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Mobile marketing is the most personal medium available. People run their lives off of mobile. It’s business, it’s personal, it’s information gathering. It’s on 24/7. We call it the “brand in the hand.”
— Global Media Manager, Adidas International
First it was the Internet. Now, the convergence of the Web and wireless technology has begun to challenge many of the assumptions companies have about their marketing strategies. Indeed, the combination of the Internet and hand-held mobile devices is making possible a whole new array of marketing applications and offerings. This is what we refer to as “brand in the hand” —the potential for branding and marketing communications to be delivered to people in their hands while they are shopping, watching a sporting event, commuting, working or doing chores at home.
In the past, advertising and branding models were based primarily on 30-second commercials and magazine ads. Today, the growth of digital and mobile communications is changing so fast that consumers may soon find themselves interacting with brands in fundamentally different ways. For now, the target delivery medium for mobile marketing applications is cell phones, personal digital assistants and other hand-held devices. But scenarios such as the one in the film “Minority Report,” in which holographic point-of-purchase displays for the likes of Gap clothing engage passers-by by name, are not that far off in certain Asian and European markets.
Before companies rush into this new marketing arena, though, they need to understand some fundamental issues. For starters, in what ways does mobile marketing differ from traditional approaches? Moreover, when should a company pursue a brand-in-the-hand initiative — and when should it not? And how should firms integrate such a novel approach within their overall marketing strategies?
For many people, the cell phone, PDA or other hand-held device has become virtually a necessity of everyday life. (See “The Global Spread of Mobile Technology.”) In particular, young consumers, who tend to be technology-savvy multitaskers, have quickly adopted mobile devices to socialize, play online games and download content, including music, ring tones and wallpaper backgrounds. Within this market segment, cell phones have become a status symbol and a means for individuals to express themselves through customized face plates, ring tones, carrying cases and so on. In this sense, cell phones have become similar to clothing, jewelry and other external communicators of the self. One observer has even claimed that mobile communication devices may represent the “ultimate expression of an individualistic society.”1
But younger consumers are not the only ones to embrace mobile technology. In fact, the reach of mobile devices is perhaps best understood by segmenting people on the basis of their acceptance and use of technology as well as their lifestyle motivations, rather than solely on background variables such as age or gender, which can be less representative of actual behavior.2 In one such study, Forrester Research, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, looked at factors such as technology attitude and income along with three primary motivations (career, family and entertainment) to categorize consumers. The people in one resulting segment — “mouse potatoes,” a relatively older group characterized by high income, interests in entertainment and a positive attitude toward technology — appear to be likely candidates for adopting mobile technology.
As increasing numbers of consumers become users of mobile devices, companies will likely develop marketing strategies for exploiting that new medium. In fact, global brands such as McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, MTV, Volvo, Sony Pictures, Nike and Adidas have already begun to explore brand-in-the-hand concepts. For example, one of the newest forms of marketing is the text-in promotion, in which people with cell phones can engage in a variety of promotions by text messaging certain codes. In Europe, Coca-Cola Co. and McDonald’s Corp. recently partnered to promote the popular movie “Finding Nemo” by distributing 25 million drink cups that each contained a unique text message code. Consumers could submit the text code through their cell phones to win prizes and downloads such as mobile postcards and Nemo wallpaper. In all, more than 4 million people participated in the campaign.3 In another instance, MTV Networks Co. recently partnered with Virgin Mobile Telecoms Ltd. to promote special ring tones that were featured in MTV’s 2005 Video Music Awards show and were available exclusively on Virgin Mobile phones.4
Like Web communications, mobile marketing can be interactive, but it offers the possibility of a closer brand connection because of the personal nature of hand-held electronic devices. Cell phones and PDAs store information about individuals’ social networks of friends, family, and business or school contacts. The devices might also contain a calendar of appointments and serve various other functions, including alarm clock, camera, calculator and video game player. Therefore, they often stimulate an emotional connection with their users, as evidenced by the popularity of accessory products that people purchase to personalize their phones, including customized ring tones, face plates and wallpaper backgrounds.
At this point, mobile marketing is tied primarily to cell phones because of widespread use as well as the portability of the devices. It should be noted that brand-in-the-hand strategies do not include laptops accessing WiFi wireless networks because of the limited mobility of such computers. Further, the usage characteristics of cell phones versus other devices are quite different. Not only are mobile phones very portable — many people carry them around everywhere — but they also tend to be on most of the time.
This raises the important differentiating characteristic of a mobile marketing strategy versus a traditional approach: The former can be executed specific to a consumer’s location or to the particular consumption context. In other words, the true benefit of mobile marketing is realized when brand-consumer communications and interactivity takes place at the more personal, contextual and location-based levels. Because individuals can be, and often are, connected anytime and anywhere, mobile marketing can be used to collect data through the wireless Internet to determine not only the exact location of a consumer at a given time (at Wrigley Field, for example) but also the context of why that individual might be there (to cheer a favorite team, the Chicago Cubs). With that information, more meaningful or relevant advertising messages or promotions can be delivered to the consumer (a 30% discount coupon for select Cubs merchandise) on his mobile phone or other hand-held device in a setting where the consumer may be receptive to receiving such communications. Scenarios like this one are becoming increasingly possible, especially now that Finland-based Nokia Corp. has introduced a permission-based mobile service that employs Bluetooth and other close-range radio technologies.5
A New Marketing Paradigm
Marketing approaches can be characterized along two dimensions: (1) the level of consumer interactivity that the medium enables and (2) the degree of location specificity of the medium itself. (See “A Comparison of Marketing Communication Approaches.”) Traditional media are typically “lean-back,” involving little interactivity. Television viewing, for instance, is a relatively passive activity. Some traditional marketing media, like radio, TV and print advertising, are independent of location (for example, an ad in a magazine might be read at home or during an airline flight), while others, like billboard and retail advertising, are specific to the consumer’s location (for example, an “Everything on sale” sign that is posted in the window of a jewelry store).
A Comparison of Marketing Communication Approaches
In contrast, some newer types of media are “lean-forward,” requiring a greater degree of interactivity. Web surfing, for instance, requires a person to make conscious decisions about what sites to access next. Here again, the marketing medium can be either independent of location (for example, a Web site’s pop-up ad that can be viewed on a computer at work or at home) or dependent on location or consumer context (for example, the Chicago Cubs coupon). The unique value of mobile marketing is that it enables both brand-consumer interactivity and location specificity that cannot be achieved with other approaches. In other words, the mobile platform offers a fundamentally different type of consumer experience.
This new marketing paradigm could play an increasingly important role, particularly for reaching certain consumer segments. Consider the fact that most teenagers in Europe’s largest TV broadcast markets are interested in some level of interactivity between TV and their cell phones. In response, corporations may need to pursue mobile strategies aggressively to connect with such consumers. And it follows that, as more and more people migrate to wireless communication platforms, they could become increasingly difficult to reach with traditional advertising and promotional methods.
The Role of Mobile Marketing in Branding
But will brands only be able to compete in the future by exploiting alternative forms of communication, such as mobile marketing? And, if so, how can such new approaches complement the more static, traditional forms of advertising? The answers lie in the characteristics of mobile marketing that enable brands to achieve three objectives: (1) foster top-of-mind awareness and attitude formation, (2) increase brand-consumer involvement and interaction through content downloads, e-mails that trigger a viral effect and other activities, referred to as “second order” responses, and (3) directly influence consumer actions related to purchasing transactions, referred to as “first order” responses.
Build Brand Awareness
Mobile marketing creates new opportunities for companies to form or shift consumer attitudes toward a brand through the use of value-added content (rich, digital media offerings, including audio and video) that can be personalized with context and location specificity. During the 2004 UEFA European Football Championship, for example, Adidas International, based in Amsterdam, Netherlands, a division of Germany’s Adidas-Salomon AG, launched a campaign that enabled cell-phone access by customers to a number of brand assets, including photos of popular athletes and entertainers associated with the championships, sport-specific commercials and short movies. The company also developed an applet that could be downloaded to a mobile phone to provide real-time scores and other information about the soccer matches. The software program generated more than 60,000 subscribers across Europe.
In the music industry, recording labels and artists are employing mobile marketing to launch new albums. For example, the band New Order, which is attempting a comeback after several hit songs in the 1980s, is promoting its new compact disc through digital posters, song clips, ring tones and photos of the band members that can be sent directly to fans’ cell phones via infrared and Bluetooth technologies.6 To link that marketing effort to retail outlets, the digital posters will also be displayed at select stores carrying the CD. It should be noted that the Adidas, New Order and other similar campaigns not only prolong the brand-consumer relationship, but they also personalize it because of the close attachment that many people feel toward their cell phone.
Increase Consumer Involvement and Interaction
Mobile marketing enables frequent consumer involvement and interaction through repeated content downloads and online games and contests. Such second-order consumer activities are not tied directly to an actual purchasing transaction, but they can be instrumental in establishing and prolonging the dialogue between brand and consumer. The unique advantage of the mobile platform is that these dialogues (and the resulting brand-consumer relationships) can be forged at a more personalized and contextual level. And as the bandwidth of wireless communications continues to increase, the various applications, including audio, data and streaming video, that can be delivered to people’s hands via cell phones will become ever more sophisticated, above and beyond simple text messaging.
Adidas, for example, enables consumers to download photos of its popular athletes, such as soccer star David Beckham, and digitally superimpose their own photographs on those images. Some music companies allow people access to a portfolio of cell-phone downloads (including ring tones and wallpaper) that leverage certain artists and their songs. Fans key in text codes for promotions such as “a day in the life of … ,” which continually posts updated photos of a particular artist, sponsored by the brand. To introduce its new S40 car, Sweden’s AB Volvo developed a European mobile marketing campaign. Targeted participants could view a video teaser of the car on their mobile phones, and then access the Volvo Web site via an e-mail link to see the remainder of the video. About one-third of the people downloaded the video clip onto their mobile phones, and half viewed the entire footage from the Web site.7 In the financial services industry, New York–based Citibank has initiated a program that allows customers throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific to use their cell phones to gain access to their bank accounts as well as to obtain stock market updates and alerts on select stocks.8
Other companies have sponsored contests to increase brand-consumer interactions. In 2004, the Dove line of skin-care products developed a marketing campaign that encouraged consumers to voice their opinions regarding what “real beauty” meant to them.9 Physical billboards were driven through two major U.S. cities, and people on the street could send short text codes on their cell phones to vote in favor of specific images of beauty shown on those displays. The results were then shown in real-time on a spectacular billboard in Times Square in New York City, and participants could engage in online discussions on the topic at the Dove Web site.
Influence Consumer Response and Activation
One limitation of traditional marketing approaches is that companies often don’t know what actions, if any, consumers take after being exposed to an ad. The Internet has begun to change that by providing firms with click-stream data. But with mobile platforms, not only can consumer behavior be tracked online, it also can conceivably be activated in situ. Currently, commuters in Japan can scan bus schedules with their phones and receive coupons from stores along their route. Those retailers can then track the redemption rate of those coupons. In the future, cell phones will likely be able to read the radio-frequency identification tags on items in stores, including clothes, shoes and sporting equipment. Those products could then “talk with” shoppers to relay important information, such as special promotional offers.
But the ability of mobile marketing to trigger consumer purchases remains in a nascent and experimental stage. Many organizations capture information about customers in various functional areas, including sales, marketing and customer service, but they lack a sophisticated system for integrating those multiple databases. Consequently, they have trouble personalizing their interactions with customers and therefore have a limited ability to take full advantage of the mobile platform. A potential danger is that a company could alienate customers by bombarding them with different messages from separate areas of the organization. Of course, integrating disparate databases would require substantial funding, and firms would need to decide whether the mobile platform should be positioned primarily as a mechanism for branding and data collection (that is, a back-end system) or for conducting transactions (a front-end system). On a related note, companies also have to determine whether they require a back-end infrastructure, such as a dedicated warehouse, for mobile fulfillment.
To investigate those and other issues, we conducted an in-depth case study of Adidas, the global manufacturer of sporting footwear and apparel. (See “About the Research.”) Adidas has made an aggressive foray into the mobile platform in an attempt to leverage more from its marketing dollars with respect to the industry leader, Nike Inc., of Beaverton, Oregon. Throughout its various mobile campaigns, Adidas has faced numerous challenges, and the company’s experience has led us to identify six major issues for managers to consider before implementing a mobile-marketing strategy.
Issue 1. Exploiting the Capabilities of Mobile Marketing
Taking advantage of mobile marketing’s unique capabilities can require substantial resources, but one solution is to partner with a content provider to develop a “personal mobile gateway,” somewhat similar to Apple Computer Inc.’s iTunes, through which iPod users can purchase music recordings over the Web and manage those digital files in their personal libraries. Using such an approach, Adidas might partner with media outlets such as sports network ESPN or the publication Runner’s World to develop a gateway that could be segmented to target people with specific interests, like long-distance running. Users could then download content (such as tips for first-time marathoners) and receive feedback (based on information about their training that they had input into the mobile gateway) to improve their performance.
A strategy in which the brand becomes a mobile portal to the wireless Web and an aggregator of value-added content can lead to a high level of customer personalization. Investments in such approaches can help companies even the playing field when they are being outspent by competitors in terms of traditional advertising and promotion.10 In this way, brands can better compete by delivering more meaningful messages and value-added content targeted to both current and prospective customers.
Issue 2. Using Universal Appeals to Tap Into Global Markets
One approach for tapping into consumer sensibilities and lifestyles across global markets is to follow the model successfully deployed by MTV.11 In its efforts to expand its brand across markets, MTV has managed to mix universal appeals with local tastes — a tactic that could be applied to mobile marketing. The prospective purchaser of a luxury car, for example, might also be interested in an exotic vacation getaway, high-end sporting equipment and financial-investment vehicles. However, even though wealthy consumers in both Tokyo and New York might appreciate information about luxury hotels in Maui and expensive golf clubs, the former is likely to have a smaller appetite for risk, preferring more information about blue-chip stocks and less on hedge funds.
Companies should remember that any global campaign must take into account regional differences in technology. In general, many markets throughout Europe and Asia-Pacific are more highly evolved than those in the United States with respect to the infrastructure development, technology standards, capabilities of service providers and sophistication of mobile devices. For example, one technology standard that is important for the widespread use of multimedia mobile communications is WiMax, developed by Intel Corp. in partnership with other companies such as Nokia, Sprint and BellSouth. But it may take several years (2008 to 2010) before mobile providers expand WiMax to support significant coverage in the United States.12 Moreover, mobile devices that incorporate the fourth-generation data services necessary for realizing the true potential of mobile marketing might not begin to appear in the United States until 2008 or later. Consequently, one solution might be a stepped approach. For instance, a company could test a mobile-marketing campaign in a market that is advanced technologically but is not deemed critical (South Korea, perhaps) and use the results from that effort to launch a more refined campaign at a later date in a market that has less advanced but developing technology and is deemed crucial (China, for example).
Issue 3. Addressing Privacy Concerns
Wireless communications are typically less secure than transmissions over fixed lines, and this raises a number of privacy concerns. In addition, the capability to connect with people continually throughout the day could result in intrusions into people’s private and public spaces. In other words, consumers might have their privacy disrupted not just at home or at the office but everywhere they go. The use of viral marketing — enlisting consumers to promote a company’s brand to their relatives, friends and acquaintances — might further erode an individual’s sense of personal privacy.
Privacy issues are particularly sensitive with respect to brand-in-the-hand concepts, in part because of the personal nature of mobile devices. Many individuals view their cell phones as sacred and inviolable extensions of their selves. As such, they could easily perceive an unsolicited message as far more intrusive on their cell phone than on their computer or home phone. This could become a crucial issue as the mobile platform becomes more pervasive and consumers begin to forget that they are connected. In such cases, they could feel particularly violated when receiving unwanted calls or messages.
Accordingly, federal regulations in the United States have prohibited the sending of unsolicited commercial messages on mobile devices. But privacy laws vary across global markets. It is also important to understand that attitudes may differ among consumer groups within the same region as well as across global markets. In South Korea, for instance, consumers appear to be more tolerant of receiving unsolicited commercial messages on their cell phones than are people in Europe and the United States. Of course, companies need to take into account such differences as they develop their mobile-marketing strategies. To assuage consumers’ fears, one solution is to implement “opt in” programs, in which individuals relinquish a portion of their privacy in exchange for discounts or other special offers.
Mobile-Marketing Value Chain
Issue 4. Aligning Value-Chain Partners
Developing a “value chain” of partners in the mobile arena is an important, yet complex, task. (See “Mobile-Marketing Value Chain.”) As in any business partnership, these relationships combine complementary skills and capabilities, and the participating companies should be aligned with overarching objectives. In mobile marketing, the value chain can consist of numerous stakeholders. For a company like Adidas, that chain might include back-end hardware suppliers (Nokia) and wireless carriers (Vodafone Group of the United Kingdom in Europe and New Jersey-based Verizon Wireless in the United States), specialized interactive and mobile communications firms, content providers (ESPN), traditional advertising agencies, and perhaps even partner brands (MTV).
Such a complex chain of suppliers and strategic partners presents various challenges. Who, for example, should manage strategy development and execution: the brand itself or one of its upstream value-chain partners? And how can the partners ensure that they are aligned and that they remain so?
Issue 5. Integrating the Mobile Platform With Other Media
Companies should not treat the mobile platform as a stand-alone medium but rather as one component in an overall marketing strategy that must be integrated with others. Television and, to a lesser extent, print remain the most effective advertising vehicles for reaching the masses, and a mobile campaign that avoids these platforms could easily suffer from diminished reach. That is what occurred in 2004, when Adidas launched a campaign in the United States featuring Missy Elliott, the popular female hip-hop entertainer. The singer had just signed a deal with Adidas to create her signature line of branded footwear and apparel, and the plan was to promote those products in three ways: on the mobile platform, online and at music industry events.
The campaign included a variety of content available on the mobile platform. Consumers could download ring tones, voice tones (prerecorded messages from Missy Elliott) and Adidas-branded wall-papers, but first they had to register on a Web site created specifically for the campaign. The process could only be completed through a PC or laptop, and people had to enter personal data, including credit card information to pay for content downloads.13 After completing the registration, though, people could use their cell phones to connect to the Web and browse the Adidas-Missy Elliott collection of shoes and apparel, locate the nearest Adidas retailer, sign up for product and content alerts, engage in chats with Missy and enter a contest to win a vacation with the entertainer. To entice traffic to the site, Adidas provided the first 10,000 wallpaper downloads for free and offered registrants credit for future downloads if they would send their friends messages encouraging them to sign up for the campaign.
The results were disappointing: The number of mobile visitors to the Web site was significantly less than expected, and wallpaper downloads and viral activities were minimal. The cumbersome registration process was partly to blame, but a bigger factor might have been that, because of budget limitations, Adidas did not use traditional media to promote the campaign. The lesson here is that, although mobile marketing might be a more effective medium in terms of consumer involvement, interaction and response, it could also be a less efficient medium with respect to audience reach.
Issue 6. Developing Mobile-Specific Metrics
One way to assess the effectiveness of a mobile-marketing campaign is to use traditional Internet measures, such as click-stream activity and the number of registrations, downloads and “pass-alongs.” But additional metrics that are specific to the mobile platform must be developed to fully determine the effectiveness and efficiency of mobile-marketing practices. Such measures must account for the unique nature of the mobile setting, most likely by providing quantitative information about consumer responses at the retail or transaction level. Without this type of hard data, marketing managers and advertising agencies will have trouble justifying substantial investments in the mobile platform.
Ideally, mobile-specific metrics would be able to measure the viral effect of mobile-marketing messages as well as to monitor the resulting consumer activity. In that way, the metrics would enable companies to assess the effectiveness of a particular campaign, from brand awareness and attitude formation to second-order brand-consumer interaction and first-order customer activation and response. Such information could then enable marketers to tailor mobile communications to their most profitable or active customers. But in the absence of well-defined metrics — and because minimal precedent exists from which to learn about successful (or failed) campaigns — many companies might be better off (for now, anyway) considering mobile marketing as an exploratory platform for experimentation and firm-based learning14 rather than as a vehicle for obtaining quick returns on investment.
The Future of Mobile Marketing
Perhaps the biggest question is whether consumers will be willing to accept (or opt in for) marketing communications on their cell phones or other hand-held devices. Increasingly, people have sought to limit their exposure to advertising and promotional content, sparking the growing popularity of services like TiVo and satellite radio. A key challenge in mobile marketing is to interact with individuals in a meaningful manner that adds value to the brand-consumer relationship without being intrusive.
Most likely, mobile marketing will complement — and not replace — the traditional forms of advertising media, including TV and print, that allow brands significant reach and efficiency in terms of cost per thousand viewers. As such, companies will need to figure out exactly how to integrate the mobile platform within their overall marketing strategies. That process could take considerable effort, but it could also uncover intriguing possibilities because cell phones have the potential to take the place of the credit card or even the wallet as the technology becomes increasingly configured for electronic commerce. Given that, companies would do well to consider how brand-in-the-hand approaches might help them break through the clutter of marketing communications to reach ever more elusive consumers, especially younger ones who seem to have a special affinity for their cell phones. Effective strategies in this area could confer powerful first-mover advantages, particularly as today’s teenagers and young adults grow up to become tomorrow’s middle-aged consumers with higher disposable incomes.
1. G. Silverman, “Ad Agencies Sound Alert Over the Mobile Phone Generation,” Financial Times, Nov. 9, 2004, p. 20.
2. S. Yonish, “Why Technographics Work,” research report (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Forrester Research, November 2001). This report defines 10 consumer segments based on technology use and acceptance. Research also suggests that the greater interactivity inherent in Web-based communications has a positive effect on brand performance, including consumer-loyalty intentions. See C. Mathwick, “Understanding the Online Consumer: A Typology of Online Relational Norms and Behavior,” Journal of Interactive Marketing (winter 2002): 40–55.
3. “McDonald’s 2003 – ‘Finding Nemo’: Got a Shark Biting on Your Mobile?” case study, www.12snap.com/english/12snap.html.
4. B. Steinberg, “Going Beyond TV to Woo Hip Youth,” Wall Street Journal, Aug. 26, 2005, p. B2.
5. Z. Rodgers, “Nokia Supports ‘Starbucks’ Scenario,” Feb. 10, 2005, www.pdastreet.com/articles/2005/2/2005-2-10-Nokia-Supports-Starbucks.html.
6. “New Order Uses Bluetooth Posters to Send Music Clips Direct to Cellphones,” Mar. 12, 2005, case study, http://www.engadget.com/entry/1234000130035625; and “New Order Pioneers Digital Posters,” Mar. 3, 2005, http://www.aversion.com/news/news_article.cfm?news_id=3897
7. Mobile 365, “Mobile 365 + Mindshare Rev Up Volvo’s S40 Campaign,” case study, www.mobile365.com/case_studies/volvo.php.
8. “Citibank Alerts: Wireless Banking in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia-Pacific,” case study, www.mobile365.com/case_studies/citibank.php.
9. Mobile 365, “Mobile 365 + OgilvyOne Use Mobile Element in Dove Campaign,” case study, www.mobile365.com/case_studies/dove.php.
10. This draws on the concept of viewing marketing communications efforts as an investment rather than an expense. See D.C. Court, J.W. Gordon and J. Perrey, “Boosting Returns on Marketing Investment,” McKinsey Quarterly, no. 2 (2005) online edition, www.mckinseyquarterly.com/article_page.aspx?ar=1620&L2=16&L3=20.
11. MTV has successfully exported and grown its brand globally by customizing its programming with local tastes and content. MTV now reaches 331 million homes outside the United States in 164 countries. See J.L. Robert, “World Tour,” Newsweek, June 6, 2005, 34–35.
12. There are numerous sources for information about the prospects for emerging technology standards such as WiMax. For example, the city of Philadelphia is planning to build a WiMax network covering approximately 60% of the city. See C. Golvin, L. Godell and M. de Lussanet, “Let’s Get Real About WiMax,” research report (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Forrester Research, July 13, 2005) as well as “WiMax May Pose Fresh Challenge to Broadband,” Mar. 1, 2005, www.wimax-industry.com/ar/1k.htm and S.B. Shor, “Intel Releases First WiMAX Chip,” Apr. 18, 2005, www.technewsworld.com/story/42379.html.
13. Adidas decided to price downloadable content at $1.99, except for voice tones, which were priced at $2.99. Authors’ interviews with executives in the Global Media Group at Adidas International.
14. For more information on the role of firm-based learning and selective experimentation with respect to e-business strategy, see N. Venkatraman, “Five Steps to a Dot-Com Strategy: How to Find Your Footing on the Web,” Sloan Management Review 41, no. 3 (spring 2000): 15–28.