There's an old saying that goes: “Try to please everyone, and no one will be pleased.”
Great content is informed by a great content strategy. Before you can create a great content strategy, you've got to know who you are – and who you're not.
One of the ways we help our clients clarify that is by building a Story Matrix: a strategic document that defines nine key components of the business, and describes them in plain English.
As we've improved our process, and as we've thought at length about what we want our clients to take away from this part of it, we've realized that this isn't a tool for clarity – it's a tool for clarities, plural.
So far, we've put our finger on five different clarities that emerge as we define those nine elements of a brand's story. We're sure we'll find others as we dig deeper, but for now, here are the ones we've found – and more importantly, what they mean for businesses that are mindful of them.
Clarity about what your business does and doesn’t do.
A Story Matrix is a living document that, like your business, is designed to constantly grow with you. Over time, it may evolve. It may become richer in detail. It may expand upon what you set out to originally do, but it won’t waver on what you do best.
By defining what you do versus what you don’t do early and often, the matrix helps key decision-makers amplify what you do best instead of succumbing to comparison traps, fear of missing out, or failed attempts to duplicate what others have successfully done.
The Story Matrix is also a rare opportunity for creatives to think in binary terms. Whether you’re leading a team or running solo, it’s critical that you have an anchor point that keeps you grounded in what your business excels at, regardless of the other skills you may possess. This process separates you from your business, so you don’t end up running yourself in a million different directions and taking your business along for the ride.
Clarity about who the business serves and what their circumstances are.
One of the most powerful byproducts of a Story Matrix is knowing exactly who you’re trying to reach and what the best opportunity is to introduce yourself to their world. After all, that’s content’s most important goal!
That’s why our Story Matrix also includes three Personas, stories based on ethnographic research, interviews, and empathy. Obscenely rich in detail, these Personas illuminate the exact moment a brand becomes relevant to their lifestyle and the tone, topics and messages that matter most to them.
Clarity about the voice and tone that everyone on the team should use.
Speaking of tone, the Story Matrix exists for another meaningful purpose: to unite everyone responsible for building the brand around a lexicon or language that reaches its target audience.
Our clients, all of which range from solo entrepreneurs to large scale agencies, love that their Story Matrix saves them countless numbers of explanations, phone calls, and (worst of all) meetings about how the brand conducts itself online and in person. Something funny tends to happen when everyone brings their own perception of how a brand functions: mixed messages, muddled graphics, and off-brand collateral all lead to a hodgepodge that becomes branding soup in the mind of the customer.
Enter the Story Matrix, a unifying document that clearly articulates how the brand’s content should behave in a variety of contexts, from email signatures to Tweets, annual reports to support tickets. Best of all, the brand’s internal stakeholders can print, duplicate, and share the Story Matrix with anyone who joins the team – whether they be a designer or an accountant – to ensure everyone is speaking the same language and working from the same page.
Clarity about the things that make you significantly different from other businesses like yours.
One of the questions we ask our clients in the process of building out their Story Matrix has to do with key differentiators. Specifically, we want to know: how are you just one degree different from your competition?
Many brands, especially ones that are entering a crowded market like food or fashion, feel like they have to come up with a wildly different offering or capture an entirely different audience to stand out from their competition. Not true!
In reality, you only need to have a few key differences that make your brand more valuable to a slightly different audience – but those differences DO have to be properly discovered and documented in order to prevent wading into copycat territory. The Story Matrix is where that happens.
Clarity about short term decisions that add up to longterm visions.
What have we learned so far? The Story Matrix is a living document, a clarifying document, and a unifying document that helps your brand share its story strategically, instead of flinging it to the wall to see if it sticks.
Our favorite feature of a well crafted matrix is its ability to provide an unlimited number of gut checks to help you make decisions that fully align with your vision for the business and the brand. Should you ever find yourself in an identity crisis, a period of wicked growth, or an opportunity to pivot, you’ll have everything you need to ask yourself: what would the brand do?
The answer will always exist in the pages of your Story Matrix.