bentley-series-1-sDoes your copy lack a cer­tain emo­tional resonance?

Maybe you have a rel­e­vant, cred­i­ble mes­sage, but it just doesn’t have that, for lack of a bet­ter term, mag­netic abil­ity to move read­ers to deci­sion.  Well, here’s one way to add that:

Present the mind with a com­pelling men­tal image, and the emo­tions con­jured by that image will per­sist in the mind like the bright dots you con­tinue see­ing well after the flash from flash photography.

It doesn’t mat­ter if you look away from the cam­era and shield your eyes from future flashes, you’ll still see the dots.  And in the case of men­tal images, your read­ers will con­tinue pro­ject­ing the emo­tional atmos­phere of the image onto suc­ceed­ing top­ics of conversation.

And what makes a men­tal image “compelling”?

Com­pelling men­tal images are emo­tional, non-nuanced and require no analy­sis to take in.

Deep down, where it counts, in the emotion-driven uncon­scious, we are all still oper­at­ing at the level of fool­ish chil­dren respond­ing to bright shin­ing objects.  Make your image in tune with this bright shin­ing object men­tal­ity and then bor­row that “halo” for what­ever prod­uct or ser­vice you’re hop­ing to sell.

Here’s a rather art­ful exam­ple taken from J. Peter­man:

I have a friend in New York who has a 30-year-old Bent­ley, aluminum-bodied, quite fast, and quite beau­ti­ful. Peo­ple dri­ving Mer­cedes, BMWs, Jaguars, look over their shoul­ders in despair as he passes by. Where did I go wrong, their faces say.

The thing about his Bent­ley is that the oil-filler cap, which is springloaded for quick open­ing, is iden­ti­cal to, and unchanged from, the oil-filter caps on Bent­leys made fifty years ago. In other words, get it right, then don’t mess with it. Go on to some­thing else.

This is by way of intro­duc­ing the best umbrella in the world. How can I be so sure of that? Because the Queen of Eng­land and the Prince of Wales buy their umbrella from the same source: Swaine Adeney Brigg Lim­ited, mak­ers of hunt­ing crops, canes, and umbrel­las since 1750.

The royal fam­ily, I think, can afford a very good umbrella. They can also afford to not get stuck with an exper­i­men­tal model, a pro­vi­sional model, a see-how-it-goes model of umbrella (or any­thing else).

The Swaine Adeney Brigg umbrella is made from one piece of wood. It’s solid and thick exactly where other umbrel­las snap and fall apart. The run­ners, caps, and fer­rules are made of solid brass; the hand spring and top spring are nickel sil­ver. The cover is cut, sewn, and tied painstak­ingly to each rib. The shape (open) is domed (more room to get under it).

How long will the best umbrella last? I don’t know. My Bent­ley friend told me about a man who bought a Bent­ley even older than his. It had 250,000 miles on it when he bought it. He’s already dri­ven it now an addi­tional 127,000 miles.

The Swaine Adeney Brigg Umbrella (No. 1957). Black, of course. Cherry han­dle; with the War­rant of the Prince of Wales engraved on the plated gold collar.”

img10052880632OK, so we’ve got all the won­der­ful asso­ci­a­tions of Bent­ley, British, and Roy­alty baked into this copy.  All won­der­ful stuff when you’re appeal­ing to the aspi­ra­tional shop­per.  But the most pow­er­ful image in the copy is this:

“Peo­ple dri­ving Mer­cedes, BMWs, Jaguars, look over their shoul­ders in despair as he passes by. Where did I go wrong, their faces say.”

The core emo­tion pre­sented is: “I’m the object of envy even amongst my peer group (aka, upper-class own­ers of lux­ury cars).”  And it’s neatly tied to, the only slightly more nuanced thought of “…because I own some­thing awe­some that they don’t have.”

A four year old with a brand new bicy­cle can expe­ri­ence and under­stand the emo­tional and social dynam­ics involved in those images — images and emo­tions that color every­thing that fol­lows.  From “some­thing awe­some (that’s a pre­ferred choice of British aris­toc­racy)” to “mechan­i­cal sim­plic­ity and bril­liance that works” to Swaine Adeney Brigg Umbrel­las.  The log­i­cal chain of rea­son­ing within the copy is almost laugh­able, but it’s irrel­e­vant: the emo­tional and the­matic asso­ci­a­tions are what mat­ter, and they are pow­ered by that one, very sim­ple image of envy over a cov­eted sym­bol of aristocracy.

So while every­one wants to rave about J. Peterman’s mag­nif­i­cent prose style and sophis­ti­cated cul­tural allu­sions, these aren’t the ele­ments that sell; they’re sim­ply the adult cloth­ing used to dis­guise the far more child-like emo­tional images that do.

What about you?  Are you pre­sent­ing your audi­ence with a com­pelling men­tal image?

Or are you skip­ping all that to get into tech­ni­cal details, fea­tures, or garden-variety benefits?

P.S. As you may have guessed, the men­tal image doesn’t have to be directly, log­i­cally related to your prod­uct or ser­vice. It’s the emo­tional asso­ci­a­tions that count.

P.P.S. This tech­nique works even bet­ter when you have some log­i­cal fig leaves to offer your read­ers.  The Swaine Adeney Brigg Umbrella IS a pre­mium qual­ity, highly-covetable object, after all.

anniversaryTurns out I missed my blog’s one year anniver­sary, which took place on Octo­ber 7th. Doh!

Oh well, since I also missed the chance to post these thoughts pre-Thanksgiving, I thought I’d share this as a way of say­ing thanks to all of you, my read­ers and subscribers.

Any­one famil­iar with Joseph Camp­bell and The Hero’s Jour­ney, or even with Blake Snyder’s Beat Sheet from Save The Cat, knows that sto­ries revolve around a very pre­dictable set of struc­tural elements:

  • The hero almost always starts out with some fear, block, wound, or lim­i­ta­tion to be over­come or tran­scended as a result of the jour­ney taken, usu­ally expressed in a sta­sis = death moment
  • The hero typ­i­cally resists the “call to adven­ture” before being some­what forced to “cross the threshold,”
  • There’s an “all is lost moment”
  • and in any story not a tragedy, there’s also the happy ending

What you don’t likely think about is that we all go through this cycle mul­ti­ple times in our lives. Heck, if “mythic” struc­ture applies to freakin’ TV com­mer­cials, don’t you think it can apply to your work-a-day world?  Well, it can and it does.  And that real­iza­tion has really been a por­tal to sin­cere grat­i­tude for me.

See, instead of express­ing grat­i­tude in gen­eral for every­thing good in my life, I take a trip back, 5 years ago, 10 years, ago or even ear­lier.  I men­tally go back to the last time I faced a sta­sis = death moment in my life, or the last time life pushed me past the thresh­old by kick­ing me squarely in the nuts.  I recall all those unpleas­ant feel­ings and what my life was like in that moment, and from that act of remem­brance, all of the many bless­ings that have come into my life since then fall into sharp relief.  I get to see the happy end­ings to a lot of cycles, and the grat­i­tude that comes from that lasts far longer than a strained attempt to be thank­ful in gen­eral.  Highly recommended.

A year ago I was leav­ing my old blog­ging home at Future Now and start­ing up an unknown blog in the already over­crowded field of copy­writ­ing and mar­ket­ing.  And while the end­ing hasn’t yet been writ­ten, the jour­ney has been a blast.  Thank you for being part of it.

- Jeff

“Know some­thing, sugar? Sto­ries only hap­pen to peo­ple who can tell them.” — Alan Gurganus

bullseye.22112600_stdBeing on tar­get [with your mes­sag­ing] is much more impor­tant than being facile with words.” — Gary Hal­bert

…sto­ries with­out words can have enor­mous power. Just look at the first acts of Pixar’s UP or WALL-E… So what if when we sat down we gave our­selves a task other than pro­duc­ing words: Chang­ing the verb from writ­ing to sto­ry­telling may change the way we think about the work.” — Brian McDon­ald

Improv­ing copy rarely comes down to improv­ing the words.  Once in a blue moon word choice proves deci­sive, but even then, what leads a good copy­writer to select the bet­ter word has noth­ing to do with vocab­u­lary size or what most peo­ple think of as word­smithing and every­thing to do with an abil­ity to match the emo­tional nuance of the word to the psy­chol­ogy of the prospec­tive cus­tomer. Even when it comes down to the words, it’s not about the words; it’s about the cus­tomer.

Cre­at­ing Copy That Is On Target

The num­ber one thing you can do to improve your copy is to ensure that it is “On Tar­get,” or to con­tinue to improve the degree to which it is on tar­get.  And by that I mean improv­ing the match-up between cus­tomer desires/motivations/expectations and the mes­sage sent by the words.  In the video below, copy­writ­ing leg­end Gary Hal­bert pro­vides a strik­ingly clear expla­na­tion [Note — Skip to the 1:40 mark if you’re in a hurry]

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And yet, as impor­tant as this fac­tor is, most copy­writ­ers don’t have a sys­tem­atic, proven method for ensur­ing that their copy is on tar­get - mostly because they don’t have a sys­tem for mod­el­ing their client’s prospec­tive cus­tomers psychology.

I teach a fair amount of copy­writ­ing to client’s inter­nal copy­writ­ers, pri­vate stu­dents, and open classes, and by far, these are the top not-so-secret “secrets” that I teach:

  • how to model the prospect’s psychology
  • how to ensure the mes­sag­ing is on target.

And I’ll be teach­ing both of these things this Decem­ber 8th and 9th in Austin.

Writ­ing for Radio and The Internet

For­tu­nately for me, I co-teach my Wiz­ard Acad­emy Copy­writ­ing class with Chris Mad­dock, who tack­les copy­writ­ing from the other end.  He works on the sto­ry­telling aspect that Brian McDon­ald alluded to in the quote I pulled from his blog post.  By teach­ing stu­dents amaz­ingly effi­cient tech­niques for cre­at­ing grip­ping and vivid men­tal movies in the minds of their read­ers, Chris works on the student’s core writ­ing abil­i­ties — their abil­ity to gen­er­ate an emo­tional response.  I sim­ply ensure the stu­dents can direct those newly devel­oped abil­i­ties at the right target.

If this sounds like what you or your company’s copy­writ­ers need, there are still seats avail­able, and if you act soon, those seats come with free on-campus room and board.  Check it out.

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Back before Star­bucks, most on-the-go cof­fee choices sucked. Star­bucks tasted a lot bet­ter, offered fancy-schmancy cap­puc­ci­nos and, well, seemed a small daily lux­ury a lot of peo­ple where will­ing to spend an addi­tional $3 on.  Life’s too short to drink lousy cof­fee and all that.

Even though espresso-made spe­cialty drinks aren’t really in the same cat­e­gory as reg­u­lar brewed cof­fee (and, frankly, Star­bucks brewed cof­fee is not par­tic­u­larly tasty, IMHO) the pub­lic had been exposed to some­thing bet­ter and was will­ing to divert cof­fee dol­lars to spe­cialty drinks.

mcdonalds_billboardThen McDon­alds unleashed their own pre­mium brewed cof­fee (which really is pretty tasty) and a line of cap­puc­ci­nos and other spe­cialty cof­fee drinks, with Burger King and sev­eral other fast food chains fol­low­ing suit. The choice is no longer between pay­ing $4 for some­thing that tastes good or suf­fer­ing with crap cof­fee.  Now you can pay $1 (or noth­ing on Fri­days) and walk away with a pretty good cuppa joe.

Is it any won­der that Star­bucks closed lots of stores, imple­mented lots of cost-cutting strate­gies, restruc­tured their prices, and came out with a more budget-friendly line of instant cof­fee in order to stay rel­e­vant, attrac­tive, and competitive?

3 Busi­ness and Mar­ket­ing Lessons to take away from this:

1. As people’s options change, so do their buy­ing habits. When was the last time you looked at your cus­tomers options and made sure yours com­pared favor­ably to the com­pe­ti­tion?  When was the last time you thought about offer­ing up a new option?  Bun­dled ser­vices, un-bundled ser­vices, leas­ing, pay-by-the-hour, etc.


  • Sat­urn took a merely OK car and made it a suc­cess sim­ply by offer­ing an alter­na­tive buy­ing experience.
  • There’s an HVAC com­pany doing quite well sim­ply by allow­ing cus­tomers to lease HVAC sys­tems (with main­te­nance and replace­ment baked into the lease pay­ment) rather than buy­ing them.
  • One Hour Heat­ing and Air Con­di­tion­ing gave peo­ple the option of not wait­ing at home all day for the HVAC guy and peo­ple took that option in droves.
  • My wife’s pho­tog­ra­phy busi­ness offers cus­tomers a flat fee and they get the dig­i­tal files and print­ing at cost, rather than mak­ing the major­ity of her money on prints.  It has been very suc­cess­ful for her.

Want to grab new cus­tomers?  How about mak­ing them an offer they haven’t seen before…

2. Com­pet­i­tive land­scape deter­mines options.  Often times, you don’t have to be the very first to offer some­thing or do some­thing.  You just have to be the first in your local area or indus­try.  Cap­puc­ci­nos and spe­cialty cof­fee drinks weren’t new cre­ations of Star­bucks. But as Star­bucks expanded, they were often the first to offer them in a fran­chised, wine-bar-without-the-wine atmos­phere for their given loca­tion or town.

For the local busi­ness this has both an upside and a down­side: the upside is your abil­ity to import suc­cesses from other towns, states, nations, and espe­cially to import strate­gies from other indus­tries.  The down­side is that the inter­net and the global mar­ket­place often pro­vide peo­ple with lots of options. If you’re com­pet­ing against the inter­net, you need to face up to that and work that into your busi­ness strat­egy. As Tolkien tells us, “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your cal­cu­la­tions, if you live near him.”

3. Cat­e­gories don’t define per­ceived options. Before Star­bucks no one would have guessed that you could get some­one to pay $4 for a cup of cof­fee. But Star­bucks wasn’t sell­ing cof­fee, they were sell­ing cap­puc­ci­nos — they just man­aged to steel a lot of cof­fee busi­ness in the process.  And while the jump from cap­puc­ci­nos to cof­fee, from $4 to $1 isn’t that big, the prin­ci­ple remains the same: you are likely com­pet­ing for dol­lars with busi­nesses far out­side your cat­e­gory.  When it comes time to buy Christ­mas presents for the kids, bikes and sports equip­ment and toys and video games and books and trips are all com­pet­ing for the same dollars.

This is espe­cially true if you’re sell­ing a pre­mium or near-luxury prod­uct.  In order to trade up some­where, I gen­er­ally have to trade down some­where else. Con­vince me your prod­uct or ser­vice is the place where I should spend my “trading-up” dollars.

Finally, never dis­count the age-old option of doing noth­ing.  I could buy a new 27-inch iMac, or I could do noth­ing and be happy with the my cur­rent Mac lap­top.  I could go on a vaca­tion, or enjoy a stay­ca­tion instead.  As an adver­tiser, doing noth­ing is often your biggest com­pe­ti­tion, and yet, many copy­writ­ers ignore this com­peti­tor entirely.

And that’s all for me — I’m off to get a free cof­fee at Burger King ; )

the_candidateHave you ever wanted to ask the politi­cians, cam­paign man­agers, and polit­i­cal advis­ers a ques­tion or two about why they cam­paign the way they do?

While most of us would prob­a­bly rather shout: “Stop the insan­ity you *&$!@#! meat­heads” than ask a ques­tion, I think we’d also prob­a­bly want to ask at least one ques­tion about neg­a­tive attack ads.

Since I’m for­tu­nate enough to cor­re­spond with an incred­i­bly suc­cess­ful cam­paign strategist/marketer, I actu­ally asked him: “Does the pub­lic really respond that well to bla­tantly nothing-but-negative attack ads?  At what point do peo­ple tune out from the BS being slung in all direc­tions?

Of course the e-mail cor­re­spon­dence in which I asked this was a lot more ram­bling than that, but that was the gist of my ques­tions. Here are the best parts of his response to me [empha­sis in quotes added by me]:

  • Vot­ers have a pretty good, although far from per­fect, bull­shit detec­tor… they have a pretty good sense of what rings false. It’s not per­fect, but I remain sur­prised at what vot­ers will dis­re­gard in attack ads…
  • And a lot of polit­i­cal adver­tis­ers have very poor instincts and can take fac­tual attacks and frame them in such a way that no one believes the ad… If your ad leaves the viewer/reader/listener think­ing to them­selves that no ratio­nal per­son would have taken the action claimed and that there must be more to the story, then the adver­tiser has lost, whether or not the fac­tual basis of the ad was true.”
  • a can­di­date has some very deep image prob­lems when vot­ers will con­sider a false attack as cred­i­ble. For an incumbent—and this year most of the can­di­dates get­ting ham­mered are incum­bents—the best defense to almost any attack is to have devel­oped a deep reser­voir of good­will, through good con­stituent ser­vice along with other ways.
  • “The effec­tive­ness of the attack is also pred­i­cated by the cred­i­bil­ity of the attacker, not sim­ply the cred­i­bil­ity of the mes­sage. If the attacker is an unknown, or has high image neg­a­tives, the view­ers are far less likely to give the mes­sage the cre­dence it may or may not deserve.”
  • Polit­i­cal adver­tis­ing has dif­fer­ent goals though. At the end of the day, you need to get the client to take a pos­i­tive action toward your client. You need them to buy a new heat pump from you or some­thing. While it would be nice to get a voter to vote for me. I do almost as well if a voter that would oth­er­wise vote for my oppo­nent chooses not to vote at all. At some level, if you’re sell­ing a dis­cre­tionary prod­uct or ser­vice, you still have to get the buyer to choose you. In an elec­tion, get­ting the voter to choose no one can work beau­ti­fully, even it makes your 12th grade civics teacher want to vomit.”

And here’s what struck me about those responses in regards to reg­u­lar advertising:

1) You can’t fool peo­ple by gloss­ing over unfa­vor­able parts of the story.

If an ad sounds one-sided, peo­ple won’t believe it.  This works for reg­u­lar adver­tis­ing and web copy, too, by the way.  It’s why admit­ting the down­side is cru­cial to build­ing trust and cred­i­bil­ity for your mes­sage. You can’t be all things to all men, so don’t be afraid to say:

This, of course, assumes that you have prospects for whom you ARE the per­fect choice, areas where you DO spe­cial­ize, and dis­pro­por­tion­ately higher lev­els of qual­ity, ser­vice, and results that more than off-set the down­sides.  Still, few will believe you if you only com­mu­ni­cate the upside, just like vot­ers dis­count neg­a­tive ads which lead them to believe that there’s more to the story. Ulti­mately, buy­ers know there has to be a catch some­where — that  there has to be some­thing in it for you.

2) If you’re already a cat­e­gory leader, build cus­tomer good­will to fend off com­peti­tor attacks

If you’re the leader, you’re also the best per­son to steal market-share from.  Cus­tomer reten­tion, cus­tomer loy­alty, and cus­tomer good will need to be built and devel­oped before some­one comes in with a (super­fi­cially) more attrac­tive offer designed to lure cus­tomers away.  And keep in mind that there’s a dif­fer­ence between loy­alty pro­grams and reten­tion pro­grams.

Although Apple occa­sion­ally ships a prod­uct with a glitch or flaw, or makes a mar­ket­ing move that leaves cus­tomers feel­ing irked, it’s always smoothed over.  No mat­ter how much Microsoft exec­u­tives want to gloat that the “iPhone 4 might be [Apple’s] Vista,” that stuff just never sticks.

3) Cred­i­bil­ity is tied to both rep­u­ta­tion and per­ceived intent

Peo­ple aren’t stu­pid. If you stand to directly ben­e­fit by fling­ing mud at some­one else, they’ll dis­count your mes­sage.  You have too much of a vested inter­est to be cred­i­ble.

So you’re ad should never focus on beat­ing up com­peti­tors so much as help­ing poten­tial cus­tomers.  Instead of a “Brand X Vac­uum Clean­ers Suck (or, um, don’t suck well enough, that is ;)” stance, you should take a “If you’ve ever been irri­tated by this prob­lem with your vac­uum clean­ers, I’v found a solu­tion you might be inter­ested in” approach. And make sure you have estab­lished your author­ity to speak on the sub­ject.

Just watch how James Dyson both focuses on the prob­lem (not the com­pe­ti­tion) while estab­lish­ing his first hand expe­ri­ence and engi­neer­ing credibility:

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crybaby crying kid cry tear tears Above the Law blogIn response to last Friday’s post, I reader asked me to elab­o­rate on the fol­low­ing Roy H. Williams quote:

[You] can’t sell hap­pi­ness unless UNHAPPINESS is the default option.”

And to do that, I’d like to com­bine that with a quote from the open­ing para­graph of Break­through Adver­tis­ing, writ­ten by the leg­endary Eugene Schwartz:

Copy can­not cre­ate desire for a prod­uct. It can only take the hopes, dreams, fears, and desires that already exist in the hearts of mil­lions of peo­ple and focus those already exist­ing desires onto a par­tic­u­lar prod­uct. This is the copy­writ­ers task: not to cre­ate this mass desire – but to chan­nel and direct it.” [Empha­sis in original]

When Roy tells us that you can’t sell hap­pi­ness unless unhap­pi­ness is the default option, he is essen­tially telling us that the desire for your solu­tion has to already exist. You have to be answer­ing a ques­tion that peo­ple are already asking.

No mat­ter how much peo­ple may des­per­ately need your prod­uct (accord­ing to you, at least), if they don’t FEEL as if they need what you sell and they don’t gen­er­ally WANT what you sell, then you’ve got a prod­uct that adver­tis­ing won’t help you sell.

Why Desire Trumps Need

My favorite illus­tra­tion of this comes from this Calvin and Hobbes strip wherein Calvin attempts to sell a “swift kick in the butt” for $1 and can’t fig­ure out why busi­ness is so slow when every­body he knows needs what he’s selling.

So if desire trumps need, the ques­tion becomes: how can you desire what you already have? Answer: you can’t.  You can’t pos­si­bly feel the want of some­thing – can’t feel “in need of it” – if you already have it. If you’re sell­ing “health” the per­son has to feel as if they don’t cur­rently HAVE health. They have to have a health problem.

So where does this put pre­ven­ta­tives like vit­a­mins and exer­cise and such? Easy: these things are sold either as:

  1. The cure to a health prob­lem – Peo­ple start tak­ing vit­a­mins and sup­ple­ments and exer­cise because they feel as if they’re fat or can’t keep up with their kids or have high cho­les­terol or joint pain, and so on.
  2. A way to regain some­thing that’s already been lost, i.e., Youth — Most sup­ple­ments and exer­cise pro­grams are sold as anti-aging or youth-restoration solu­tions to peo­ple who feel that they are rapidly los­ing their youth.
  3. A way to gain an edge over the com­pe­ti­tion – sell­ing per­for­mance rather than health.

This is why Roy also specif­i­cally addresses sell­ing health in this quote (also taken from Friday’s post):

PROBLEM: Sell­ing health is a bad idea. Most peo­ple already have health. If they keep their health, they’re not going to give you any credit for that. Health isn’t mea­sur­able unless you’re cur­rently sick and this reg­i­men cures you. As I said before, weight loss and body shape are mea­sur­able. Does this pro­gram accom­plish those things?”

What to do when unhap­pi­ness isn’t the default option

So if unhap­pi­ness isn’t already rec­og­nized as the default option, the copywriter/advertiser has to do one of two things:

  1. Find at least one aspect of the prod­uct or ser­vice that cus­tomers are NOT happy with and use your copy to agi­tate that prob­lem, or
  2. Con­nect a prob­lem or unhap­pi­ness they cur­rently have to the prod­uct or ser­vice they are cur­rently using.

Infomer­cials are infa­mous for this. A chef’s knife is a per­fectly ade­quate solu­tion to the chal­lenge of dic­ing up fruits, veg­eta­bles, nuts, etc. But in unskilled hands, it’s not nearly as fast as a Slap Chop. So the Slap Chop infomer­cial has to make that into a BIG DEAL by:

  • Com­i­cally exag­ger­at­ing the dif­fi­culty and time require­ments of chop­ping with a knife.
  • Tying the customer’s cur­rent lack of healthy, deli­cious, and inter­est­ing foods and snacks in their diet to the inabil­ity to quickly chop foods.

Watch the video and you’ll see exactly what I mean when you hear phrases like: “You know you hate mak­ing sal­ads, that’s why you don’t have any salad in your diet” and “Stop hav­ing bor­ing tuna; stop hav­ing a bor­ing life.” No slap chop = unhap­pi­ness as the default option my friend ;)

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