We’ve heard a lot of gloom-and-doom talk about people’s shrinking attention spans in recent years. Humans now apparently have the attention span of a goldfish or a squirrel, depending on whom you ask. While our ability to pay attention dwindles, our control over what we pay attention to increases. We can skip TV ads with our DVR and even download programs that block all display ads while we surf the Web.

Although many are crying doomsday, I can’t help but compare the current state of digital marketing to my door-to-door sales days. Sure, we were walking right up to peoples’ doors, but they could slam them in our faces at any second. The challenge was to first grab your prospects’ attention and then sustain their interest long enough to close. We had to give them a real good reason to invite us into their homes and then let us stick around. And that’s where many digital marketers fail—they don’t give visitors a real good reason to pay attention. It’s true that squirrels have a one-second average attention span, but put an acorn in front of them and they’ll be transfixed for up to four minutes.

Adapt to the Changes, or Get a Door Slammed in Your Face

Enter content marketing. It’s essentially an adaptive marketing technique that arose in response to today’s attention shortage. When companies create and share content that is valuable and relevant to their target audience (i.e., based on a deep understanding of their audience’s interests, needs, and desires), prospects will open the door and beckon them in.

Content marketing is arguably the most effective way to grow your brand in today’s digital market. That’s because content marketing is about three things:

1. Getting visitors to seek you out, instead of the other way around.

What is your audience searching for? What do they care about, follow, and read up on? What are they continually entertained and delighted by? Distribute content that delivers what they want without selling, and your prospects will find you organically.

2. Holding visitors’ attention

You want visitors to read content, browse products, and continue navigating your site for as long as it takes to take action. The more you can sustain their attention, the more likely they are to convert.

3. Guiding visitors’ attention

You can’t simply hold visitor’s attention with exciting videos and impressive graphics. Once they’re done being entertained, they’ll move on to the next source of stimulation. Your content must have a logical flow, with an inevitable conclusion. Always point to some enticing offer or information on the next page, like a dangling carrot to lure visitors through your site.

Be the Acorn

The Adobe Marketing Cloud and Adobe websites have embarked on a digital marketing campaign we call “The Ultimate Case Study” to help us optimize our marketing mix. Over time we have seen that both video content and highly informative white papers consistently drive the best results from our target market. The data has enabled us to focus our attention on what our visitors want most, thereby steadily improving our content marketing.

You won’t get it right all at once. Engage in a relationship with your visitors, and continually test and measure site results to find what works best. Your best content today may not perform as well tomorrow. By offering content that holds and guides attention today, you’ll grow a whole oak tree to attract squirrels season after season.