However, in 2016, attention is a commodity system that can be gamed if you know how to play.

Those that know the rules have been wildly successful, without the relative cost one would have to have paid 15-20 years ago.

You only need to look as far as your children’s favourite YouTubers, Kim Kardashian and even Donald Trump to understand that attention can be gained, if you know the rules of the game.

The good news is, these rules are open for brands to play with too, if they’re prepared to try to circumvent traditional marketing practices.

Now, the quest for gaining digital attention is a beautiful art and science in which the roles change constantly.

Therefore the questions I present below are not exhaustive: There is certainly more to consider, but this is a sufficient starting point to begin experimenting.

Where does your market digitally hang out?

This is the biggest question and not just because that is where the brand should direct all of the marketing spend.

The type of platform that the consumers in question frequent give some kind of indication to the sensibilities of the customer base (Twitter super fans are different to Facebook news feed fanatics and the differences between a Snapchat and Instagram superuser are not immaterial).

In addition, answering this question provides a clear direction on the competencies needed to be successful in reaching the particular audience.

For example, if the best place to reach an audience is Pinterest, there is no need to invest resources in live digital video, despite that being the current craze among many a digital marketer.

A great example of a brand doing this is British bank Nationwide, which is using teen-centric platform Tumblr to engage with young users around banking advice and tips.

While the team behind this project needs to be adept at handling Gifs, humour with heavy hints of satire and the occasional video case study, it is nowhere near as capital intensive as making the most of a Facebook page or staffing a Discover Channel on Snapchat.

Not bad for an industry that is deemed as “boring and highly regulated”.

What other interests do they have outside of your product?

As intriguing as your business and its products may be (and they should be interesting – products that market themselves are the best), they often don’t represent the full breadth of any consumer’s interests.

However, by understanding what other topics and activities are likely to gain your prospective customers’ attention, there are clear opportunities for formal or informal partnerships or collaborations.

Some would simply refer to this as agile marketing and this is certainly part of the solution.

Many organisations have tried to jump on newsworthy trends as they try to win the war for attention. The internet is awash with examples of this.

However, limiting it to only attempting to go viral on the back of a random entertainment, sports or news story does this method a disservice.

If appropriately prepared, brands can make themselves the star of a story that had nothing to do with them, to the benefit of the topic and the brand.

My favourite example of this was when Kim Kardashian took over International Women’s Day early this year.

However, if you want a more tasty example, Ben & Jerry’s is still probably sold out as a result of its stance on Black Lives Matter.

Where does the audience have strong opinions?

This point is extremely pertinent given the past year’s politics in the UK and the US, but the principle is not a new one: People that find something they are passionate about will be more likely to talk about it.

Given that the key to getting attention in 2016 is to do or say something worth talking about, it follows that brands need to either be bold and take a stance on something, or present an opportunity that makes it very easy for consumers to take a stance.

While clearly taking a side on an issue can be risky, aligning the stance with the brand’s values, like Ben & Jerry’s has done, can make the controversy much easier to stomach.

However, the latter option is just as valid, and can keep the brand above the fray.

For example, my startup, Black Ballad, recently released an old video that was scrap footage from a previous project we worked on regarding identity.

Despite only having 1,800 Facebook Likes prior to posting the video, the footage has as of writing:

  • Reached over 200,000 Facebook users.
  • Been viewed over 55,000 times.
  • Been shared over 950 times.
  • Gained 175 comments on the video and increased the page Likes by 25% to 2,250.

Although we didn’t anticipate this sort of reaction, we knew that our audience fiercely debate matters pertaining to their perceived identity.

Without Black Ballad even taking a side, our brand has spread significantly and gained a large amount of new advocates in the process.

Clearly, this is far from the viral sensation of the week.

However, it is important to consider that brands have historically paid thousands to be exposed to a relevant audience of that quantity, which we were able to get organically.

As I said previously, there is more than just the above to gaining attention and breaking through the market noise to get through to consumers.

But considering those three questions is a great start.

If a brand can conceive meaningful answers to these questions, it will have effectively created the basis for a modern content marketing campaign.