143: Creating a Visual Brand Using Stock Photography

Creating a Custom Visual Brand Using Stock Photography

Episode 143 on the Business Bites Podcast

Creating a visual brand is more important than ever when it comes to standing out among other businesses. 

When businesses first start out, it’s not always affordable to hire custom photography. Having access to a stock photography library lets you create a cohesive brand and look professional until you can get your own custom photography. Rachel Rouhana from Haute Stock joined this week’s episode to share tips on how to create a visual brand using stock photography. 

She created Haute Stock out of a need for stock photography that appealed to female entrepreneurs. She wanted something that would be easy to use and reduce frustrations of trying to find the right photography for businesses. 

Finding the right photography isn’t always easy. So, how do you decide what style you want to use? Rachel outlined 4 steps to help you narrow it down:

  1. Define your ideal audience and what you brand is about
  2. Look at your brand colors and overall aesthetic
  3. Decide what type of content you want to create
  4. Identify 3-5 overarching themes to focus on

You also need to consider the legalities of using stock photography. Are you getting your photography from a free site? Do you know what the licensing means? Are you sure that the site has the rights to the photos they are offering? If you are ever in doubt, it’s best to find another source. Even though the website claims to have the rights to the photos, they may actually not and you will be the one held accountable for using the photos should the rights holder decides to take legal action. 

Down the road, you may decide that you want to have custom photography done for your brand. Rachel gives tips on how to use that custom photography along with stock images so you always have what you need for your website and social media. She also shares ideas on how to plan out your social media. 

Utilizing stock photography can give you a head start on creating a visual brand as long as you find photography that works for your business, and you go about it legally. 

I think that as business owners, the emphasis on having the right visuals or having a cohesive brand has also changed and evolved. So I think certainly there is a lot of emphasis on starting off strong and building a brand, even if you’re DIY-ing everything, even if you’re just starting out. The great thing about having access to a stock photo library is that you can actually create a cohesive brand and you can make things look very professional and polished, even if you don’t necessarily have a design team and you’re doing it all yourself.

Rachel Rouhana

Using stock photography:

  • How and why Rachel Rouhana started Haute Stock [4:01]
  • Why the demand for stock photography has increased [8:45]
  • How to decide which types of stock photography will work for your brand [11:52]
  • The legal dangers of using stock photography from free sites [18:16]
  • How custom photos and stock photos can work together [24:22]
  • Tips on planning out social media [27:33]

Read Episode Transcript

Rachel Brenke:
Welcome to another week of the Business Bites Podcast. I am your host, Rachel Brenke and I am joined by another Rachel, who is the founder and owner of Haute Stock, styled stock subscription for women business owners. If you all have gone to rachelbrenke.com or really any of my brand sites and taken a look at our stock photography, it is from Haute Stock. I absolutely love it. Rachel, your passion for helping female business owners feel confident with their visuals so they can show up online consistently, and grow their brands is incredible. So thank you so much for coming today and sharing a bit of your wisdom.

Thank you so much for having me, Rachel. I’m really excited to be here.

Rachel Brenke:
Yeah, it’s funny. Like then Rachel, Rachel is like, which Rachel? Which Rachel’s interviewing who? So, obviously I talk a lot on the podcast as an attorney about you having a good visual brand and making sure you do it legally, but before we jumped in like your top tips of nailing the visual brand, how to kind of curate all of that, let’s talk a little bit about your entrepreneurship journey. Where did you start and how did you get to having one of the most amazing stock subscription sites?

Sure. Yeah, so I founded it Haute Stock back in 2015. And at the time I was a self-taught graphic designer and I was running a successful Etsy shop, selling party printables and invitations, which I had been doing for about three years prior to that. And I was about to launch an online course, teaching other women how to start their own party printables business. And so I’m I’m working along trying to build a website and a sales page for that course. And I started looking around for feminine or stylish stock photos that I could use on my page and on social media. And I really couldn’t find anything. So I started asking around and I noticed that there were a lot of other women in the Facebook groups that I was a part of at the time who were asking the same question, like “Where do we find stock photos for women entrepreneurs or that women business owners would actually want to use?”

And at the time there were like two or three Etsy shops that were selling stylish stock photos, but they were going for anywhere from like 15 to $80 per photo. And I started adding up how many images I would need and how many I would need for social media. And it was starting to get really expensive. So I thought to myself, “Okay, well, what if I created a subscription model”, like some of the bigger, more established stock photo sites, but with feminine or stylish stock photos, because as women entrepreneurs we want images that our audience can relate to. And we’re creatives, we’re coaches, we’re small business owners. We really don’t need like stuffy corporate stock photos of the past. So, that’s kind of where I was. And I started thinking I’m looking for these images and I know that other women business owners are looking for these images.

And I know that we’re going to need a lot of visuals because Instagram was just starting to take off at the time. I was thinking about if I’m going to be blogging and I’m going to be on Instagram, it just doesn’t make sense to buy two or three stock photos I’m going to need a fair amount of imagery. So it really just started clicking together in my mind that it would make sense to create a style stock library of images, where I could add to that and it would grow and our members would have access to images, new images, on a regular basis. And so that was kind of where the plan started, and how it came to be.

Rachel Brenke:
I love it because I utilize in my business. That’s how we started getting involved with each other is that I was a member, still am a member and love it. But now that my team has grown, even when I first became a member, anytime we’re going to do a promotion because of the way that you have your library for the member set up, it’s very streamlined. We can search by color. We can search by type. I can simply say to my team, “All right, this is the project. This is kind of what the colors and the aesthetic I’m going for.” They can go and describe some screen grabs or links of within your membership. They come back to me, I pick it. Then they have all the variety that they need. I mean, we’re talking square, vertical, landscape, you name it like the structure is there. A lot of white space, very little white space or whatever it is that I’m looking for. So I love the flexibility of that because when I first started out and even now I admit it on my podcast all the time, my weakness is on like business side it’s management, but on like the design side, I’m not a good visual design person. I mean, look at my Instagram, it’s all over the place. It’s a hot mess. I just go for more authenticity and engagement, but I struggle with that. And I feel like there’s a lot of entrepreneurs, even if they’re in the creative field, might struggle with that for themselves. And so I love that you have a turnkey, almost solution for them to be able to go and select and have a cohesive library to choose from.

What I find interesting, and I kind of want to throw to you, is, are you finding, because I’ve seen this a lot with newer entrepreneurs, are you finding that now, as opposed to when you first started out more entrepreneurs are definitely grasping the idea of a visual brand, because I know when I first started, like you’re saying Instagram and all that was relatively new Facebook, we were just making the big change from my space to Facebook. So the aesthetics weren’t as important. It wasn’t like you had this Instagram feed and wall to look at. Have you seen that as a shift now that newer entrepreneurs are coming in and already recognizing the need for a solid visual brand?

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think it’s been almost six years since I started Haute Stock and I think that aesthetically the trends have changed. I think that as business owners, the emphasis on having the right visuals, or having a cohesive brand has also changed and evolved. So I think certainly there is a lot of emphasis on starting off strong and building a brand, even if you’re DIY-ing everything, even if you’re just starting out. The great thing about having access to a stock photo library is that you can actually create a cohesive brand and you can make things look very professional and polished, even if you don’t necessarily have a design team and you’re doing it all yourself. So that’s certainly one thing that we always try to keep in mind as we’re adding new collections to the library or even just building our custom membership site. I love that you pointed out that it’s easy. I love hearing that because that was what we were really trying to do.

We’re trying to say, “Okay, we know that one of the biggest struggles that people face is that it sucks.” It sucks trying to find stock photos [crosstalk 00:07:11] it’s stressful. It takes time, it can be frustrating, and overwhelming. And so we were trying to take all of that away and actually make it like fun and enjoyable. And that was what we were really thinking about when we were talking with our web developer about the experience of being a Haute Stock member. So to hear you say that really makes me happy because we are trying to make it easy to search by brand color and to filter by categories and things that just make sense for each individual business. But, yeah, absolutely. To your question that I think people, women, especially who are starting new businesses and brands are very aware of the fact that having strong visuals and branding is one of the ways that they can set themselves apart. And one of the ways that they can build trust and build that sense of professionalism very early on in their business.

Rachel Brenke:
I noticed when you log in that, like I say, it’s easy and streamlined, but it’s not overwhelming, but there is a broad spectrum of things to choose from. I mean, we have just desktop, laptop, mock-up type stuff all the way through environmental, with a person added in an office type space or a creative type space all the way through even travel themes which a lot of us are not doing right now during pandemic. So, and those are like the three major buckets that I can think of. What would you recommend to someone who’s like, “You know what? I’ve been struggling getting a visual brand. I hear Rachel and Rachel, tell me how important it is.” Now if I log on how do I decide, or even if they don’t use Haute Stock, but how do you decide, do you want to like full on environmental out in the wild or to stick with more of like the desktop mock-up style?

That’s a good question. I think that initially you really have to spend some time defining your ideal audience. Who are they? What are they interested in? What problem are you trying to solve for them? What is the journey that you’re going to take them on with your brand storytelling and think about what is the vibe of your brand. Is it like fun and bold? Is it more like soft and minimal, and also think about how do you want people to feel when they’re interacting with your brand? I think you really have to… Sometimes we get really excited and we want to start designing a logo, picking our brand color palette and all this stuff, which obviously I get as a designer and somebody who’s obviously very into aesthetics, but there’s the brand strategy and the homework that has to happen before that.

So, I really think defining who your audience is and what your brand is all about is the first step in that. And then looking at things like brand colors and your overall aesthetic, because that’s going to help you narrow down what type of stock photos or what type of imagery you’re going to use. And then I would also think about what is the type of content that you even want to create? What are you going to be talking about on Instagram or in your blog posts? And then I would recommend having like a few content buckets or like overall themes that you focus on, whether it’s like three to five kind of overarching themes. Once you know that, then it becomes pretty easy to go in and say, “Okay, what kind of imagery is going to support the types of stories that I want to tell on social media or on my sales page and that type of thing.”

Rachel Brenke:
And I love that you said that about the content buckets because that’s one of the ways that I utilize the membership in the library is I sit down and go, “Okay, one of the things that I do is podcasting”, and so podcasting is one of my buckets and I can log on and type in podcast or headphones and I can find a photo or coffee, coffee’s a big part of one of my things that I like to have aesthetically in my photos. And so there’s a plethora to choose from. And yeah, I much enjoy that approach, very like methodical, but it allows still for some creativity, which brings me to, you’ve created, and this is one of the things that I wanted to bring you on for not just to talk about like the stock photography, building of a brand type stuff, but you’re also putting a twist in your own business for your members now. It’s not just this easy to use, good solid photography, that’s cohesive and creates a message for the brand, but you’re now releasing, and hopefully I’m not jumping the gun on this something called Couture Creation, correct?

That’s right. Yeah. So, I mean, over the years, Haute Stock really has evolved so much and it’s really all been because of the feedback of our members. And we always are… We’re doing member surveys, we’re talking to our members on social media, we’re asking them like, “What’s working? What’s not working? What are you still struggling with? How can we help you?” And so many of the things that you now find in the library, including Couture Curation have come about after having conversations with our members. And one of the things I’m super excited about for 2021 and beyond, and this is something that we’ve been working on for years, it’s kind of been several years in the making, but we really are kind of shifting from just a stock photography to being a visual content membership.

And what that means is that we have all kinds of additional design assets to help our members. So one thing that we’ve done for several years now is we have what we call Insta quotes. And they’re just like done for you. They’re just like download and post to social media, basically if you’re having a day where you’re like, I have no idea what to say. These are like funny quotes or inspirational quotes that you can put up there, write a caption. And then they actually get like a really high engagement. So those are really a valuable tool that our members really love. And then we have other things like graphics packs, which are full of design assets like icons and so like these things all came about in conversation with our members. One thing that our members kept telling us was okay, “We really, really want to start, we want to have Canva templates because we want to stop like staring at a blank screen and trying to like create our own templates. Can you do this for us?”

So that’s something that we are really ramping up. We’ve we’ve already been doing it for the last several months and we’re starting to ramp up. And then what you mentioned as well, which is our couture curation service, which I think is really something that is so awesome as part of the membership, a free part of the membership is you can submit your brand colors your brand keywords to us and our designers will actually take all of that and create a mood board for you based off of your own branding and Haute Stock images. And then they’ll, hand-select images for you. So, basically if you’re like, “Okay, I love everything in the library.

I’m overwhelmed with choice, or I don’t know where to begin.” You can submit this little form with your branding information and then have one of our designers go in and select the images. And we had such amazing feedback from our members who’ve done it so far. Yeah, I’m super excited to be offering that service because I think it’s just that like extra level of personalized service that you wouldn’t necessarily get with most companies. Everybody’s trying to like streamline and like do things automated. And we thought, “Okay, what could we do that would feel very personalized and offer that extra level of support for our members”, and so that’s what we came up with.

Rachel Brenke:
And I love it because, I mean, like we’ve already been talked a little bit about, there’s a lot of newer entrepreneurs or people like myself raising my hand, who’s struggled visually. And sometimes you just have days where you’re going into a new project and you’re like, “I have no idea, how I even want to visually design this.” And so having that is wonderful, especially since you kind of look around and go, there’s so many options now, right? I mean, your aesthetic is very distinct. So I can tell it’s a Haute Stock photo, when I see it on someone else’s feed, but there are tons of stock photography sites available out there now. And so just adding that extra level of personalized service, and it is incredible. It’s going to be able to elevate you and also elevate us entrepreneurs who need that help and even to take it a step further.

And I talk about this on other episodes. In fact, I even have one that I’ll link in the show notes called how using stock photography sites can kill your photography business or your business in general. And well, obviously if you’re a photographer, you shouldn’t be as in stock photography personally, but you should be using your own, but it can kill your business in that you could fall into this copyright infringement trap, right? There’s all these free quote, unquote, I say free because there’s money on the backend. You don’t pay initially to use the photographs. Anybody can be uploading any photograph, even though it states, “Hey you, person uploading the photographs, say you have the rights to this happens all the time that people are uploading things that they don’t own.” And then you go on there thinking, “Hey, it’s free. I can use this. I can stick it onto my website. Don’t have to worry about paying it.”

But if you gets stuck in a federal copyright infringement suit, you the one that’s using the photograph are going to pay a lot of money. So what I love about Haute Stock, besides obviously all the things that I’ve raved about is that I can have confidence in knowing that this is a original work that you’ve created, that you’ve had your photographers go out and photograph for you. You guys have worked together on the design. You’ve had full control over it, and you own it. I can feel comforted to know that I don’t have to worry about later on down the line, somebody coming after me, because I wanted to save a few bucks here or Etsy set ups are good. Not saying that everyone on there is not selling stuff that’s not theirs, but you just don’t really truly know the source. And to me, that’s not worth it because that can financially crumble your business.

Yeah. I think that’s such a great point and one that a lot of people don’t even really realize. I was talking to someone the other day who was in that exact same situation. They had downloaded a photo from one of those free stock photo sites and thought that they were fine using it. And then it turned out that the photo wasn’t uploaded by the original creator. And so she found herself having to pay because she had used the photo and it wasn’t her fault. Really, I mean, she got it from a site that she thought she could trust. And so definitely one of the things that we’ve done is when we first started out, I was creating all the photos myself. And after a few thousand photos, I was like, okay it’s time to expand because I think that I could bring on contributors who would add more variety and diversity to the library.

And that was really important to me. And so I work with, like you said, I work with just a handful of contributing photographers, who I trust, who we work closely together to come up with the concepts for the shoots and all the legal stuff in the backend, which obviously you know, Rachel, about. But we make sure that we have model releases, property releases, the photographers are signing contracts with us. So all of these things we are thinking about, and we are doing our best to make sure that we are providing a service for our members that they can feel confident about using, because these are all considerations when you are using imagery online that you haven’t taken yourself.

Rachel Brenke:
Yeah, because really, and actually before I go into saying that I kind of like totally teed that up y’all we didn’t even plan. So her response to that was perfect and exactly what I would have coached had I coached her to say all things you need to be mindful of, but I do, I just love the simplicity, the access, the comfortability of the confidence that you can have in usage, because it’s definitely a good way whether you’re initially in business or even later on down the line, like I can go out, I know so many photographers I can do custom shoots. So we do for certain things, but there’s often a lot of projects that it just, it happens so, so quickly. And I just love knowing that there’s a cohesiveness there and the financial cost, I mean, with just some numbers, like off the top of my head, I can think about is if I was going to go like taking what you were saying earlier, Rachel, about having like content buckets.

And for me, one of the things that I always want to have aesthetically on my Instagram and all that is like a cup of coffee, because that’s part of me and which, by the way, I need my afternoon one when we’re done with this like coffee to me, that’s me. And I just know that I can log on. I don’t remember how much members typically pay per year, but so we’re maybe a couple hundred American US dollars compared to 3000-ish dollars for commercial usage through a custom photography site, a custom photographer, not saying custom photography doesn’t have its place. I definitely do think it does. I just know for me, I would rather invest the money in custom photography for when I’m going to be in the photos. Right? Or unless there’s a really specific desktop mock-up I want to do or else like, I absolutely love like the low cost and confidence in buying into Haute Stock.

Yeah. I think and I get this question a lot and people ask me like, “Oh should I have custom photos or can I use stock photos even if I’m a personal brand or something like that.” And honestly, I think that pretty much any business can use stock photos. I do think that most brands should, at some point invest in getting some custom brand photos done, because I think you will need them especially a few good headshots or things like that. Or if you’re selling physical products, I mean, if you have a physical product, it definitely becomes important to invest in hiring a photographer and maybe a stylist to get product photos done. But even in those cases, if you have the budget for custom photos, like you said, Rachel, you’ll come to a point where you run out of custom photo content and you’re going to need additional content, especially if you’re posting on social media.

And that’s where I think stock photos can play a really important part in your visual marketing strategy. You’re still going to find yourself needing fresh visuals on an ongoing basis. And I think about posting every day on your feed and then a few times a day in stories, and maybe you’re creating marketing materials and things like that. So those are the cases where stock photos can be extremely helpful to have on hand. And I’ll just give you an example because I know a lot of the times, especially with product related businesses people find it challenging, like, “How do I even incorporate stock photos into that?” So let’s just say for example, you’re selling like luxury robes. Okay. And so obviously you’re going to want to hire somebody to take photos of your robes and so that you can have product photos, but beyond that your marketing strategy really needs to tell more of a story.

And that story can be about self care, relaxation, mental health, like these are all things that your audience would be interested in. And so if they’re going to invest in a luxury robe, right, they probably are going to want to invest in like looking good, feeling good. They probably have a bit of an emphasis on beauty routines and maybe pampering themselves in other ways. So when you think about those areas of content, then you can think about other types of imagery that could support your messaging as a brand. So images of someone taking a bath, putting on makeup, sleeping in on Sunday morning, meditation, reading a book, those are all stock photo type images that you would find in the library that you can use to support your brand without having to pay somebody, to give create those custom photos for your brand.

Rachel Brenke:
How would you balance that altogether, because like, I’m thinking let’s take the robe example. You’ll probably get a solid gallery of 10 to 15 of the robes. And then obviously you post a couple of times a day, that’s basically gone in a week and you want to like your talk about creating story. Do you have a formula that you kind of recommend to entrepreneurs when they’re looking at creating the story, like use two stock photos, one of your custom photos, and then a headshot, or does it kind of just vary?

I think it varies by brand, but I think the thing to keep in mind is that you want to be creating content for social media and telling stories, and educating your audience a lot more than you’re like in sell, sell, sell mode. Right. So I think it’s really nice to be able to intersperse your product photos with more of those lifestyle images. I wouldn’t say there’s like a specific ratio, like one product photo to like three stock photos or something like that. I know sometimes people and if that’s how you work, like if you want to plan out your grid that way, then that’s awesome [crosstalk 00:25:22] but yeah, if that helps go for it.

I don’t think that there’s a magic ratio. I think that you just kind of have to sit down and say if you can pick out those like three to five content buckets that we talked about, maybe one of those is selling and the other four are like education, and inspiration. And so there, you kind of have it. You’re like, “Okay, well one photo of my product, and then four photos of either inspirational or educational posts that I can pull from stock photos and then kind of rotate through that. I think it can be simple and yet still very effective.

Rachel Brenke:
I think that’s what I enjoy about having the access to the stock photography site, and then having my buckets as well as like the key things that I want to aesthetically have is that I can go in and download a bunch that I feel as I’m going through in my mind, my three to five buckets, “Oh, I could definitely create a story off of that, or I could definitely put a quote with that”, and I stick it into Planoly, what I use, so that I can like create my grid so I will download and have it all prepped and ready to go.

So then when the mood strikes and I decide, “Oh, I just want to talk about this.” I know, right then I can grab that picture of that cup of coffee that I like or whatever. And it’s all there for me. I don’t have to… I guess the structure helps me to be a little bit more confident in putting out that visual presentation because I have the content, the content in my brain is easy to get out there. It’s really pairing it with the visuals that I know a lot of people including myself get tripped up on. So, I like using the restrictions of the buckets and the…

Well, and this is how I plan it. We recently hired a social media manager for Haute Stock, which has been amazing, but I mean, for the last five plus years I’ve been doing it myself as well as my own Instagram. And exactly like you said, so one of the things that I would do is I would sit down and say, “Okay, what am I going to talk about?” Whether I’m planning for two weeks or a month, typically I would just do like two week chunks at a time or something like that. And then I would just kind of write out my categories and then I would go in the library and say go on a downloading spree and download any images that catch my eye, put them in the planner. And I don’t necessarily write my captions too far ahead of time, but like you said, the photo a lot of the time will kind of spark that caption idea.

So, whether I’m writing it like a few days before or the day of, or whatever, I mean, you really have to think about what works for you. Some people might love to just batch their caption writing and all of their social media planning. I think you just have to be true to like what works for you as an individual, because we’re all a little bit different. But I think certainly starting with the idea of, “Okay, here are the categories I want to talk about”, going into the library, downloading images that fit into those, putting them in your planner and then writing your captions. It’s a great way to just batch your social media and just get it done. And then you’re not struggling every single day thinking, “What am I going to post?” And also does this aesthetically look good because you’ve already kind of planned it out.

Rachel Brenke:
And because of the way that the library is structured, it’s not just a random photo here, random photo there you go into a specific collection and you’ve got 20, 30, 40 different images that you can use and manipulate in order to use. So you could do like one whole month dedicated to a topic, utilize one or two related collections and get that all loaded. And I love that processing. That’s a huge thing for me. I try to stay on top of it, but it is 2020, and it’s different than this year. The universe is off its axis. That’s for sure, but… Well, Rachel, this has been wonderful. This is a lot of great tips and whether they are newer entrepreneur or they’ve been in this for a bit, my goal for this episode was really to get this information front, and center for y’all listening to realize that visual design much like what we’ve been talking about the last few weeks on the podcast can be simple.

It doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Remember, we’re talking about simplifying down to scale up, and by having cohesive branding, having confidence in that branding, being able to move forward with it through these visual aesthetics will allow you to focus just like Rachel was saying on these specific content buckets being very specific, very simplified to get that message to the person. And I love what you said this Rachel earlier, “How do you want to make that specific person feel?” So we’re taking it a little step further this week, not just the message that you want to put out there, but how we want them to make them feel. And that’s done not by just what you say, but how you visually present it. So, Rachel, thank you so much for this. What I’m going to do is stick all your information in the show notes for them.

I know that you do have 21 free sample stock photos that are going to be available linked there. Y’all can also check out hautestock.co. So it’s H-A-U-T-E-S-T-O-C-K.co for y’all to check out all the awesomeness that she has. And if you have any questions at all, as always, we have the Business Bites, Facebook group we’ll have a thread dedicated this week. I would love to see, especially if you already a Haute Stock member, we love to see how you’re using her photographs in marketing, or just share how you are getting a hold of your visual brand online. So until next week I will talk to you all then.

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Rachel Rouhana headshot

Meet Rachel

Rachel Rouhana is the Founder and Creative Director of Haute Stock, the original styled stock subscription for women business owners.

A self-taught graphic designer and photographer, Rachel’s passion is to help female business owners feel confident with their visuals so that they can show up online consistently and grow their brands. Her goal is to make visual content creation fun, easy, and empowering!

Website | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest 

Hi, I’m Rachel Brenke

Rachel Brenke

As a mom, team USA athlete and cancer-survivor, I want a real life while I have a real business.  This is why my resources don’t promote hustle-culture, rather tough-love and no-holds-barred tips to achieving both.  In addition to this website, I have a top-ranked business podcast, been featured in places like Forbes and work 1:1 with so many of you.

Enough about me though. I am proud of you for pursuing entrepreneurship. It is rewarding and amazing.  Keep at it!

Now enrolling: RealBiz Accelerator[GET INFO]
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