Back in my former life as the Senior Editor for SUCCESS magazine, I met a man who told me one of the best stories I’ve ever heard about the power of content.
The man was Mennonite by way of growing up Amish, and owned four or five successful businesses. The story he told was about how each and every business should view their value proposition. The story was also about content marketing—experience marketing, really—before those words were even be used.
Here’s the story:
There was once a mouse who lived in the house of a man. The mouse lived a normal mousey life: stealing food, chewing through walls, leaving droppings wherever he pleased. The man didn’t like the mouse, obviously, and set traps around the house, but mice are fairly smart most of the time, and the antagonistic relationship continued unchanged.
Until one day… the mouse was looking out through his hole and he saw the man, who was sitting in his recliner watching TV. The man was laughing and it occurred to the mouse that the man was laughing at what was happening on the TV. Looking closer, the mouse saw that the man was watching something about a circus. There were clowns, dancing elephants, and other generally circusy things.
The mouse saw that what the man was watching was obviously bringing him no small level of joy. And in that moment, the mouse got an idea.
The man didn’t like the mouse. The mouse knew this. But the mouse also knew that he himself didn’t like having to worry about running into the traps the man set up. So, the mouse, having seen another way of doing things, a better way of doing things, came up with a plan.
The next night, the man was sitting in his recliner again. The mouse watched him carefully for a bit, swallowed down all the doubts and fears about what he was about to do, and then walked out of his hole. He scampered until he hit a ring of lamplight.
The man did a double take before a look of anger started to form on his face. He started to get up from his chair. The mouse knew he had no time to lose.
The mouse began to dance. Tentatively, at first (mice aren’t known for their rug-cutting abilities), but then more confidently once the mouse saw that the man had stopped moving.
So, the mouse continued to dance. After a few moments, the man sat back down and simply stared. The mouse danced some more. Finally, after the mouse became exhausted, he sat down.
The man did not move for a long time. He just continued to stare at the mouse with a curious expression on his face. Then, just as the mouse was starting to think he plan had not worked, the man did something strange.
He clapped. The noise startled the mouse at first. But then he saw that the man was smiling.
The mouse’s plan had worked.
So every night after that, the mouse would run out of his hole and dance for the man. He even learned to juggle a little. And like clockwork, every morning the mouse would wake up to find a small hunk of cheese waiting for him outside his hole. The traps disappeared. The relationship had changed.
The moral of the story, of course, is that even the worst things in life can become the best when they begin adding VALUE. Instead of simply being a pest, the mouse figured out that he could get what he wanted (safety, good food, and a peaceful place to live) if he first gave the man what he wanted, namely entertainment.
The mouse didn’t pour a bunch of money into a PR campaign, or buy a bunch of tiny billboards. He simply created a piece of content (a dance performance) and gave it away for free. He knew what the man liked from watching his behavior, and put that content in a place where he knew the man would see it.
That’s what content marketing is all about. That’s the true power of content. That experience is what your customers are looking for.
And just like in the mouse story, when great content meets the right audience, the whole dynamic changes. You get what you want, and your customers love you for it.