Today, we’re chatting with the king of differentiation, Mark Levy.
Mark Levy is the founder of Levy Innovation LLC, a positioning and branding firm that helps consultants and other thought leaders increase their fees by up to 2,000%.
Yup. You read that right.
He’s also the genius behind Simon Sinek’s “Start With Why” and the Millionaire’s Magician, Steve Cohen.
In this show, we’re talking about the tangible things you can do to make sure you’re standing out from the noise and increase your fees.
Hint: It’s all about differentiation 😜
Watch the Podcast 👀
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Show Notes 📓
✅ Learn more about Mark Levy here: https://levyinnovation.com
✅ Grab a copy of Accidental Genius here: https://www.amazon.com/Accidental-Genius-Revolutionize-Thinking-Through/dp/1605095257
🎤 Thank you to our sponsor, Libsyn Studio (formerly Auxbus)! Want the best podcasting solution out there? Learn more here: https://www.libsynstudio.com/
🚀 And as always, don’t forget about all the mind-blowing free resources at https://speakerflow.com/resources/
Read the Transcription 🤓
Taylorr: Welcome to another episode of Technically Speaking. We’re your hosts, Taylor and Austin and we are so excited that you decided to listen in on this episode. We have some awesome golden nuggets in store, and we decided to bring on the king of differentiation, Mark Levy. Now Mark is the founder of Levy Innovation, a positioning and branding firm that’s helped consultants and other thought leaders increase their fees by up to 2000%. Yes, you heard that right. 2000%. His clients include the Millionaire’s Magician, Steve Cohen, Simon Sinek Start with Why, CEOs of major organizations, Ted and TEDx speakers, and even a former department head in the white house. Now before devoting his work full time to Levy Innovation, Mark served as the chief marketing officer at an Inc 5,000 experiential branding organization whose clients include Bank of America, Gap, Samsung Time Warner, you name it. Least to say, Mark is one of the most skilled professionals out there on the topic of differentiation and today we’re honored to bring him onto the show to talk about how differentiation can really raise your fees by 2000%. We hope you enjoy the show. All right and we are live. Mark, welcome to the show. It is so incredible to have you here today.
Mark: Thank you guys for having me on I’m grateful.
Taylorr: Yeah, certainly.
Austin: It’s our pleasure for sure. By the way, I love the glasses. Not everybody can pull off the round glasses look and you really own it.
Mark: Do you know? So, I’m 58 years old.
Taylorr: Wow. Are you serious?
Mark: Yeah. I never had anyone compliment me on my eyeglasses in my life, but you, Austin are the third person to compliment me on these glasses. And everyone who complimented me, they’re young like you.
Mark: To me, you’re like embryonic so three embryonic people compliment me on my glasses. By the way, so now, you know the title of this segment.
Taylorr: That’s right yup.
Mark: It’ll be Mark Levy’s glasses. [Inaudible 02:26]. The optician who got me these glasses, they didn’t have them in stock. I just said to them, get me John Lennon glasses. That was the edict. So, they searched wide and loud, that’s how I got these.
Austin: Wow, and they did such great work, they really nailed it so…
Taylorr: Going to need that referral, Mark.
Mark: Thank you so much.
Austin: I’m going to need that optometrist number.
Mark: Yeah, right?
Taylorr: I don’t even have glasses, but now I want them.
Mark: Right? Exactly.
Taylorr: All right. Well, I suppose our listeners are probably waiting for the show to start. So, Mark, okay. So, one of our first questions that we just love to poke down the path like, how did you get into the thought leadership space? How did you find your niche? What was the journey like for you after all these years?
Mark: Oh, okay. Interesting. Well, I mean with any story, you can start it from different spots and ended at different spots, I find that to be the case. I have lots of true stories about that, but I’ll pick one that’s emblematic [inaudible 03:25].
Mark: So, I was the director of sales of the third largest book wholesaler in the world. We bought millions of dollars’ worth of books from the publishers, like Simon and Schuster and Random House. And then we’d sell them to Amazon and independent bookstores and Barnes and Nobles and things like that. And so, I did that for many, many years and essentially, and I totaled up, I helped sell over a billion dollars’ worth of books. And I reckoned in the amount of time, I think I was in the industry 14 years or so I calculated it, so I must’ve done over 35,000 elevator speeches.
Because essentially, I had to take a book that came from a publisher, a book I hadn’t seen before and I had a look at it and very quickly understand what’s interesting about this and what’s not, and should I sell it or not? And then I’d have to jump on the phone and sell it to bookstores and so, and so that’s where the elevator speech came in. After I had done that a long time and I was super successful at it, I decided to quit and open up my own business. And the same way I can look at a book and quickly size up what’s its main point, what’s interesting about it and speak about it, that’s what I started to do with people’s businesses. So, I treated their business as if it was a book. Even if it was a product or a service, didn’t matter, I’d say, okay, what’s interesting about this? And now how do I talk about it in a way that gets people excited very quickly about it? Does that make sense?
Taylorr: Yeah, certainly.
Mark: If that doesn’t make sense, I’ll tell you another story.
Austin: Well, I think it’s, it’s kind of interesting because I sort of associate your work in a lot of ways with branding, and branding is typically associated with marketing people. But you didn’t start this coming from an angle of marketing in its more traditional analytical sense, you came to this from a sales perspective of pitching, right?
Mark: Total sales perspective. I also have a background as you guys know, I have a background in magic, I created the highest rated live show on TripAdvisor in New York city. It’s rated higher than even Hamilton. It’s called Chamber Magic and Steve Cohen; The Millionaire’s Magician is the performer. So, I both created the positioning and differentiation for the show, but I also co-created the tricks or so, I’m a magician. And so, the idea of being a sales person and being a magician, it’s this idea of you have to take a premise and run with it, you can’t take half measures and things. That’s one of the things that annoys me when someone like gets this good idea and they only take it in half measures, they don’t fully commit to it. You got to just so commit. A friend of mine, this guy, Rich Marotta, who was a magician years ago, he once called that idea and hopefully all your listeners know whoever referring to when he called it, having Farley commitment.
At the time Chris Farley was alive. And I remember Rich saying to me, when Chris Farley is in a sketch or something like I call that Farley commitment. Like in other words, he is one hundred percent. If you don’t remember who he is, go watch the videos…
Taylorr: I miss Chris Farley.
Mark: On Saturday night live, he’s totally there at a hundred percent. So, to me, that’s the kind of commitment to make a big, sexy idea, to sell a magic trick, you need Farley commitment in what it is you’re doing. Like no [inaudible 07:1], like fall down and break the table commitment.
Austin: Yeah, which he did many times.
Mark: Right. Exactly. That’s what I’m saying. Exactly.
Austin: Man, I’m never going to get that visualization out of my head. I think you’ve just changed my paradigm around looking at committing [cross-talk 07:31].
Mark: If there are any tables still standing after you’ve been pitching, there’s a mistake. I want you throwing yourself into the furniture.
Austin: It’s so funny. I love it. Okay, so I think part of this right comes from the ability to define properly the idea that you’re going to commit too. Right?
Austin: And I think some of that comes in the form of differentiation. Would you say that that’s the thing that helps you get to what you can commit?
Mark: Right. I’m a differentiation expert. I differentiate companies and brands and fault leaders. I help them come up with what I call their big, sexy idea, the signature idea, the idea that going to be known for throughout the world. And I make sure it comes through loud and clear in everything they do so that anyone in the marketplace who falls in love with that idea has to seek my client out because my client embodies that idea. They represent that idea. If the marketplace went to someone other than my client, they’d be getting the diet version of that idea, like the weak watery version. And by the way, what I just said to you is my differentiation. The idea. That’s why I went into that. It was less about a commercial and more about, oh, let me demonstrate the way a magician would because if someone says they’re a magician, they better do a miracle.
Otherwise, you’re not just going to take their word on it. Oh, okay. Got it. So, my differentiation is around your big, sexy idea. Your signature idea. When your differentiated, what it is is whether you’re selling a product or a service or whatever you’re doing, you’re taking a reason why someone would buy from you and you’re leading with it. And it’s one of your most interesting reasons. It doesn’t have to be your most interesting reason, but it’s one of your most interesting reasons. And what the differentiated idea is, is it’s usually around the idea. It’s often not a hundred percent, but it’s often less about how you’re different and it’s more about how the people in the marketplace, your customer will be different in their own life after using what it is you’ve given them.
Austin: The outcomes.
Mark: So, it’s less about how you’re different and more about how they’re going to be different.
Taylorr: Wow, what an interesting [cross-talk 09:54].
Mark: Does that make sense?
Taylorr: Yeah. That makes perfect sense. You’re [cross-talk 09:58].
Mark: Austin’s hat exploded.
Taylorr: Yeah, it just went poof [cross-talk 10:01].
Mark: Not his head, it was his hat. The seams tearing.
Taylorr: It’s so tangible. You’re talking in terms of the outcomes of what your clients can expect then, and one thing I’ve been really eager to pick your brain about Mark, is one thing that we hear all the time, especially from the thought leadership category. I mean, there’s how many billions of people on the earth, all with very, very similar ideas.
Mark: Seven and a half.
Mark: Seven and a half billion.
Taylorr: And so, let’s say you’re a thought leader in a particular category, leadership, mental health, HR, whatever it might be, you’re competing with a bunch of other people that have similar topics to you. And one of the frustrations we hear from thought leaders all the time is like, how do I differentiate myself in this market when there are a billion people around who also have these similar ideas? And is it that my perspective makes me unique? How do people navigate those waters when they’re feeling maybe overwhelmed or out competed by other people who are in their space?
Mark: There’s so many ways to differentiate. See people get scared because there does need to be an overarching point of differentiation so that’s super hard. That’s when you need to hire Levy. Bring him in. But as far as differentiating in a way that’s very effective, there’s just so many ways you could do it all on your own. So, for instance, one way that I preach, I call it the open kitchen concept of business. In the old days, and this is at least pre COVID. When people would build restaurants, where would they put the kitchen? They put it in the back in the corner, in the dark. And so, you’d sit there and you’d say, where’s my food. Where’s my waiter. I wonder if this place is clean and you get angrier and angrier, because you were kept in the dark, you didn’t know what was happening.
And now when restaurants build, restaurants, again, at least pre COVID, they would build the kitchen where? They put it upfront as soon as you walked in or in the middle of the restaurant, and they put it without walls, or they put it up with glass partitions. And that’s because people want to see who the chef is, they want to see how the chef interacts with the waitstaff, they want to see what the ingredients are that it’s being used, they want to see where people are in case, they need to call them over or so. And so that idea of the open kitchen of showing people exactly who you are and why the work’s important to you and what your philosophy is and how you go about making decisions and all those things they need to be right out in the open. Literally with you saying on videos or so or during pitches, let me tell you why this works so important to me.
And I’ll give you a very quick story about this. I just moved. I live in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Beautiful. I actually bought a 10-acre farm. So [cross-talk 12:52] I can’t believe it. I grew up in a high rise in Flushing Queens, but I have a farm. So, I’m in my farm house. I’m in a stone farmhouse from 1748. Super cool because I love history. I was looking to hire someone to put in a full house generator in case power went out. The guy was here and this, by the way, I’m telling you this story about this guy. It’s for everyone listening, everyone listening, this is about them. So, this guy was here to give me an estimate about generators and we were out back and I said, I don’t want the house marred because it’s a historic house. Where can we hide the generator?
And as we were walking around my property, looking for a spot he said, do you mind if I ask, what do you do for a living? And so, I told him what I told you before and he got real excited said, can I ask you a business question? I said, sure. He said, my family, we own this generator company, but I’m starting a company selling hops to craft breweries and microbreweries. How do I go about doing that? Like what’s good business advice. And so, I said to him, I said, why are you selling the hops to microbreweries and things? He said, oh, because my family for generations, we’ve grown up on a farm. And even though we’re not farmers per se, we still live the farms and we still farm some crops.
And so, my young daughter, she’s like four years old, a few years ago, he said in order so that she knew where she came from, which was a farm, and in order to spend daddy daughter time together so she wasn’t always on her cell phone. We picked out an acre on the farm and we dug a trench of a hundred feet and we planted hops and she and I would go out there every day and she’d get really pointing to the plants growing up from it, the hops and stuff. And I ended up farming it and tasting it and it tasted so good that we planted like a couple of rows of 100 acre and so now I want to take this stuff and sell it because now we have multiple rows and the hops is great.
And I said, okay, that’s how you differentiate. And he said, what are you talking about? Yeah, micro-breweries, craft breweries a lot of them are family owned, they’re the little guy they look at themselves, like of the community. So, you go to them and you say look, let me tell you I sell hops, it’s great tasting hops, blah, blah, blah but let me tell you why I’m doing this work. And then you say, my daughter was four years old, like her name, whatever Lauren, and I wanted to spend time with her and I wanted her to remember where the family came from because this wasn’t our manger. Like, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And I said, that’s what you leave with. I’m talking about the open kitchen concept.
That was a true story, but he wouldn’t have said it. He said, really? I should say that stuff. I said, yeah, that’s the open kitchen concept. It’s like what’s the story behind the work you do but also here’s my philosophy about how I do it. When someone tells me what it is they do, especially if they’re in a service, like let’s say they’re a leadership consultant or something like that, the first question I asked them is, oh, what’s your philosophy? What’s your leadership philosophy? If we were working together, what’s something that you would tell me or even if you didn’t tell me it, it would be operating in the background, like your operating system while you were doing it, whether you verbalized it or not. You know what I mean?
Mark: You’ve got to let people know that stuff. Makes sense?
Austin: Man, I love this. I like to pay attention to my emotional reactions when I’m learning something new.
Austin: And when you were explaining this, initially my knee-jerk reaction was I can already foresee the objections of people saying, okay, well I want to let people in and see what I’m doing, but it’s also my thing and I don’t want to be too open because those are my trade secrets. That’s what makes me effective or whatever. But then you immediately went into explaining the background of this guy with his daughter. There’s nothing secret about that. That’s what makes you, who you are and that plays into the perspective and the philosophy and the rest of it. And man, I think that’s such a simple answer that just goes right over my head without you having specified it.
Mark: Well, can I say, you said something Austin, you said something super beautiful there. Something sometimes when I speak, people pay me to say what you say for free. So, what you said is when you were talking, I had this feeling. And so sometimes when I’m teaching people about creating intellectual property, like a book or creating a program or something of that nature, I say like, you’re your own tuning fork. You’re your own test case. As you walk around during the day, if you show some extreme emotion over something, whether it’s anger or delight, you should pay attention to what’s creating something that extreme in you because there might be an idea or a lesson. So don’t poo-poo when you have a good or bad emotion, if it’s extreme, say, oh, okay, great. What’s this teaching me? And you then use that stuff in speeches in books in marketing in advertising. Not always, it’s not a one-to-one relationship. Like, oh, I’m happy I’m going to use this. It’s you’re like you’re giving yourself clues as to what to pay attention to during the day.
Taylorr: Interesting feedback loop. What’s interesting [cross-talk 18:49].
Mark: What he said.
Taylorr: What’s interesting. Mark is, as you’ve been talking, one of the things I was hearing is why, why, why. And for those of you who don’t know our listeners, Mark is worked with some of the biggest names of the space. One of the more notable ones aside from Steve Cohen, of course, The Millionaire Magician, Simon Sinek and Start with Why. What was it like in terms of differentiating Simon and how did you guys land on the whole start with why? Obviously, you’re very passionate about this why kind of philosophy behind all the work you do as well. What was it like working through that differentiation process in launching such a massive platform?
Mark: Oh yeah. He’s so brilliant. And by the way, it happened so long ago, it more just… so what often happens with people is it’s not coming up with something brand new because when you come up with something brand new, it’s like an invading virus attacking the body. They’ll reject it. I discovered this really early in the work I did that I said, oh, they’re paying me good money. I’m going to be really clever and give them something they didn’t have before. And almost always, even though people were saying they wanted that when it happened, they didn’t want it. And so, what it was, was it’s almost always from getting people to look at their lives or their work or their products or their services in ways that they hadn’t seen before and then helping them sift through and getting them to identify what the big ideas are like the start with whys kinds of things.
So, it’s almost always something that’s already in their lives. As a matter of fact, I had an assistant once and he watched me work a few times with people. And he said to me, you don’t create any new ideas. He meant this in a good way. he wasn’t being negative. This is like 20 years ago. He said, you don’t create any new ideas. He said, you just sift through people’s lives and you tell them what they’re already doing and he called me The Sifter. And he had like a soul patch. And he goes sifter, like that. Like a surfer. Sifter and really, I developed this ability to sift because I wanted people to come up with something that they felt they had ownership of and not something where I was trying to prove that I was very clever. Does that make sense?
Taylorr: Oh, it makes perfect sense. [Cross-talk 21:32] Kind of resonates back to what we were talking about earlier about a thought leader feeling like there’s too much competition in their own marketplace and they have to come up with these really clever ideas, these unique models that are completely new, that no one has ever heard of before. It’s like it can be simplified is what I’m hearing.
Mark: Yeah. And Taylorr, you and I, we had a conversation a few days ago and we may have talked about this. I think I write about it in my book in Accidental Genius, where I was once at a book writing conference, I was speaking at a book writing conference and I saw one of the participants sitting off by herself at the corner. And she had, this is at the time when they’d have like the butcher block paper as the table covering, I don’t know if they still do that with the crayons. She was there drawing on the table top and she seemed like in tremendous consternation. So, I went over there and I said, what are you up to? And she said, I’m creating a model. And I said, a model of what? And I promise you, this is what she said. She said a model for good, clear business communication. Her face was all like scrunched up in anguish and I looked at the table top and it was more complex than like a NASA program.
There were arrows, there were different colors, there were squiggly lines and squares and she said this is about good communication. And I said, why are you doing it like this? She said, well, I’m trying to write a book and so I thought that I need something proprietary and complex or so. And I said to her, models and frameworks and things like that, they’re there to make things easier on human beings. That’s their whole job. A model is not like just a replicate reality or something like that, because you can look at reality in 78 different ways. It’s there so you can create some replicable idea and do it in a simpler fashion than if you just were trying it from scratch every time. So, I said, so if the model is making you stuck, you need to get rid of the model, it’s a bad model and create a new model. But I encounter all this stuff as you had said, Taylorr, over and over again where people are trying to prove how smart they are or I don’t know what they’re trying to do, but they’re making things hard on people and hard on themselves.
Austin: I think that people forget what an actual expert is. Which is somebody that takes this complex idea that takes years and decades of studying and experience to really understand, and then distilling it down into something simple enough that the general public who may not have had those experiences can understand and then make practical. And I love what you just said because simplicity is what makes an expert, I think, in a lot of ways.
Mark: Oh yeah, and you said something else right there that reminded me. Of course, everyone knows the story of, well, there’s different versions of this, but let’s say Picasso so this is definitely one of those stories. So, Picasso, whatever 50 years ago or so he was in a restaurant and a woman ran up to him with a cloth napkin and she said, Picasso, please draw a picture of me. And he took a pencil out of his pocket and he took the napkin and it took him about 10 seconds to draw the picture. And the woman said, oh, thank you. And she went to grab it and he pulled it away and he said, that’ll be $10,000. And she said, $10,000, it took you 10 seconds to draw it. And he said, it took me 30 years to learn how to draw it. And so, as obvious as that story is, and everyone listening may already know that story.
But if you think about it from your perspective, you guys have studied, you know your work so well that the wisdom of what you’re saying is kind of concentrated. It’s like coal into a diamond. You’re speaking diamonds and people have got to understand like, okay, if you wanted to wait around for the coal to pressurize into a diamond, but I’ve already done that work for you. Does that make sense? It’s like what it is? And people listening, like what it is that you’re telling and doing for people is just so valuable because they just would never do. Today in our house, we had an electrician come over to hang a chandelier. And probably to an electrician, that’s nothing, but I’m not wiring a chandelier. You know what I mean? I going not to do that stuff, it would be outrageous. Like there’s no way I would do that. And so, what he would do for us as valuable and succinct thing with everyone listening. I think what it is I’m saying is you truly need to revisit the value that you create in people’s lives. Even in the most simple things that you say is stuff that they need to affect big change in a way.
Austin: That’s good perspective. I think it’s hard to remember when you’re in the trenches sometimes too so I’m glad that you gave us and everybody else that’s listening a reminder. Mark, I’ve got a question for you. I know we’re about to wrap up here so I’m wondering if there are indicators, I guess, that you can see when you’re working with your clients, that show that the brand distinction let’s say that somebody already has in place just isn’t working and needs to get refreshed. And obviously we don’t have enough time here to unpack what the process would be refreshing it but do you think that you might be able to share a couple of signs that people might be able to look for to indicate that a change may need to be made?
Mark: Yeah, well, no one’s ever asked me that question.
Mark: So, I appreciate that.
Austin: I don’t know if you’re being serious or not. Really? No one’s ever asked you that?
Mark: No. Well, prospects have asked me that question, but I’ve never been in interviews. I get interviewed a lot. I’ve never had anyone ask me that question. I would say that one thing is if people have stopped talking about your brand without you around. To me, the key is always are people talking about it. That’s the… Did I, and I apologize. I told the story of Steve Cohen with the people talking about the tricks?
Taylorr: Not in this episode.
Austin: Yeah, not in this episode no.
Mark: Oh yeah, yeah. Really, really quick. So, 21 years ago when Steve Cohen and I, The Millionaire’s Magician, he and I created the show Chamber Magic and it was playing New York city. We didn’t have a lot of money, so Steve would perform the tricks and I would go in the audience afterwards and speak to the audience members and say, which trick did you like best? And I would listen over the course of months to what people said and they loved the trick over and over again, that was great but if they never mentioned a trick, Steve, and I would just pull it out of the show because the trick needed to be the show itself and it needed to act as a missionary for the show. It had to be so good and exciting that people would talk about it, even when we weren’t around. And if they weren’t going to talk about it 40 minutes after seeing it, they’re not going to talk about it once they got home.
So, the tricks themselves, as I said, they had to do heavy lifting. People had to wanted to speak. So, the tricks needed to be clear enough to be spoken about which sounds obvious but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes if people didn’t know how to talk about a trick, they wouldn’t talk about a trick. So, we had to simplify it enough that they knew how to talk about it and it had to be exciting enough that they would talk about it. So, it’s the exact same thing with someone’s brand. It’s like, if they don’t know how to talk about who you are, or they’re not excited to talk about who you are, that’s a big problem.
Taylorr: Wow. What a piece of tangible advice right there. That was so simple. Mark, thank you for sharing that. For people listening, if people aren’t talking about you and you’re not sure why this is probably a good place to start with differentiation and your brand clarity so Mark, thank you so much for being a well of wisdom on the show today. And as you know, we’re all about creating value for our audience so what are some of the things that you’re working on right now that our listeners can benefit?
Mark: Well, if they want to read some of my posts or watch some of my videos, my website is levyinnovation.com, that’s L E V Y innovation.com. And also, I’ve written a bunch of books, but my favorite book is Accidental Genius using writing to generate your best ideas, insight, and content. It teaches people something that they may already know free writing, but it’s using free writing, this effortless, private, spontaneous writing. It’s using it as a way to not only create content and things of that nature, but to use it as a thinking tool. So, you actually can solve your own business problems while you’re writing up thoughts for public consumption. I came up with a lot of the methodology real quick for this.
Years and years ago, I had to start writing for a newspaper and entertainment newspaper, and I started to use free writing to do it. So, I would be interviewing Leonardo DiCaprio and in writing up my Leonardo DiCaprio interview, I’d be solving business problems or in writing up like an interview with Mark Walberg, I would be like solving a marketing problem or so, and I said, oh, I let me find a book on this and I saw no one had written about it so that was when I wrote the first edition of Accidental Genius. It’s a good book. I wouldn’t say everything I do is like some amazing thing, but accidental genius is really good.
Taylorr: Awesome. Well, I will definitely be sure there’s a link in the show notes. I’m so excited to read it. I know I read the first like 30 pages [cross-talk 31:31].
Mark: Oh, excellent.
Taylorr: I read it. But thank you so much again, mark, for being here and for those of you who liked this episode, don’t forget to like it, rate it, subscribe to it and if you want more awesome resources like this, go to speaker flow.com/resources. Thank you so much for chiming in. I just wanted to take a second to thank our sponsor Auxbus. Auxbus is the all-in-one suite of tools you need to run your podcast. And it’s actually what we run here at Speaker Flow for Technically Speaking. It makes planning podcasts simple; it makes recording podcasts simple; it even makes publishing podcasts to the masses simple and quite honestly, Technically Speaking, wouldn’t be up as soon as it is without Auxbus. Thank you so much Auxbus. And if you are interested in checking Auxbus out, whether you’re starting a podcast or you have one currently get our special offer auxbus.com/speaker flow, or click the link below in our show notes.