Digital media is a dizzying landscape, and one that’s insanely competitive. Even as our collective attention migrates to a few large platforms, attention continues to fragment – yes, we’re all on Facebook and Youtube, but we’re looking at different things, and everybody at this point is screaming for our attention.

That’s why when clients ask for our advice, we start by defining goals. This may seem obvious – but given the complexity of the web economy and eco-system, a product or brand’s goals aren’t always self-evident. Obviously, everybody wants traffic, but what kind? Do you want to monetize it or is the goal promotional, or brand awareness; do you care where your audience engages with you? Is it acceptable for Facebook to own your traffic? We necessarily think about platforms and networks. What already exists that can be leveraged? Product strategies need to be part of distribution and promotional strategies; popularity and engagement impact Google’s rankings, and Google is still king.

If the goal is to build a self-sustaining digital business, supported either by advertising or transactions, then you need a platform you can own. You also need to connect that platform, at the most granular and atomic levels, to highly trafficked networks so that your audience discovers you, and you have to define very specifically who it is you want to engage and what, specifically, you want them to do once you have their attention – because you won’t have it for very long.

The things we think about when we advise our clients are:

1. Goals & Targets – What are we trying to achieve? What’s success look like? Who’s the competition?

2. Brand & Audience – What’s the value proposition to the consumer? Who is your audience? Who is it not?

3. Experience & Product – Form factor, product definition, functionality, habituation, behavior. What’s the aesthetic, behavioral experience you want your consumers to have? What’s the emotional experience you want them to have while they’re engaging with your content and products?

4. Promotion & Distribution – Where does your audience spend time? How can you earn their attention, engage and reward, and do so efficiently? Anybody can buy attention, the challenge is to earn it so that media dollars are efficient and effective. What networks, platforms and partners will be effective and what’s the best way to harness them? What blogs lead your category, who do you want to follow you on Twitter, how should you talk to your segment on Facebook so they actually like you when they Like you?

What works depends on all of the above. More than ever, the mission of a digital agency needs to be to advise clients how to leverage existing platforms and behaviors to build their business or campaign. The tools at our disposal keep proliferating, the technologies and tactics change and multiply, the question now is, “what and why?” Doing it all gets very expensive very quickly; the goal of every engagement, therefore, needs to be targeting the right areas to invest in – pick the battles you can win, and exploit the tactics and practices that will yield specific results with maximum efficiency.