Trends, an incredible seventy-three percent of consumers prefer to do business with brands that use personal information to help create more enriching, more relevant shopping experiences.
  • According to a completely separate study from Infosys, eighty-six percent of consumers said that the level of personalization (or the lack thereof) absolutely plays a role in their purchasing decisions.
  • If you think that personalization is only a game for digital and internet-centric businesses, think again: direct mail success rates are continuing to trend upwards because, you guessed it, people find actual mail that they can hold in their hand much more personal and rewarding than something that is easily ignored like an email.

It’s About “Walking the Walk”

The major benefits of personalization in marketing extend far beyond just statistics like these, however. It all comes back to the values that your brand represents and the promise that you’re making to each and every one of your customers. Simply put, it’s one thing to say that you care about all of your customers – it’s another thing entirely to do the types of things that turn this from catchphrase into irrefutable fact.

Put yourself in their shoes. If you get two pieces of marketing collateral in the mail – one of which is addressed “Dear Sir or Madame” and another that has your name and maybe even specific information about past purchases that you’ve made – which one are you going to put more faith in? Which one would you bet cares about you more? Which one would you believe has a vested interest in making your life better?

Your customers have made their opinion loud and clear – they don’t just want you to sell to them. It isn’t just enough to have a product or service that is objectively better than anyone else’s. They want to be a part of something larger than a single purchase. They want something that they’re not going to get anywhere else – a true relationship with the people they give their hard-earned money to. Personalization and going the extra mile are just among the many, many ways that you can now do that in the modern era.


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AR, VR, and Other Ways to Use Technology in a Print Campaign

QRticketsFrom the affordable headsets that take users into another setting or world via virtual reality to games like Pokémon Go and even children’s coloring pages, technology is impacting the way we live and seek out entertainment. It may seem like virtual or augmented reality is firmly fixed in the digital world (and therefore of no interest to those who create and use printed pieces), but a surprising amount of technology can be incorporated into printed media.

Augmented Reality and Printing

Augmented reality technology provides an overly to the “real world” you can see via your phone’s camera, adding digital elements to the space around you. Pokémon GO is the best recent example of AR in action, and retailers like IKEA also use it to allow you to see what furniture pieces would look like in your own home.

Adding AR elements to your printed pieces gives people a whole new way to interact with your postcards, business cards, catalogs, and more. It also adds an element of fun and makes it more likely that the recipient of the piece will want to hang onto it and even show it off.

While not everyone will “get” AR right away, recent hits like Pokémon Go show that AR can be accepted by a wide group of ages and demographics. From including an interactive game in your materials (as Toys R Us did in a recent catalog) to using a playful mascot or other element, creative use of AR can help your printed piece make a splash in the real world.

QR Codes

Those little square barcodes are an ideal match for printed pieces and can bring visitors to your site. Since QR codes are designed to be read with a smartphone, you give the person holding your printed material the ability to visit your site in an instant. Use a QR code on your printed piece to link to a special offer, unlock content, or even provide additional information. QR codes are small and won’t take up much space on your printed materials, and incorporating one allows your prospects and recipients to interact with your business in a whole new way.

QR Codes and Virtual Reality

Immerse your reader in your printed materials by providing a QR code that links the viewer to a virtual reality experience or unlocks additional content. If you already have a VR showroom, game, or content, then making it easy for users to access it by simply scanning a QR code ensures you get plenty of extra traffic, without taking up space on your materials.

Variable Data Printing

This type of technology won’t change the look of your printed pieces, but it can help personalize the materials you create. Your customer won’t notice anything special about the printing, but they will think you’re really in tune with what they want and need.

The ability to create on-demand pieces that match your customer’s preferences boosts the likelihood that your offer will resonate with them. Used primarily in direct mail, but adaptable to other pieces, variable data printing allows you to target the elements used in a specific piece to the intended recipient. This technology is particularly useful for targeted marketing campaigns with a personal touch.

Adding a dash of high tech to your printed materials gives you additional ways to connect with customers and helps you get the most from your printing investment. Your pieces are also more likely to start a conversation, grab attention, and even be saved by the recipient, boosting their long-term value and ensuring your brand is remembered when your prospect needs something.


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The Conduit Theory in Practice – Speaker Willie Brown

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Willie Brown, the former speaker of the California Assembly, never intended to have a political career when he was born. Brown was raised in a backwater town named Mineola, Texas, in 1934, a time when Texas and the South were not particularly conducive to the career dreams of African Americans. To find a better path, his family packed Brown on a train from Texas all the way to California. There, with the help of a professor, Brown found his calling at a state University and earned a law degree from the prestigious U.C. Hastings. However, he was yet to prove his greatest accomplishment.

In 1964, after a second try, Brown gained a seat in the California Assembly. There, he learned simply being unique didn’t get him much. He had to learn how to be a useful broker. In that respect, Brown quietly learned from his legislative tutors like Jesse Unruh and Philip Burton how to become a pivot point, a conduit between the many who want something and those with power. Positioning through legislative committees, Brown went from being a name in the Assembly to eventually to becoming its Speaker, one of the top five positions in state government. Brown held that chair for fifteen years, only to then retire and become the mayor of San Francisco in his later years.

Becoming A Conduit Point

For a business, Willie Brown’s story is an illustrative one; you don’t have to be biggest, most powerful player on the market to become instrumental. Brown, as an African American politician in the 1960s, was clearly not in the position to leapfrog right away to leadership or the Governor’s office. However, he did find a position that everyone needed and had to go through to get something. By identifying how and becoming a conduit point, Brown secured his future, which is what successful businesses do in their market.

A conduit point isn’t just limited to being between end retail customers and suppliers. Conduit businesses can easily do the same in the business-to-business market as well, often producing far greater revenues than they would on the retail side of things. However, positioning can be a challenge. One needs to see the entire market, not just a segment of it. Getting to the forest level instead of the weeds allows a business player to identify all the connection points and where being a conduit has the greatest potential for producing revenue. It also shows what is needed to be successful in that particular position. Sometimes some potential conduits are too challenging, and others may offer too little in reward for the effort. Picking the right market position takes some experience, which means a business needs to research well and study peers, suppliers, buyers, competitors, and middlemen. No one in a given market should be left out.

Willie Brown was an intensive study of his legislative peers, which is why he was able to position himself so well. He also took lessons from those more powerful than him rather than fighting them, using that knowledge to become one of the powerful ones himself. A growing business can learn a thing or two from his life example.


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Qualities That Brands With Longevity Share

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In the world of business, there is perhaps no commodity more precious than longevity. Getting a brand up and off the ground is one thing – keeping it around for the long-term is something else entirely. Creating longevity will rely in large part on your marketing, although this is only one small part of a much greater whole. The best marketing campaign in the world can’t create a long-standing, successful brand if a few qualities aren’t underneath it all just waiting to be communicated to the widest possible audience.

They Trigger an Emotional Response

One of the biggest traits that all brands with serious longevity share is the fact that they’re able to trigger an emotional response with their target audience, creating a loyal army of followers. This is true both with the way they market AND the way that response integrates into the service they provide.

Apple is a great example of this based on their image as the “hip, trendy” electronics company. People see a sleek, sophisticated Apple product in an equally compelling ad and they can’t help but think, “That looks really cool; I want that.” The same goes for a company like Amazon.com, albeit from a different angle. The way that Amazon has embraced personal marketing, both regarding the advertising it creates and with regards to the personalized recommendations that each user enjoys, makes them think, “I like Amazon; they get me.” That type of emotional connection is something you just can’t put a price on.

They Live Up to What They Promise

All of the best brands with serious longevity share the fact that they live up to the promises they make in their marketing materials. This comes from a deeper understanding of not just the people they’re trying to attract, but who those people are and what they want. These brands know how to communicate with their target audience and, as a result, don’t just live up to their promises, but they know how NOT to make a promise they can’t keep.

Take FedEx, for example. Entrepreneur.com recently cited FedEx as a brand with an incredibly strong corporate identity, owed largely to the fact that it’s operations are so incredibly efficient. FedEx is a brand built on trust, and the road to trust is paved with promises that have been kept in the past. FedEx is seen as an incredibly reliable service, and people in need of shipping rank FedEx favorably in that regard. This creates something of a self-fulfilling prophecy – a symbiotic relationship that only strengthens over time specifically because FedEx knows what its audience wants and it knows how precisely to give it to them every time.

Once again, Apple is another example of this idea in motion. They promise products that “just work” and have historically delivered on that promise time and again. This has made them not only one of the most successful brands in the world, but also one with serious longevity in an industry where companies come and go like the weather.

These are just a few of the core qualities that all brands with longevity share. Remember that in the grand scheme of things, brands come and go all the time. Creating a brand is easy, but if you want to make sure that your brand stands the test of time, you need to focus on offering something truly unique on an ongoing basis.


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What’s in a Name? The Value of Sponsorship as a Branding and Marketing Opportunity

sponsorship

In the world of marketing, you’re essentially always on the lookout for new and innovative opportunities to raise awareness about the brand that you represent. It isn’t just about getting the word out about a new product or service; it’s also about reminding people that you’re there, that you’ve always been there, and that you’re always going to be there. In an era where marketers strive to stretch the value of each dollar as far as it will go, one often overlooked opportunity may just generate the types of results you’re after: sponsorship.

Sponsorship and Brand Awareness: The Stats

Even if you don’t necessarily see sponsorship of charities, non-profits, or other local organizations as a valuable addition to your marketing arsenal, it’s clear that somebody does. According to a study conducted by IEG Sponsorship Report, sponsorship was a $2 billion dollar enterprise in 2016 and is expected to increase by roughly 3.7 percent over the course of the next year.

A report generated by the Edelman Trust Barometer indicated that sponsorship even goes far beyond marketing impact. Eighty percent of consumers around the world agreed that a business has a duty to play a very key role in addressing modern issues.

It even plays an important role in your own company culture. Fifty-one percent of employees surveyed said that they didn’t want to work for a company that didn’t have strong societal and environmental commitments, and almost seventy-five percent said that they liked their jobs more when they were given the type of opportunity to make a positive impact that sponsorship affords.

Sponsorship Best Practices

If you do decide to go ahead with sponsorship as a new brand and marketing opportunity, there are a few key things you’ll want to keep in mind. For starters, do your research carefully. Always make sure that you’re aligning with an organization that meshes with your existing culture and values. Do as much deep digging as you possibly can, as sponsorship creates something of a symbiotic relationship between two entities. A scandal at one will more than likely affect the other, so you’ll want to make sure that there are no skeletons hiding in the closet before you start spending your money.

You’ll also want to make an effort to isolate the impact of your sponsorships from the rest of your marketing activities, as only then will you be able to fully understand just what role it is playing in your larger campaign. MarketStrategies.com says that only half of marketers actually do this, which is a mistake. Though you’re doing something for a good cause first and recognition second, it still needs to be measured for maximum effectiveness – the same as anything else.

These are just a few reasons sponsorship is such a valuable branding and marketing opportunity, particularly for companies operating in the small and medium-sized business space. Not only does it give you a chance to raise awareness in a powerful way, but it also allows for something even more important – you get to give back to the community that you are an active part of.


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5 Ballet Business Lessons You Should Make a Point to Learn

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Business has quite a few things in common with ballet. Ballet is just as demanding as business, although in other ways. To succeed as a ballet dancer, one must put in a lot of hours of practice. To succeed in business, one must put in a lot of hours of work. For both, plans and dances must be executed in a precise way or the result will not be ideal. Because of these similarities, several things can be learned from ballet that can be applied to business.

1. Create Your Individual Style

Although there are basic components of ballet that ring true, someone who develops their individual style and dares to try new things is someone who will go further than an individual who sticks to only the basic rules. The same is true in business. If you want to succeed, you must stand out from the crowd. Find your own path that is unique to your goals even though you will be utilizing the same building blocks as everyone else.

2. Continue Learning Throughout Your Career

A great ballet dancer never stops learning new techniques and new dances. They simply cannot stop after they have learned only one dance and be successful. In business, this is also true. You must continue to seek out education. Whether it is another degree or simply a class to help you hone in on a skill set, you should never stop trying to learn more and improve your abilities.

3. Practice Makes Perfect

In ballet, perfection is valued and coveted. To reach this kind of perfection, dancers will practice for days, weeks, months, and years on end. They understand that they have to practice to get better and one day achieve that perfection they desire. In business, the same is true. You may have success the first time you do something, but more often than not, you will have to try again. If you believe in a business idea, keep trying and practicing until you get it right. Practice does, after all, make perfect.

4. Know There is a Place and a Role for Everyone

In a ballet dance that involves multiple people, there is a role for everyone to play. Not everyone can be the main dancer, even if they want to be. Someone has to play the supporting role. In business, it is important to understand this because the same is true. Even if you want to be the top dog on a project or in a company, you have to understand that sometimes you simply have to play another important role.

5. Develop and Build Trust

Trust is a huge component of ballet, especially if you are dancing with a partner. If the two partners do not trust each other, it will be apparent, and the dance will not be as beautiful. In business, it is equally as important to trust your partner. Otherwise, you may not give much effort to the project, or you may hold back and cause the business to suffer. Build trust with those you work with and the business will prosper. Choose not to trust, and it can crumble, just like a ballet routine.

There are several parallels between ballet and business. These lessons learned in the ballet circuit are important because they strengthen the dancer. Learn from these lessons, and you will become a stronger individual in the business world as well.


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A Business Perspective on Apple’s Latest MacBook Event

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If you’re interested in the tech world at all, you’re no doubt aware that Apple recently announced the 2016 MacBook Pro – something the company is calling “the best laptop ever made.” Indeed, it’s a unit with a technical specification sheet that can’t help but impress. Objectively, it likely will go down in history as the best laptop the company has released to date. However, some users are suggesting that Apple may be losing the balance between “user experience” and “marketing” in a way that is a bit unfavorable to their end goals.

The 2016 MacBook Pro

The new MacBooks don’t have a standard USB port at all, getting rid of them in favor of the new (and admittedly superior) USB-C. This is a great step towards a much more productive future, but it’s at the expense of the fact that we’re not quite at that future just yet. Case in point: the new iPhone 7 does not have a USB-C port at all. Instead, it uses Apple’s proprietary lightning cable.

This means that if you own both devices and just want to do something as simple as charge your iPhone with your MacBook, you need to purchase an external adapter. To be clear, this is not “the end of the world.” The MacBook Pro is still powerful; it can still be used with the brand new iPhone. However, what used to be a one-step process now requires two, as well as a purchase of additional hardware. This is contrary to the popular mantra of “design for the user experience first, marketing second.” This is the very same mantra Apple built its reputation on.

What Would Steve Jobs Say About All This?

Never one to shy away from “rattling a few cages,” this is one particular case where we don’t actually have to wonder what Steve Jobs may have thought about the steps that modern day Apple just took with the MacBook. He may have actually said it himself, in an interview conducted in the 1990s.

In an interview for the PBS documentary “Triumph of the Nerds,” Steve Jobs talked about how important sales and marketing people are to an organization, but how it’s equally important to keep them separate from the product development process. His argument was that all too often, products go from offering a great, easy experience to being “great and easy… to market.” Innovation, usability, and the overall experience tend to suffer as a result.

In that interview, Jobs said:

“… the people who make the company more successful are the sales and marketing people, and they end up running the companies. And the ‘product people’ get run out of the decision-making forums. The companies forget how to make great products. The product sensibility and product genius that brought them to this monopolistic position gets rotted out by people running these companies who have no conception of a good product vs. a bad product.”
Contrary to popular belief, Steve Jobs didn’t hold an “anti-marketing” stance at all. He supported marketers, and with good reason. Under his watch his own marketing team created some of the most successful campaigns of all time. What Jobs was warning against was the idea that you should always design a product or service for the customer first, and then turn it over to the marketing people to do what they do. When marketing is considered an extension of the product development phase, the positive qualities that brought you to your current position in the first place are often lost.


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