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Show Up with Empathy and a Growth Mindset with Maria Ross

Founder, author, speaker, and brand strategist Maria Ross shares how you and your business can show up with empathy and a growth mindset, to pivot with spot-on messaging during challenging times.

  • Learn about the intersection of empathy, business, and the current health and economic crisis
  • Why showing up will help you be remembered later
  • How a growth mindset benefits business owners
  • Learn things you need to stop — and start — doing to be successful right now
  • How to pivot and adapt your message based on your customer avatar (and what people are saying)

Maria also appeared on episode #82, Why Empathy is your Business Edge with Maria Ross.

Learn why empathy and a growth mindset are your business edge with Maria Ross. #podcast #business #mindset #empathy

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Meet Maria Ross

Maria Ross Women Conquer business podcast

Maria Ross is the founder of Red Slice, a consultancy that advises entrepreneurs, startups, and fast-growth businesses on how to build an irresistible brand story and authentically connect with customers. She is a keynote speaker who regularly speaks to audiences on marketing and building an engaging brand story that drives growth and impact. She is the author of The Empathy EdgeBranding Basics for Small Business and The Juicy Guide Series for Entrepreneurs.

Maria started her career as a management consultant with Accenture and went on to build marketing and brand strategies for multiple companies, including Discovery Communications, Monster.com, BusinessObjects (now SAP) and many other startups and technology leaders, before starting her own business. As a brand strategist, she has worked with brands such as Microsoft, Dropbox, Alteryx, and GSK, as well as many smaller leaders in niche industries. Maria has been featured in and written for numerous media outlets, including MSNBC, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneur.com, Huffington Post and Forbes.com

Maria understands the power of empathy at both a brand and personal level: in 2008, six months after launching her business, she suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm that almost killed her. Her humorous and heartfelt memoir about surviving this health crisis, Rebooting My Brain, has received worldwide praise.

Maria lives with her husband, young son, and precocious black lab mutt in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Connect with Maria Ross

Red Slice website

LinkedIn

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About Host Jen McFarland

Jen McFarland Jen McFarland Consulting Third paddle

Jen McFarland, MPA, has over 25 years of training, teaching, and executive experience in leadership, strategic project planning, and digital marketing. She led large-scale public sector projects affecting over 50,000 businesses, handling millions of dollars.

Today, she is the founder of Women Conquer Business, a boutique firm dedicated to helping women, people of color, and the LGBTQ+ community build sustainable businesses. She's a frequent guest speaker and trainer. You can find her online by listening to her weekly podcast, Women Conquer Business, or at jenmcfarland.com.

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show up with empathy and a growth mindset women conquer business podcast

Transcript: Show Up with Empathy and a Growth Mindset with Maria Ross

Jen:

Hi, and welcome to the Women Conquer Business Podcast. Today, I interview Founder, author, speaker, and brand strategist, Maria Ross. We talk about how you and your business can show up with empathy and a growth mindset, even during these challenging times. If you'd like to learn more about how to listen to and respond to customer needs and pivot your business and message accordingly, you are in the right place. Hi, my name is Jen McFarland.

Jen:

I'm the Founder of Women Conquer Business. I have over 25 years of training, teaching, and executive experience in leadership, strategic project planning, and digital marketing. Each week on the Women Conquer Business Podcast, we teach you how to help you and your business thrive. Are you ready? Let's go forth and conquer.

Jen:

Thank you so much for listening to the Women Conquer Business Podcast. If there's one thing that you could do for me, it's subscribe to the show, and if you want to do that, and one more thing, make sure that you tell a friend. Let's meet this week's guest, Maria Ross. Maria Ross is the Founder of Red Slice, a consultancy that advises entrepreneurs, startups, and fast-growth companies on how to build an irresistible brand story and authentically connect with customers. She is a keynote speaker who regularly speaks to audiences on marketing and building an engaging brand story that drives growth and impact.

Jen:

She is the author of The Empathy Edge, Branding Basics for Small Business, and The Juicy Guide for Entrepreneurs. Maria started her career as a Management Consultant with Accenture and went on to build marketing and brand strategies for multiple companies, including Discovery Communications, Monster.com, Business Objects, now SAP, and many other startups and technology leaders before starting her own business. Maria has been featured and written in numerous media outlets, including MSNBC, Entrepreneur, Entrepreneur.com, Huffington Post, and Forbes.com. Maria understands the power of empathy at both a brand and personal level. In 2008, six months after launching her business, she suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm that almost killed her.

Jen:

Her humorous and heartfelt memoir about surviving this health crisis, called Rebooting My Brain, has received worldwide praise. Maria lives with her husband, young son, and precocious black lab mutt in the San Francisco Bay area. Please welcome Maria to the Women Conquer Business Podcast. Hi, Maria. Welcome back to Women Conquer Business.

Maria:

Thanks for having me. I'm excited to be back.

Jen:

Me too. For those of you who don't remember, Maria Ross was on, gosh, I guess in the fall, to talk about her book, The Empathy Edge. Maria, with everything that's going on right now, why don't you kind of catch us up on empathy and business, particularly during a crisis like we're in now?

Maria:

Yeah. It's really funny that it kind of took a pandemic for my book topic to take off, and that's not what I would have wished for, but it is very heartening to see business leaders and companies at the forefront of talking about compassion, empathy, community. I'd never seen anything like it in the commercial for-profit world, and it's really heartening to see that that is how leaders are leading right now, and they know that it's important to just, quite frankly, to do the right thing, but they know it's important to their brand. It's important to their long-term success, not just survival, but thriving in the long-term, because I will tell you, from what I'm seeing out there, the brands that show up right now, the entrepreneurs that show up right now are going to be remembered. We have to fight the urge if we have it to sort of turtle away until this all blows over because that's actually not working well for brands at all.

Maria:

In fact, I was on a webinar. I attended a webinar last week that was put on by a variety of different groups, but there was a study that was cited that DoSomething.org did, and they spun this up in April about asking young people what they thought about brands' responses to the crisis. Millennials, Gen Z, all of them are talking about the fact that they dislike certain brands right now because of their response to the crisis. They like the brands that are caring more about their employees and their customers and putting out communications about that, so we're going to start to see spending patterns follow this mindset of ... There's people watching, I guess, is what I'm saying, and so we really need to make sure that if you've got a brand, your brand needs to be showing up for your customers and for your community right now.

Jen:

I couldn't agree more. I mean, it's a really good time to listen and show up, and show up with empathy, because it's not just our brands who are suffering and going through shifts, it's also our customers and potentially their customers if you work in the B2B sect. I mean, everybody is feeling it. Knowing that you're a brand strategist and knowing that something really big is going on, and empathy helps, how can brands start to shift or what kind of shifts would you like to see?

Maria:

Well, I think number one is that people need to get in the right mindset right now, whether you are in charge of a marketing department, whether you're a solo entrepreneur, wherever you fall on that, is you need to continue to think about growth. Even though this is going on, even though many businesses are suffering, even though people are kind of shut away inside their houses right now and shelter in place, you still got to stay connected so that you know what's going on and what people need. It's taking that growth mindset of, "Where is the opportunity for me to serve, or for my company to serve right now, given what we do and what we're good at?", not just like performing random philanthropic acts. I heard this great thing of like using your mission as a compass for ... Look at your mission, and then figure out how you can help right now based on your mission, so if your mission is to empower small business owners, how can you have a growth mindset right now and help them where they are?

Maria:

If your mission is to deliver fantastic accounting solutions or something like that, what can you do for where your customers are right now? It helps you avoid this whole, "Well, there's 900 different things I could be doing," to really focus your efforts, and so continuing to think about growth. I know a lot of business people, myself included, that are using this time of, I hate to say slow down because for many of us with kids at home, things have not slowed down, they've increased, but this opportunity of this pause to put some effort back into our own businesses, so I'm looking at things on the back-end of my business and how I can improve them. I know people who are now finally taking a look at their brand story and their messaging, and going, "I've been meaning to update my website for the last few months, but I've been too busy." That's what I mean by a growth mindset, is that there's things that you could be doing and actions you can be taking to improve your business and to help your brand show up so that when things spring back, you'll be in a stronger position.

Jen:

Absolutely. I couldn't agree more. Like I think this is, in my space in digital marketing, this is the perfect time if you are experiencing some sort of pause or slow down, to take care of all of those nagging things that you haven't had time for, whether it's a process, or your website, or you haven't done Google My Business yet, or in your case, like telling your story.

Maria:

Yeah. Right.

Jen:

Like you have that mental space right now if you can reset your mindset to be like emotionally present to tell your story.

Maria:

For sure, and I think, also, around that growth mindset, it's like exactly what you said, it's looking at that list of maybe marketing to-do's or business to-do's that you haven't had time for, and going, "Okay. Now, I can spend some time," but with the mindset that things are going to get better, and the reality is people are still spending. I'm still spending money on my business to improve things. I know businesses are still spending money because they have to, so to put yourself in this box of like, "No one's buying. I can't be selling to people right now," da, da, da. It's like that's a very limiting mindset right now, and really, you could be adding tremendous value to people that need what you have to offer.

Jen:

Absolutely, and selling isn't icky right now. It's only icky if you've let all your automations go, and everything sounds the same as it did two or three months ago.

Maria:

Yes, and that's one of my sort of like practical tips, is make sure you're going through your content and your content's not tone-deaf. If you've had scheduled posts, if you had scheduled blogs going out, make sure you're taking a look at that, and nothing's going to like rub people the wrong way if they read it, and you can also sort of put the lens of what we're going through now and adapt your content. As an example, I had two blog posts for the month of April that I did, and they were about connecting, and networking, and how to collaborate, and so what I did was I wrote them more with a lens of, "Well, how do you collaborate during a crisis? How do you collaborate when you can't see people face-to-face? Should you be collaborating if the world's falling down around you right now?"

Maria:

My point is, yes, collaboration is the key to survival right now. I just massaged the content a little bit to be relevant to what people care about right now without being like yet another piece about surviving the COVID crisis as a business type of thing.

Jen:

Yeah. Yeah. Like everything I'm talking about on the podcast right now and everywhere is not about surviving, it's about finding those spaces to thrive, and I know that that's a really big part of it.

Maria:

Exactly.

Jen:

Knowing that a lot of businesses are having to not only weather a storm, but also begin to shift and pivot, how do you think a business needs to go about that?

Maria:

Well, I think oddly enough, because of The Empathy book that came out, I think it really is about empathy, and I've always stressed this to my clients, to put together your ideal customer profiles, right? You need to know who these people are as human beings, what they care about, what they value, what they fear, what they despise, what is their personality like, as much detail as you can. Now's the time to look at those profiles and ask yourself, "Okay. Given that ideal client or customer, what are they actually going through right now given the current situation?", so what are ... I'm advising people to sit down and make a list of 10 to 20 things that are true for their ideal customer persona or avatar, or whatever you want to call it.

Maria:

Are they worried about losing their job? Are they concerned about revenue? Are they concerned about personal health and safety? Are they now homeschooling kids at home while they're trying to work? Are they worried about their employees or their subcontractors, et cetera, et cetera?

Maria:

What are those things that are true for them in this present moment? Once you have that list of 10 to 20 things, now you can start to think of content and offerings that would be beneficial for them, that would help them through. Maybe those things won't be true forever of your ideal client, but that's where they are right now, so put that empathy hat on and really think about where they are right now and what they care about, because, for example, if you sell B2B, people are being asked more than ever to show ROI. They're being asked more than ever to find revenue wherever they can find it. If you're a business that can help that ideal client with that specific problem, you can pivot your messaging and pivot your offerings a little bit to say, "We'll talk about my stuff I usually offer later, but I've kind of spun up this little offering based on what I do that can help you right now."

Maria:

I had this really interesting conversation, Jen, with two folks I know in corporate, and they were talking about what's going on for their sales teams right now, so this is like enterprise sales teams. One of them was saying, "In our company, we're just going in with a very like, 'Hey, we're here to support you. What do you need? Here's some ideas. Let's have a talk.'"

Maria:

"'Let's figure out how we can help you through this time,'" a very supportive, very reassuring, very like non-aggressive sale, "Now is not the time for an aggressive sale, full of fear, uncertainty and doubt." The other marketing leader was interesting. They said, "For our customers, what they need is they actually need a prescription. They are like deer in headlights right now, and they need us to tell them what to do," so we are actually going in going, "Okay, right. We're going to have this meeting."

Maria:

"We're going to do these four things, and we're going to go." Very different sales approaches, but both based on empathy for their customers, which is what I loved so much about. There's no right answer, but you have to know your customers really well and know what they need.

Jen:

What do you say if somebody doesn't know what their customer's need? What do you think they should do?

Maria:

Well, I love what you said now is a time for listening. If you have not done the work of really gathering the information and gathering the feedback about your ideal customers, now's a great time to reach out to people of, "I'm not trying to sell to you, but tell me what's going on for you. Tell me what you need right now," putting out polls, convening online gatherings where you can gather some of that data, doing some one-to-one Zoom or Skype calls with those folks, and really trying to comb social media and comb the content that's out there and say, "Well, what are people talking about right now? What's trending on Twitter based on my field or my industry?", and start to do some active listening, even if it's like an hour a day, something like that, where you can start to glean that. I really think talking to your customers and your prospects however you "Talk to them," whether that's through email, whether that's through podcast, whether that's through video, trying to gather, invite as much feedback right now as you possibly can and be analyzing that to say, "Well, what are the trends I'm hearing? How are people feeling?"

Maria:

Not just, "What do they need," but, "How are they feeling? What's their frame of mind?", putting all that together in your head to analyze, "Okay. What would be the best solution to offer people right now?"

Jen:

Yeah. The way I've put it in other times is like when the market contracts, our minds have to expand. Like this isn't the time-

Maria:

I love that.

Jen:

Yeah, we cannot just do things the way that we've always done it because we're going to come up against so much resistance and failure, that if we do listen, it's an opportunity for us to have some lights go off in our own heads and in our own businesses, and really offer something that frankly could become like a signature something for a program, or product, or service that leads you down a path in the long run, that maybe if you aren't really familiar with asking people what they want, if you do it now, you might really be onto something.

Maria:

For sure. For sure.

Jen:

That's the exciting part about change and the exciting part about pivoting.

Maria:

Yes.

Jen:

It doesn't have to be a really fearful, scary process. It can also be something that just brings you a lot of joy, because you might learn that people need something that you really like to deliver, that you just never thought that people needed or wanted.

Maria:

Absolutely, and I think that's ... I love your thing about when things seem to be contracting, your mind needs to be expanding. It's finding that opportunity to ... We always talk about reinvention and innovation, but now, you have the opportunity to do it. You have the opportunity to pivot and adapt, but also understanding, and this is where my empathy practice is coming into play lately, is that there's industries and there's people that are very slow to adapt, right? We know this.

Maria:

Like intellectually, we know this, but we are running into it on a daily basis. I mean, I see the teachers at my son's school struggling to figure out how to use Zoom, for example, and for me, it's like been a part of my business for years, and I was like, "Oh, that's right. There's people in the world that don't operate this way, people that are freaking out because they're working at home." I've worked from home since 2008. I work in tech.

Maria:

People work from home and remotely all the time. They're used to not being face-to-face, they're used to sharing files electronically, and so it's really interesting. I'm talking about not just small resource-strapped companies, but I'm seeing like larger, bigger brands that I'm like, "I can't believe they still do business this way," and they're going to be forced to change. I mean, it's going to ... It's sort of like I have this image in my mind of somebody with their heels dug into the ground and someone's pushing them from behind, and it's like, "We're going," so it's appreciating that.

Jen:

Absolutely. I will say that they'll either go or they won't.

Maria:

Right.

Jen:

I mean, we've seen examples like the newspaper industry, the music industry, the taxi industry, for example, where these disruptions occur.

Maria:

Yeah. Right.

Jen:

I think now, we're seeing it in the retail industry. Like today, J.Crew filed for bankruptcy, or they think they will. It's been coming for a long time.

Maria:

Right.

Jen:

These things have been happening, and then now, unfortunately, it's like happening even bigger all at once, and it's really forcing people's hands.

Maria:

Yes.

Jen:

There are some people, either individuals or large corporations, that are just not positioning themselves, or maybe haven't for a long time to be able to do this, and so now, it's like, "Well, can you do it, and can you do it fast?"

Maria:

Yeah. I think the speed thing is huge because that's really what this calls for. Like time is of the essence right now. There's no more of this like, "Let's put together a six-month strategic plan about how we're going to adapt." Like you need to do it yesterday, and I think that's what we're seeing, is that there's been all this talk in the business world for so long about agility, and moving fast, and innovation, and these big companies make really great marketing campaigns, and ad campaigns around the speed of change and da, da, da, but now they're being tested, and it'll be interesting to see in the shakeout who rises to the top, but I think it's about being able to pivot and be agile very quickly. That means not that you just throw crap out there, but done is better than perfect, and we can't be like taking six months to develop a new online course or taking four months to figure out the marketing plan for this.

Jen:

Right.

Maria:

I mean, things are going to be so different, and I think anyone who's clinging to the fact that things are going to go back to the way they used to be are going to be in for a really rude awakening, because I don't think they ever will. Probably as you, coming from someone who, again, who's worked from home, worked remotely, is used to all these things. I've hit that learning curve already, and now, all these people are being pushed through that learning curve at like work speed, and a lot of them are falling in love with it, while there's a lot of people who are having trouble absorbing it.

Jen:

Yeah.

Maria:

I know another person I talked to who, even though she works in an industry where people work from home all the time, her job was not really a work from home job before, and she was saying like, "I'm never going back into the office five days a week ever again." She's like, "I'm actually starting projects and finishing them because I'm not getting interrupted, and I can focus." She's like, "It is refreshing." She's like, "I will never go back to working the way that I used to work," and so it'll be interesting to see what happens.

Jen:

That's amazing. Given the cost it is to rent a building, rent offices, why would we ever go back to not having at least some remote working? I've heard a lot of people say, "I'm going to take a pause, and then come back when everything's normal," and I'm like, "Honey pie, this train is moving so fast."

Maria:

Right. Oh, you're so cute, yeah.

Jen:

I don't know what's going to happen to you, so I do worry.

Maria:

Yeah.

Jen:

I understand that some businesses do need to pause, and I mean, certainly hospitality, restaurants, there's certain industries.

Maria:

Yes. Of course.

Jen:

Then, there are other ones that maybe already had an online component that I'm just amazed that they're kind of sitting it out, I'm seeing it, and that's what's so ...

Maria:

Yeah.

Jen:

I fear for them.

Maria:

I do too, and that's why one of the things I also talk about in terms of how to pivot and thrive is look at your offerings, look at what you do for your customers, or what you could do for your customers, and ask yourself, "What of this can be done virtually? What of this can I deliver without having to be in the same room?" It's interesting. That's a good time to get perspective from people maybe outside your industry, to look at it, because sometimes they can immediately spot. I mean, I know when I look at someone else's business and I'll be like, "Oh, why don't you just offer that in an online series and just do it via Zoom calls?", for example.

Maria:

They're like, "I never thought of that," because you're so close to it, and it's like, "Well, we've always done it this way." What we're seeing, what I'm seeing at the rapid pace as a speaker is how quickly the event planning industry has had to pivot to virtual summits.

Jen:

Yeah.

Maria:

To be fair, it's exhausting. Like there's many, an article that had been written about Zoom fatigue and how it's a real thing, because when we're interacting with somebody on a video screen, we have to be a little bit more on than we usually do, and there's not the normal cues that human beings get, so your brain's working a little harder.

Jen:

Yeah.

Maria:

Like when my six-year old says like, "I need a break from Zoom," like it's a thing, right?

Jen:

Wow.

Maria:

Yeah, but I think that if you look at the opportunities of like actually looking at your offerings and looking at what you do for customers and saying, "What parts of this can be delivered virtually?", and then if there's a part that absolutely positively cannot ... Like a hotel, we can't stay in the hotel virtually, but a lot of them are finding some creative ways to adapt, and so that's actually been really cool too, as I'm sure you've seen. It's been really interesting to see the creativity, especially of a lot of small businesses that you would think.

Jen:

Oh, yeah.

Maria:

I mean, there was a local wine shop here in Pacifica, California that within a week or two had online E-commerce on their website. They had never planned to have E-commerce. They were experiential. You go into the wine shop, you talk to the owners, you taste. Like they spun it up, and they were like, "And free delivery within 25 miles," and they're making a killing right now. I mean, maybe because it's wine, but yeah.

Jen:

Yeah, because- I was going to say because it's wine.

Maria:

Yes, but I mean, there wasn't like, "Oh, that's going to take us three months to put online shopping on our website." It's like-

Jen:

Yeah.

Maria:

It's not beautiful. It's not like the best customer interface you've ever seen, but it works. I ordered. My wine came, like-

Jen:

I'm so surprised.

Maria:

Yeah. [crosstalk 00:23:59]

Jen:

I tested it.

Maria:

I tested it.

Jen:

I was a beta tester.

Maria:

I was. I was a beta tester, but I love that that creativity and I've seen some really creative content marketing from some regional cafes like very clear of like, "Hey, we're going to keep our brand voice. We're not going to be like doomsdayers like on an email to our customers. We're going to keep our same quirky brand voice, and by the way, we're going to tell you five things you can do to help us stay in business," and they made it super easy.

Jen:

Oh, yeah.

Maria:

Like, "Oh my God. Yeah, I'm doing that. I want you guys ..." Like, "Thanks for making it clear because I didn't know how to help you, and now you just told me and you were very clear about it." Other small businesses doing GoFundMe with their clients or customers, people that cannot deliver anything like beauty services or anything like that, so it's been exciting to see the creativity.

Jen:

What do you recommend for people who are a little worried about maybe shifting their story at this point or the content?

Maria:

I think there's an important distinction between needing to pivot your brand and needing to pivot your message. The Trojan Horse of this when I tell people like, "You need to pivot and adapt your brand," you kind of don't need to pivot and adapt your brand because it's your core and your essence. It's still who you are. Like that regional cafe chain I was telling you about, they're not going to change their brand voice or their story of what they believe and how they got started. That should be broad enough that it shouldn't apply to like only times when there's not a pandemic going around.

Maria:

Like it should be really who they are and why they do what they do, and who they serve. That maybe doesn't need to change, but it's the messaging around what you do. Like I said, if you're talking about your content, what can you talk about that's relevant to where your customers are right now given what you do? For example, I'm a brand strategist. I'm still out there talking about supporting small businesses, and brand story, and core messaging and all of that, understanding your customers, but I'm talking about it in a different context.

Maria:

Now, I have to educate myself, and this is the other part of what's going on right now, is like taking that time to work on your business, and also focus on development for what you're doing. Now, I'm looking at, "Okay. Well, what are other people doing, and what do we need to be talking about in our content?" Then, you have to make that more of like a wrapper around what you offer so that it shows up a little bit differently in the world, but people still know it's you.

Jen:

I love that.

Maria:

I think what happens is people freak out that they have to change like their whole brand, and then, of course, there's the whole like, "I've got to change my logo. I've got to change ..." Like, "No, no, no, no, no." Your brand is still who you are, and it's the core and essence of who you are, but your messaging has to adapt right now. It can't be tone-deaf.

Jen:

I love that. It's so much easier.

Maria:

It is.

Jen:

See, everyone, you can just take a little sigh of relief now.

Maria:

Yes.

Jen:

You see that?

Maria:

Yeah. You don't have to change everything. You don't have to adapt everything. Yeah.

Jen:

I think that's great. How can people reach out to you?

Maria:

My website is red-slice.com, and they can reach me there. All my socials are there, but I'm on Instagram @redslicemaria, Twitter @redslice, Facebook at Red Slice, and they can connect with me on LinkedIn, and I'd be happy to answer any questions and even just be a sounding board for people if they just want to talk about where their brand is going or what they're afraid of when it comes to pivoting right now. I would love to help people untangle that.

Jen:

That's so awesome. Take her up on it, guys, and thank you so much for being on the show.

Maria:

Thank you for having me.

Jen:

Thank you for listening to the Women Conquer Business Podcast. If you're wondering, "What's next?", here are a few suggestions. If you love the show, be sure to subscribe. If you want to follow me on social media, you can find Women Conquer Business on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Pinterest. Finally, if the episode today brought something up for you and you need to talk, email me at hello@jenmcfarland.com.

Jen:

The Women Conquer Business Podcast is written and produced by Jen McFarland and Foster Growth LLC in beautiful Southeast Portland, Oregon. Thanks again for listening.

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