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Marketing Upheaval podcast: Episode 34

We're in another week of this paused world waiting to see what the future might bring. I wanted to share this episode with you with Jay Acunzo. Jay runs Marketing Showrunners and he is a powerhouse at creating content. And we talked about that. But why I think this is so appropriate now is, none of us knows exactly what the after of all this will look like. And when you're in uncharted territory, that's when you need creative thinking. You need to ask the right questions that will inform smart decisions. And you need to remember and stay true to timeless principles rather than tactics and trends. Jay talks about all that. I wrote a short piece on it, here:

Also on our website, you can find a free creative brief template to get you started on any project.

Creating Content

Creativity solves problems and finds opportunities. And now is the time to get your creative minds going and make things that will make a difference. And this week's guest is a perfect person to talk to you about it. Welcome to Marketing Upheaval.

I’m really excited to talk to Jay Acunzo about creating content. I've learned a lot just from the enormous amount of fantastic content he generates. Jay is the founder of runs Marketing Showrunners that teaches marketers how to make their own branded podcasts and video series. Before that Jay has been a leader at Google, ESPN, HubSpot and NextView, and started with just one podcast called Unthinkable. Now he produces six different series with hundreds of thousands of downloads. He's a sought-after speaker on marketing and has written a book called Breaking the Wheel. I've been looking forward to this conversation.

Great Marketing isn’t about who arrives. It’s about who stays.

Rudy Fernandez: Thanks for joining us, Jay. You create a lot of content. Do you even sleep?

Jay Acunzo: No, I would say no, but for a different reason. And that I have a one year old.

Rudy Fernandez :Yeah, I can't believe how much great stuff you put out. And it's all it's all varied topics. But you have one consistent mantra, and that is great marketing isn't about who you attract. It's about who stays. Tell me about that philosophy.

Jay Acunzo: I think we're living through a really interesting time. I don't know if this is a shift in reality or shifting our thinking or both. But the shift is marketing used to focus entirely on grabbing attention. You know, it was a few moments in time with a message delivered across X number of impressions or appearances, campaign based, in other words, a start and a stop. And I think it was largely something we did to people. Yeah, and for better or worse, I would say worse, but marketing is no longer about grabbing attention. It's about holding it. And if you think of it that way, you start to drop all the jargon and think about the human connection you're supposed to be developing with people.

Our jobs are to earn trust, to earn love to earn our way into someone's life such that they take action and do things that are higher friction. And then just glance our way, as we grab their attention, they need to walk over, sit down and spend meaningful time with us. And if they do that, everything else that we want gets easier. But it has to come from that place of service. And this is a shift for marketers. Again, maybe because of the world changing, or maybe because our mentality needs to change or both. Because we're so used to measuring things like totals, right? The total impressions, the total clicks, the total subscribers, the total downloads.

What we should get into the habit of doing is looking at value, not just the value that we create. And certainly we're now in that mode. We don't just describe the value of a product anymore. We create discrete value. I mean, this podcast is providing discrete value to its listeners. That's a form of practicing marketing. You know, you're doing it with people, and for them, not to them. And so, and I think the language we use is incredibly appropriate. And by the way, that “for” and “with”, not “to” – that that's something I stole from Seth Godin, I did not come up with that idea. So the punchline here is, If we focus on who stays instead of just who arrives, the only “tactic” that really works there, to get people to spend hours with you, to earn their trust and love, is to provide a genuinely good experience.

And all the hucksters and the algorithm gaming and short-term tactics and all those things, that falls away. And we can kind of see marketing for what it actually is. It's not about who arrives. It's about who stays.

Rudy Fernandez: Yeah, actually, you did have a quote about, I think you said that. It's understandable to ask, how can we grow our show? In our frantic race to generate results, we tend to leapfrog the parts where we focus on strategy and content creation. Instead, we focus on growing and generating results through content promotion.

Creating Content to Get Results

Jay Acunzo: When I was brought into this industry, I was attracted to content marketing for the content word. Coming out of sports journalism, being a writer, wanting to make things for a living and falling in love with the magic that I get when I make something that makes me feel. And then I give it to the world and other people say, “hey, this made me think or feel to get magic”. And I think we're ruining that. We're, we're overlooking it. Because we're so eager to jump to the end, you know. And a very simple symptom of that is, the work that we have placed in front of us or the work we choose feels more like a chore.

So if it's something is a chore, you just want to get to the end, you just want to blink your eyes and be done. Or outsource it or find automation for it or find the guru telling you do it this exact way. And there's a lot that gets lost there. But mostly you stop paying attention to the process, because you don't enjoy it as much. But it turns out, when you enjoy the process, you seek it out more. And you find ways to improve it. So we can somehow get back this work, not as a race to publish the things so we can promote it and trigger a result. But as a craft, as a way of going through the process, agonizing over the process, caring about the process and the service to others. I think by focusing so much on the process, instead of results you end up getting better results. Those who care about the process and the craft, they also tend to get better results today because again, back to your first question. It's about who stays, it's about the experience.

Measuring Deep Relationships

Rudy Fernandez: So how did you get to this point where you've sort of created this multifaceted media? Well, empire is not the right word.

Jay Acunzo: I would call it a community. We've stopped measuring things like downloads and views and traffic, and we actually measure deep relationships. We have a system to measure deep relationships.

Rudy: How do you measure that?

Jay: Well, it's a test right now. But you it's kind of looking at are we actually trying to do? So the company is Marketing Showrunners, and our mission helps us clarify that we need to measure the right things to achieve that mission. So our mission is not to have every marketer make a podcast or a video show. Our mission is to serve a very specific type of marketer who sees their job as something greater than selling more stuff. And the way they see the job oh, by the way, leads to selling stuff, but they see their jobs more as a position of leadership. A way to say, you know, I'd like to publish content to keep finding and sharing my voice.

I want to say something that matters, I want to make a difference in the lives of those we aim to serve. And together with those people, build a movement capable of shifting the culture, finding the right people, and going deep with them. Not just finding the most possible people to glance at us. And that type of marketer exists all over the world. There are big companies and small companies, they're freelancers, they're in-house. They're veteran, they're Junior. So this is more of a psychographic approach than a demographic approach to our focus. But because that's the focus, all the content we publish needs to be like a friction system to get rid of the wrong people and bring in the right people. In other words, we want to go deeper with the right people.

Why are we measuring the total visitors to the website or downloads to our podcast? We should be measuring the deep relationships that form. Because not only is that the right approach, I think for lasting business, but it also speaks to the product we're going to eventually sell is a pretty high ticket item. Have a cohort based online workshop. And so the way we've oriented our measurement is to say, Okay, what are all the ways somebody could engage with us? Divide that up by the nature of that engagement. In other words, there's passive engagement. Like they follow us. They hit “like” they hit “retweet”, very passive, low effort. Then there's active engagement, which we define as something that the person on the on the acting end, the person or audience, they need to spend significant time, reputation or both to take that action.

A really easy example is they posted on LinkedIn saying something original and nice, not thanks for this article in the comments. But hey, we like what Jay and his organization are up to, check out this podcast. It took you time to post that and you're putting your reputation on the line. So that is active engagement. And so, we have like a gradation of all the ways people can do active engagement and a scoring system attached and we arbitrarily scored it and we arbitrarily picked a tipping point. Between not a deep relationship and a deep relationship, now that it is something we talk about and track, it's changed our behavior in really good ways.

If somebody did post that thing to LinkedIn, I would normally say, hey, Rudy, thank you so much. That's so nice. We work so hard on our podcast, and it's really nice to hear that you like it. End of relationship, end of comment. And if you said something down the road, great. But now I'm like, oh, Rudy is going out of his way. I should say something in a private message to Rudy and be like, “Hey, thank you so much for that. Do you have a podcast? Like, can I listen to it? I'm happy to give you feedback. Is there something I can help with? Are you struggling with anything? Maybe we can write about it or have written something or know someone?”

We're in a service business. I think we all are, in some ways. So I need to figure out how to go deeper with people and build relationships. It's good for business. It's also the right thing to do.

Rudy: Yeah, and there are so many studies that show that if someone refers a business, those people are most likely to be repeat customers and be very satisfied when they do surveys.

Jay: Yeah, I came out of the SaaS industry. The lifetime value of a user of your software product is something a lot of SaaS businesses will talk about. The lifetime value of a member of your audience – we don't think enough about that. We don't think enough about people who arrive and then leave. Because they can't stand what they found, because we under delivered after over promising, we talk about the arrival, right?

We talk about we launch things and make a stink about the launch. We look at the eyeballs and the totals. And we're really trying to evangelize this idea of making shows for depth and value. So we ourselves as an organization should also be, you know, eating that same food. We should be looking at how do we care about depth and value? We always had it as a philosophy. Now we're slowly coming up with systems to build work that executes on that and measurement that works accordingly too.

Creating Content: Finding Momentum

Rudy Fernandez: How are you able to produce so much content? The fact that you talked about being intrinsic the one thing, the one commonality of the things you write, and your speaking is that I think you really enjoy doing it.

Jay Acunzo: I feel lucky. Yeah, I feel very lucky to have found and it didn't happen at first. I thrashed throughout my 20s in different jobs, but I get to do this work. I don't have to do this work. And there's parts of it where I'm not feeling it. I show up in the morning and I'm like, I have to write something today. I sort of get my groove back by creating.

I always find clarity and find momentum through the act of creation instead of, you know, watching the YouTube video or finding some sources of inspiration or waiting till the muse strikes. Because that doesn't exist. So there are moments where I'm, like, really struggling to execute. But I find that tipping from not writing to writing as one example it helps build that momentum. So I think being a professional is showing up when you don't feel like it. But still I get to do this work. I feel incredibly grateful. And I'm intrinsically motivated.

I think you know if there was one way to start everything I do, from the speeches to the book to Marketing Showrunners, I want more human beings to feel intrinsic motivation in their work. because I just think so many good things happen. It's good for the individual, it's good for the team, it's good for the organization. It's good for the customer or whoever you serve on the receiving end of your work. Like, I'm not saying everybody's gonna find their dream job. I'm not saying follow your passion. But if you can find ways that the process of doing the work is the whole point of it, and that's where you find your joy and your learning. I mean, that, to me is a world I'd like to live in.

Jay Acunzo

Rudy: Well, that actually is great advice. Because there are times you know, as someone who creates for living as well, you do sit there and you don't feel it sometimes. But you're right. If you just get going. If you just you know, whatever type up crap, eventually you'll get into it.

Developing a Model for Creating Content

Jay : I'll give you a really quick example. Right now, we're going through this process, developing what they call a contextual model. You can also call it a teaching model. So it's like, Okay, what is our point of view in our system for creating a great show? Especially because we're not talking about the technical setup and a blueprint, step by step. We're talking about, how do you say something that matters? How do you get people to engage deeply and build community, and keep reinventing and improve both your show and yourself in the process? Like, these are deeper, more fundamental things, than “What microphone should I use”? And because of that,, it's a really heady challenge to try and figure out what's the teaching model for that.

So today, I had this model that I'd written out, and I just sort of like broke off one section. And I was like, we have to array and pressure test all these ideas. Here's five or six questions I have about the first little piece of this model. I'm going to pick one, which I think is the logical first question somebody would have or that we should teach. And I'll just, I'll go for a walk, grab a coffee and I will literally text myself any ad hoc thoughts I have about answering that question. Because I know when I come back to the office, I have to write a blog post about this. Put it out into the world. And I just so believe in this idea of like, pressure testing or rating, all the things you're struggling with. Like creating to find clarity. Creating to improve your thinking, not creating because you have all the answers. But sometimes that's daunting.

Sometimes you're like, intimidated to do that. And that's what kind of happened to me today. And so having maybe that real example brings it to life for your listeners. But, you know, having the ability to say, I have this vague idea of the mountain peak I'm striving towards in the distance, be it a project or a change in the world. I have no idea how to get there. I'm going to hack my way through the jungle. And to me the hacking through the jungle is the act of creating, even if, like I said before, you don't feel like it.

Getting Unstuck

Rudy Fernandez: Yeah, asking yourself the questions. Because you know, often I find if you get stuck when creating content, it's because you don't you don't know enough or you feel like you don't know enough.

Jay Acunzo: I think it's that you feel like you don't know, exactly. Because you don't need to know exactly the right steps to take If you have a vague idea of what's driving you forward. In the macro sense, the mountain peak, pick up that machete and just start hacking away to the left. And you'll hit a snag, and then you decide, alright, is this snag because I'm going the wrong direction? Or I'm not equipped to answer this part, or I lack a certain skill, or maybe it is a technical challenge, and I need a tool.

And now at that point, all the world's information and advice is available to you. But I think what we usually do is we flip it. We're like, I don't know the mountain peak. I'm not hacking away through the jungle yet. I'm at step one – I'm like entering the forest. So I'm gonna go research this to death. I'm gonna go find the book. Find 17 different people that I follow on social, take the course, watch the YouTube video. You know, you're trying to gather up all your answers to justify acting. And it's far more effective, and also practical to act to find your answers. And then if you hit a very specific problem, it's a lot easier to solve it, given all that information that's out there.

Rudy Fernandez: Yeah. I have a journalism background and so my routine is to over-research and overthink things and then Susans around to go “Just you go ahead and get started”.

Jay: It's nice to have a Susan around, I gotta say.

Creating Brand IP

Rudy: So getting to the actual the services you provide. I was surprised that so many brands are creating their own shows. Like I looked at your list, you have a bunch, but you have there's MailChimp, HubSpot, Salesforce, Glassdoor, Merrill Lynch. There are hundreds of corporations creating their own podcasts and video series. When do you think a company or brand should create its own show?

Jay: A show is a container. And it's a tool and it depends on what you're trying to build. We do some consulting with brands from the consulting side of it. We would always start with this first phase which was like let's try to say something that matters. Forget if it's a video series or a podcast or two that play off each other long form, short form, whatever. The first thing is, what are we trying to say? I think of it as the first thing you want to anchor to, is to create brand IP.

This kind of like deeper level defensible concept that you're exploring almost like you're assuming the role, or that now this is a brand exercise. Now, this is a story exercise. Now, this is an exercise in understanding the customer, the audience, before we ever talk about a show. So if there's this inkling that like you have themes you'd like to explore more deeply, or that you'd like to own outright. Or brand IP that you'd like to both develop and publish. And by the way, publishing it as part of the development process, like I mentioned before, and for our model. You can maybe say okay, perhaps a show is the right approach. But I think it's really, really difficult to say up front. We need a podcast. Yeah, because typically people are anchoring to the wrong thing. They lower their gaze to the competitive set. They're in more To the container instead of the stuff inside the value, or even worse, they're like it's a trend. So we're going to do it too.

Finding Your Audience

Rudy: Do clients come to you often and say, “We need a podcast. Help us build one.” And then you have to pull them back?

Jay: I had a few of those. Yeah, right now we've really scaled the consulting arm is, is pretty small. We're pretty choosy because we're really only using it to keep our skills sharp and provide some bootstrap funds for the education side of the company. But when we do have someone say, “Hey, we want to make a podcast”. It's very easy just to ask why. Just to to play the little kid in the back of the van driving to school in the morning, just Why? Okay, why? Cool? Why, why, why?

And the more frustrated someone gets, the more I can tell that they're probably not a good fit. And by the way, that that last thing there, they're not a good fit. That's also something we've now started to lead with. And I mentioned the audience that we're developing and the community we're building, with what we're publishing as a media company. And who we serve and who we don't serve. You know, going back to the top of this episode, marketers who want to find and share their voice, make a difference for their audience and shift the culture as a group. Like, if that sounds like it's too heady, it's too woowoo for you, no problem. We're just not for you. So very rarely, I guess, is my answer. Are people coming to us and just saying, “Hey, we want to podcast”. Usually, they're saying something more specific that does feel like it's in line with our philosophy, because we're going out of our way to say, actually, and this is the top section of our consulting page. Here's who we're not for. And I never realized until this business how valuable that can be.

Can we save marketing from itself?

Rudy: Yeah, yeah. So you know, it's funny throughout just this part of the conversation, it sounds like you have a bigger vision for what you want to accomplish, even in your transition now from the consulting to the more educational. Can you put that in words in terms of what kind of….well it's kind of grandiose but the kind of world you want to help create?

Jay: In a weird way, it's almost like can we save marketing from itself? Can we focus less on reach and more on resonance? Can we focus on value instead of totals? Can we focus on audience service? Can we take the marketers who are brooding internally and desire this voice, they want to share publicly, that they have an opinion or they have something to say that they like to teach and lead and inspire, and unleash those people on the world.

Because like I said before, it's good for the brand. Yeah. But at the end of the day, we're trying to help take all these marketers who are kind of like our true believers, philosophically, and we're trying to unleash their very best by giving them a voice. Teaching them a vehicle that's the best vehicle in the world to improve that voice and share it and build community. So that if you fast forward to four or 5, 10 years down the road that these individuals, that hopefully we had a hand some small handed teaching, they're the leaders. They are the community builders and leaders.

Rudy: You talked about saving marketing from itself. And we've talked about promoting content versus creating content that's meaningful. I'm gonna play a clip from one of your talks. From your I think, I guess you were talking about Breaking the Wheel, your book. I think it captures a lot of honestly, the confusion. I think, the shiny thing that people get distracted from. I’m going to play a little bit for you.

“Marketing Has a Best Practices Problem”

Sure. Doing whatever is newest doesn't guarantee that we're doing what works best for us. And so, some of us marketers, we make decisions based on no plan at all. It's total chaos people. We're just doing stuff. We're just doing activity after activity. We prioritize tactics over strategy. We're grabbing it everything out here, aren't we? We're going to be on Twitter. Okay, well, what is the best time for a business to tweet the top report on Google told me 3pm great. We're going to tweet at 3pm except now that that's out there, guess what happens? that is no longer the best time to tweet. But that's okay because we're at Emma's marketing united conference here. Email Marketing is incredibly important for us. We're going to prioritize email marketing. But then there's these experts out there that are saying email marketing is dead. That makes no sense email super powerful. Can we make sense of what those experts are saying? No, we cannot. Because here comes Snapchat. And my boss just emailed me. What's our Snapchat strategy? I guess we're on Snapchat now. But Instagram got purchased by Facebook and they're just copying everything Snapchat is doing so we are also on Instagram at the very same time. Oh, yes, we are. What have you heard? It's the era of video. It absolutely is. are we creating enough video installing it on our websites, optimizing it, marketing it, getting a return and measuring it. It's the era of video and also podcasts. So forget podcasts they're having a moment today, but podcasts are really just a subset of voice. are we concerned with voice voices eating the world? Did you know this voice is eating marketing. Are we prepared to do marketing in an era run by voice? Hey, Alexa, please punch me in the face.

Rudy: I love that. I just thought it's so easy to get distracted. Tell me about that talk and a little bit where that came from.

Jay: Yeah, so the context here, the backdrop is that my book, which the speech relates to is his Break the Wheel.

And it's about how to make decisions faster when you're surrounded by too much information. And we don't really have a system for that, you know, in a world of infinite possibilities. We don't really know how to vet all those possibilities, whether they're our own and our ideas or someone else's. So we use a shortcut, which is called the best practice. And there's all these problems inherent in following best practices, which I don't need to go into right here.

I went on this two-and-a-half-year journey on my personal podcasts with my blogging and then eventually with the book as sort of the culmination of that journey to understand what are the problems with best practices? And what if we had a better system? And the system I landed on was a system of questions. Because when you write a book about questioning best practices, you can't then hand out new best practices for that. It's very meta. But the punchline of this speech is, let's find a way out of this endless cycle. This endlessly spinning wheel, of settling for average of retreating to the safe, the status quo, the conventional, because we shouldn't be finding best practices, that's not the goal. It's never the goal, the goal is actually to find the best approach for you.

So how do we do that? Let's try to figure it out. And so that little rant, I really do appreciate your playing that. I mean, that to me was just pulling from my own experience as a marketer where you're doing 7000 things at four out of 10 instead of three things at a 10 out of 10. And I think, with my whole business with Marketing Showrunners, I think there is a direct correlation between the work I did on Break the Wheel and in my speaking, and why I love shows. Because in a world trending shallow, and trending frenetic, a show, I mean, listen to us here on this podcast, it's a chance to go deeper. I think the depth of it all is how you get out of the rat race. You refuse to play into this frenetic pace. And it actually works. I mean, that's the beauty of this is you can actually develop deep relationships. It's like intimacy that scales. And that's where the good stuff happens as a marketer, as a thinker, as a storyteller as somebody who's hosting or producing a show. So that that little bit you played, man, I feel like that's where I get the horrified knowing, and uncomfortable, like nods and laughs because everybody, I think could relate to that.

A Decision-Making Filter

Rudy: Yeah. Recently learned about Dubsmash it's like, oh, really, I gotta learn that now. What is that? You know? So let me ask you this. What advice do you have to help marketers? Despite all these sort of bullets flying out them? What advice do you have to help them focus on what works for them?

Jay: Well, one of the biggest issues with the generality with the best practice is that it is general. It's a possibility that was previously vetted, sometimes vetted by a past version of you. And the times have changed and sometimes vetted by somebody who isn't you. But either way, there are these variables that are present in your unique situation in the current context or in that you can use to make better decisions. I liken this to like a decision-making filter.

Here’s the details of my situation. I have clarity, I've self-awareness and situational awareness, then any idea, any best practice, any old convention, any new trend must now pass through that filter. And typically, some things get stuck in the filter. So even the smartest best practice, part of it might get stuck or all of it. So you can say with confidence, okay, that's the best approach in general. But I don't operate in a generality. I think I should do it this way instead. So that's a hairy challenge.

How do you understand your context? Well, I think there's first a mental switch we need. We love acting like experts who have the answer, but I think we can stop acting like experts for a moment and act more like investigators. Because investigators, they might know the absolutes, but they care more about evidence. And instead of having the answer, they asked great questions.

And so when I wrote Break the Wheel, I was like on this personal journey, and then hopefully taking the reader on this journey to find what great questions can we ask about our unique context. Such that if we knew the answers to these things, we could look any idea, any possibility, any advice in the face, and much more quickly and with much more confidence, know if it made sense for us or not. Or somewhere in the middle. And so that, to me, is a better approach instead of trying to have the answer be willing to say, you know, I actually don't have the answer, but I know how to figure it out.

That is something we do offer as marketers, and how, in terms of the educational aspect, who is the ideal sort of client/customer/partner that you would come to some marketer who sees their job as something more than selling stuff? You know, I'd like to find and share my voice, I'd like to make a difference to the others that I serve. And together with this movement we're building, we can shift the culture for the better. And you see that in B2B and B2C and nonprofit big, small, it doesn't matter.

The one new variable now that we're really trying to educate like later this year, if we do a cohort based interactive workshop, it would be you already have a show. It's already going, you've already started it. You've already taken the leap from doing the research to making something and now you want to make sure you're heading in the right direction and go deeper and benefit from the collaboration of not just working with us. But working with a peer set that also sees the world the way you do and tapping into their collective creativity and drive and generosity. That to me is the right fit for us. They have that through lines that I keep mentioning but then they also already have a show of some kind.

Fundamentals vs. Trends in Marketing

Rudy: In the world of marketing that you see, in the trends that you see, in things that you think people are doing right and wrong. What are some trends you are most excited about? And what are some that concern you the most?

Jay : I find that so many trends are just that. They're transient. The analogy I used to use when I worked in venture capital, because certainly trends affect far more. They affect every niche in business, a whole founding of companies based on a trend and millions of dollars in wealth transfer and investment go the way of trends.

When I worked in venture capital running next ventures brand, we would talk about how when the wave crashes, in other words, the trend goes away. The only people that are left are the people that dug into the fundamentals. Right. They understand people, they understand who they're serving and why and who they're not for and why. They don't concern themselves with trends. So it's a really tricky question for me to answer because I spent so much time trying to isolate myself away from trends, such that I don't have to worry about them because I want to focus on the people we serve.

Rudy: That's a great answer. I'm still gonna ingest all your content. I really do appreciate you putting it out there because like I said, I always learn a lot from you. So I thank you very much.

Jay: Thank you. So as a maker, especially someone who has a home office, you throw enough out in the world and you hope someone someday says something that you just said. So I really, I really can't thank you enough for that. It's so nice to hear.

Rudy: Well, and thank you for being on the show. And hopefully we will talk some more and I can get some more free advice from you. Thanks, Jay. Hey, thanks for listening. You can keep up with Jay on Twitter @JayAcunzo and look for his book, Breaking the Wheel or just check out Marketing Showrunners.com. Thanks, as always, to Susan Cooper for producing our show. And you can subscribe to this show for free on your favorite podcast app and find previous episodes and transcripts at CreativeOuthouse.com. Well, that's it for this episode of Marketing Upheaval. And remember, it's hard to write a pithy episode tagline when the world is in this much upheaval. See ya.

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