The Matrix Guide to Content Marketing

The Matrix

You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed, and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you just how deep the rabbit hole goes.

No, this is not going to be a post about what kind of bloggers Morpheus, Trinity and The Architect would be. That would be cute, but not terribly useful.

But I will use Neo, Agent Smith, Spoon Boy and Persephone as symbols of a different type of matrix. A matrix that allows you to see things for what they really are and become more effective.

I’m talking about the kind of communication matrix you build when you work with a pricy consulting firm. It’s abstract, but when you sit down to fill in the abstractions, you’ll find that this “30,000 foot view” helps keep you on track. It shows you exactly where to focus your attention to get the best payoff from the time and work you put into content marketing.

Before you can build your own matrix, you need to know two things: what you’re good at and what’s important to your customers. The best way to find both sets of answers is to ask your best current customers. Use an online survey, or just watch blog and forum comments coming from the people who are your biggest fans today. (Triple bonus points if those individuals currently buy something from you.)

Your matrix has four quadrants. Everything you do with your blog and your business goes into one of these sectors. To make them easy to remember, and to shamelessly exploit a pop culture reference, I’ve given each quadrant a name from the Matrix movies.

Good and Important / Neo

Neo items are things you do well and that are important to your customers. (Not things that are important to you.)

The Neo sector is where you’ll find most of the material for your content marketing. Spend most of your time talking about what you do well and what matters to your readers.

Do not, however, thump your chest and brag about how wonderful you are.

Instead, tell stories that show how you’ve helped your readers with what matters most to them. Take deep dives to explore benefits that are especially relevant to your content community. Create case studies for each type of customer you serve, and show specifically how your product or service benefits those customers.

In case you’re wondering, yes, you’re going to repeat yourself. That’s fine; strategic repetition will help your message sink in. About 80% of your content marketing should touch on the Neo quadrant.

Bad and Important / Agent Smith

Agent Smith items are things you don’t do very well, and that matter to your customers.

What you do communicates much more than what you say. When you’re confronting Agent Smith, you have to communicate by taking action.

In other words, fix the problem.

If you have a great product but your fulfillment house can’t manage to get it shipped to your customers, that has to be fixed before you can move forward. If your t-shirts look great but the color bleeds in the wash, make it right before you try to sell any more.

Know when communication is not your problem. Never, ever try to “spin” your way out of an Agent Smith problem.

Don’t pretend you don’t have Agent Smith issues. Everyone has Agent Smith issues. Be transparent, address them frankly, but most important, get them corrected.

Good and Unimportant / Spoon Boy

Spoon Boy items are things you do well, but that don’t actually matter very much to customers.

There are some things you’re really good at. They might even be essential to running your business well. Maybe your Web site loads amazingly quickly and your shopping cart is state of the art. Maybe your business model offers terrific profit margins. Maybe your manufacturing process is the coolest thing since the invention of the assembly line.

Customers don’t care. They might notice if it’s awful, but mostly it’s not on their radar.

If you talk about Spoon Boy items at all, don’t make your communication too visible. It’s fine to put information out for customers who want to know more, but don’t waste prime real estate. The people who care will dig to find it, and no one else needs to be distracted by it.

Bad and Unimportant / Persephone

The Persephone quadrant covers things you don’t do well, and that are not that important.

Surprisingly, Persephone can actually make herself very useful to you. You have three options with items in the Persephone sector: you can use them as confessional material, you can fix them, or you can quit doing them.

Persephone items make excellent “confessions” to build trust. Nothing creates better rapport than confessing to a fault that your customers don’t care about. For example, if your ebook formatting looks like a third-grader did it, address that right up front. Make fun of yourself a little, and “warn” customers that you’re not going to win any design awards. You get points for not being a self-congratulatory blowhard and you cut criticism off at the pass.

If you feel like it and it isn’t too hard, you can also correct Persephone items to show you’re working on yourself. Again, this shows modesty and a willingness to admit you’re far from perfect. These are very likeable qualities, and likeability is always a plus in content marketing.

Just make sure Agent Smith has been dealt with first. Nothing is more aggravating than a company that fixes trivialities and leaves the major rage-inducers untouched. (Hello, telecom industry.)

Finally, look over your Persephone quadrant every once in awhile to see if there are tasks you should just quit doing altogether, either because you outsource them or because they don’t need to be done at all.

Take the red pill

This matrix is almost completely useless in the abstract. But it’s insanely useful when you actually fill in the blanks.

This is a lousy time to try and make money in a blue pill fantasy land. You need to learn to see your business as it really is. Get real about your marketing, your business, your content and your customers.

Identify what you’re good at and what you aren’t, and what’s important and what isn’t. Until you know those four things, you won’t be able to shape your content marketing to get the greatest possible benefit–for yourself and your readers.

About the Author: Sonia Simone is an Associate Editor of Copyblogger and the founder of Remarkable Communication.

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Reader Comments (34)

  1. says

    Nice metaphor. Bottom line is know what you do well and continue, and know what you need to work on and try asking questions and learning to adapt. Users want a human touch to the company and will applaud the good, and let you know of the bad. With a human face and they will appreciate the hard work in getting in touch and making efforts to change.


  2. says

    Hi Sonia…I really enjoyed your take on this, especially the Agent Smith-type content. The majority of organizations fail to realize the importance of positioning themselves as trusted content providers – trusted resources by developing information solely around what’s important to customers (regardless if they are good at it or not).

    Even though it is starting to change, marketers still have failed to adopt the mindset that they are indeed publishers (media in their own right over content niches that matter to customers).

    This is in line with what Jim Stengel now calls Purpose-Based Marketing (focused on the customers), which is what we’ve been calling (and I believe you call as well) the art and science of content marketing.

    To your point, the entire exercise starts with understanding the core informational needs of customers and prospects. Without that knowledge, content marketing is literally impossible to predict.

    Love the posts on content marketing. Keep them coming.
    Best, Joe

  3. says

    It’s not SWOT (similar, but not quite the same), but you’re completely right on the old-as-hell part, Bobby. This is the kind of nuts-and-bolts stuff big agencies and consulting firms do. (I’ve spent lots of time with big agencies and consulting firms doing exactly this kind of work.) The Matrix part is there to get your attention and help you remember.

    I strongly advise you to use the same technique with your own stuff. :)

  4. says

    You got it across very well, Sonia, although I’ve forgotten about their names except Neo. :)

    I admit I’m not a big fan of The Matrix.

    It is a great way to categorize business activities into multiple spectrum, instead of just important or otherwise, those that fall into the 80 or 20, etc.

  5. says

    Nothing short of brilliant. I wish you could see my jumbled notes and diagrams drawn in sharpy littering my desk. I just did a four category drawing to find the connections between Type A moms and those who piss them off. This helps! Wish I could afford to hire you! When I pare my feeds down to the top 10, this site will be there. thank you! I had those ideas both as a four quartered circle and a timeline. For some reason, I hadn’t attached the word matrix to it, but that’s just the word I needed to tie it together. Is there a tip jar here?

  6. says

    You’re not being obtuse, the Type A thinkers will never get it outright. That’s what I’m working on. If you’re ever in the Philly area or need contacts here, let me know.

  7. Jessica M says

    This is one of my all-time fav posts…maybe that’s cause I’m a HUGE Matrix fan, but still a great read! Thanks!

  8. says

    Great post, and obviously stuff I should pin down :) A question…

    Sonia, and all of you, what do you think of disruptive innovation a la Clayton Christensen and the risks of focusing too much on your best customers? Might it not point to a problem with The Matrix, causing you to miss growth opportunities?

    Seems to me The Matrix proposed here, although a great tool in itself, could need a Glitch added 😉 Just to leave room for innovation catering to peripheral customers (i.e. could be future best customers).

    Any thoughts?

  9. says

    This is an awesome post. I really enjoyed the comparison between content marketing and The Matrix. Very clever! I especially enjoyed the Persephone analogy. I like that you said attempting to get better shows that you’re willing to admit that you’re less than perfect. Awesome post!

  10. says

    Arvid, I find the Disruptive Innovation stuff fascinating. Every businessperson needs to decide for herself if it’s relevant or not. If you’re anywhere in the technology or manufacturing space, it’s probably a good idea. But (me being a fuddy-duddy and all) I’d advocate having a very strong grasp of the old rules before you try to play by the new rules.

    For a lot of the readers of this blog, blogging itself was already the disruptive innovation. But the other boring bits of the business haven’t changed. Even if you come out with an extraordinary new thing no one knew they wanted, this matrix is still going to help you deliver a quality experience and create a quality relationship with customers.

  11. says

    I think your absolutely right. Especially for start-ups or new bloggers the Matrix is great. I mean the Disruptive Inn. problem is really a problem for established companies. Not for starters with none (!) or maybe a few customers. Interesting you mention blogs as disruptive – perhaps some are becoming ripe to be disrupted themselves :)

    Many thanks.

  12. says

    I’m a veteran blogger who is looking to get into the non-profit side of things. I think there is something to be said for not just editing your copy, but clarifying your purpose and audience as pertains to business. I did a little social experiment of sorts in the last two weeks which proved my theory.

    My audience is in my actual community with the brick and mortar non-profits.

    If anyone needs insight into the underbelly of the mommy blogger world, I have more material than you could ever need. It is a huge, huge distraction from your otherwise disempowered life. Not for me. I’m too smart. I got turned down for presenting at BlogHer with an offer to staff the name badge table.


    I joke that I’m on the hit list for the product review mommy blogger mamfia. Except I am running in the opposite direction from all community groups online that look to me as a mother first.

    I love my kids, but damn are they boring to an academic. Mommy bloggers too.

    This is a refreshing discussion and has helped me clarify just how simple I have to make the online experience for those who are non-adopters. They need the access not another disruption or distraction.

  13. says

    Excellent piece. You’ve taken Johari’s Window and the BCG Quadrant — Stars, Dogs, Cows and Question Marks — and given it a new cool. However, I’ve found I’m a much better consultant (and content marketer) now that I am off the pills — be they blue, red or, well, white.


    Britton Manasco
    Illuminating the Future

  14. says

    I like how clearly you cut the world into the important and the unimportant, but what of the borderlands and long tails?

    What I keep noticing is that so many things are important to somebody out there and it’s those companies that keep people absolutely satisfied that get brass ring treatment.

    Yes, the best answer is transparency and adroit reactivity. And responsiveness, even just an acknowledgment, improves things a ton. But there’s something about that…treating it ALL as worthy of addressing and acting on. Not stressing out, but always, steadily, improving with Zen tranquility.

  15. says

    Think bigger. You need the matrix as a platform, as your piece of paper. It’s just an idea that doesn’t exist in real space.

    Do matrices exist to help divergent interests come to consensus?

    To get that one customer that will make the $5000 purchase, setting off a series of bigger purchases when they are satisfied with the brand.

    Maybe they got burned in their first output of import to them…maybe it was originally $100.

    They think and think and aggregate diverse data that would take a 400×400 matrix to sort out the connections.

    Is the ROI or sale proportional to what?

    I have the statcounter graphs and clicky stats for my fictionalized rant/through process. In doing it to the extreme for effect, I beta tested my hard sell approach vs. my soft sell, genuine caring approach.

    What I learned? Genuine, time consuming effort to cultivate a lot of small sales isn’t worth your effort because they will turn the fastest onto the next new thing. This is a dynamic, Type A group. You have to overlay the matrices with the filter and use of coincidence detection.

    So my 4+ years of personal blogging averaged 9 uniques a day, three of whom I can predict will life long friends.

    My experiment, throw out mass content and see your bounce rate drop if you make them read to the bottom, confuse them, waste 10 minutes of their time to decide they didn’t want it after all. They will tell their friend who is their polar opposite, the light bulb will go on and she will need it now!! So she’ll arrange a giveaway and swag bags.

    Your customer is the ditzy friend, but pitch and bring the smart one into the conversation. Her friend loves to hate her and always does the exactly opposite of what she does.

    Pitch to the creative genius. In 5 seconds they can give you the up/down on whether they would buy it. Take it to the bank. Middle america can’t wait for the next new thing that the elite didn’t have use for. Until they bought stock in it…

    All from two weeks of observing the mommy blogger review scene and dissecting the Leap Frog pitch, watching the fallout when I criticized the group that disagreed with me. They won’t agree with me ever. They will step of their courting of the PR people and give the PR people time to find the next new thing. Thus, for the price and status of lunch in NY, they have a ready supply of free info.

    I sit by and judge it as pathetic because it doesn’t matter how many good ideas you have, people like the train wreck factor and it’s exclusive of community. When the train wreck is genuine you don’t feel good about looking. When watching a train wreck makes you feel exclusive? You build your business around it.

    I can totally name names and connect the dots and it would make it even more clear, but that would have to happen offline of course. Unless you want me to keep agitating this group who is bound by social and legal constraints to be nice.

    But thanks to the matrix idea of Sonia’s I was able to distill the chaos in message board communities like mothering into 4 steps to discontent. The spinoff boards that do the 180 opposite in the same 4 steps are laughing their asses off snarking at the first group.

    The key is using the matrix to simulate before you run your test. I knew it would get ugly, but didn’t predict just how. Good thing my husband is a lawyer and I don’t draw income from my writing.

  16. says

    I like this word,
    “Use an online survey, or just watch blog and forum comments coming from the people who are your biggest fans today. ”

    This was actually the most important thing to drag your customer. But finding whats the major favorite is the hardest one, not all people are like to one thing at the same time

  17. says

    I don’t think it is very useful to work on what you don’t do well, or your weaknesses. It is far more productive to just focus on your core strengths and then outsource anything you aren’t very very good at.

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