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.