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We hear the phrase "sex sells" all the time, but rarely do we take the opportunity to celebrate the fine brands that bring us our most treasured NSFW media.

Here are some companies that have excelled at the sex marketing game and continue to stimulate our interest. This list excludes brands that market explicit sexual products or services and rather focuses on brands that sell non-sexual assets.

In other words, no porn sites.

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"Fahrenheit 451." "Her." "The Jetsons." Whatever the medium, sci-fi gives us fantasy worlds that wonderfully depict an immersive vision of our future based on a specific perspective. And as far-out as these pieces seemed when they were originally released, a large part of their appeal is how they took existing trends and observations and expanded on them exponentially to create an interesting prediction of the future.

And sometimes, they actually turn out to be right.

With a nod to the great works of sci-fi and a light-hearted take on what the future of shopper marketing is going to look like, I give you a glimpse of our "brave new world." Quite simply, based on what's happening in the market and what's on the way, it's a look at the realm of possibilities.

To caveat: Anything we have today that resembles the world I describe here is either still in the trial/testing stage or is in its infancy. (For example: Macy's is one of a few retailers to slowly roll out Bluetooth beacons in-store; the first wearable tech is only being used by the earliest adopters; 0.001 percent of DHL and Amazon packages are being couriered by drones.) That said, the possibilities are worth pondering, and give insight on how to choose a direction today.

So, let's explore... the future.

Who is the future shopper?

The future shopper no longer carries their wallet, just their smartphone and their iGear. Their touch- and voice-controlled smart watch is used primarily for outward tasks, like calls, texts, and emails. Their smart band is used for more self-centric tasks and tracking -- reminders, notifications, storing and tracking of personal information, as well as medical history and daily exercise and diet. This health connection will be huge, with opt-in tracking by insurance companies so customers can earn better rates based on sustained positive lifestyle choices.

The new crop of smart glasses are shoppers' primary interface, like the smartphone screen used to be. They are eye-movement based, so look-and-blink has replaced swipe-and-click. The future shopper expects supplemental, full inventory selection in-store via tablets in every department with eight different "product acquisition" options (we used to call this "delivery"), including same-hour drone drop-off. They demand all merchants accept mobile and watch payments, credit cards, and bit coin currencies. Cash is required by the government, but has gone the way of the stamp as something that only geriatric collectors are interested in.

What is future retail?

The "e" in e-commerce now stands for "everywhere." Brands and retailers have stopped trying to decide who gets the sale credit when a customer is driven into a store by online messaging, finds their desired item out of stock, and uses an in-store terminal to have another location ship it to their home. "Screen assistants" in every established retail location identify the shopper via Bluetooth and leverage their loyalty profile for product recommendations and targeted 1:1 offers.

The top physical retailers are now battling a retail world war lead by the top Chinese, Russian, and Indian mega chains. Historically online-only retailers are at it too, with China's Alibaba throwing the first stone at Amazon by rapidly setting up physical locations in the emerging "brick and virtual" channel to lure in Gen Z-ers to surf rows of touchscreens with inventories of affordable products that can be shipped to pick-up lockers at their school.

What is the future of brands?

With the big data revolution long dominant, brands now rely on cookies that stick to you -- specifically your iGear, not your internet browser. Purchase history, in-store, and online browsing history, all tracked on a person-by-person basis. Some reject this connection, perceived as an intrusion of privacy -- most let this invisible "fly on the wall" be, understanding the value and enhanced experience with screen assistants and more personalized brand messages. Bio ads replaced mobile ads, meaning you now watch commercials on your smart glasses as you sit on the bus on your way home from work. (You didn't want to pay for ad-free streaming of "Orange is the New Black" season 12.)

Branded hashtags have more importance than social media tracking -- now they're used for purchase metrics, encouraging shoppers to share what hashtag lead them to purchase in exchange for a discount. With people busier than ever, brands have targeted the "time-poor" and have added "time-saved" as a product benefit in the further evolved definition of value. The days of charging for convenience have gone with the dinosaurs and DVDs.

Which of these visions will materialize in our lifetime?

Probably not all of them, but variants on a lot of them are a possibility. Like sci-fi, there are equal parts truth and fiction in this illustration of our shopper future. The thing to remember: just as the wildest sci-fi has to stay within certain parameters (like, humans need oxygen to breath in space), the fundamentals of shopper marketing and the inherent interlock of brands, retailers and shoppers will always stay intact. Moreover, the need for value will reign supreme, no matter what things look like in a market "far, far away..."

Matt O'Toole is associate shopper marketing strategist at Momentum Worldwide

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Viewability and fraudulent traffic might be the leading causes of stress for those of us who work in ad tech. They're both unavoidable, popping up in the daily trade publications to constantly remind us of their disruptiveness. Now more than ever, agencies and brands are buying based on viewability, and third parties are working frantically to define it in a way that can be standardized across the industry. Although most of the responsibility falls on the exchanges and SSPs to ensure inventory is quality and viewable, this approach ignores one equally, if not more, important aspect: the creative. The IAB defines a "viewable" impression as one that's at least 50 percent visible for at least one second, but if the creative does not stand out, it does not matter how "viewable" the ad is if everyone skips it, deletes it, or simply ignores it.  In my opinion, viewability is just what it says -- people actually view it and know they viewed it. Sure, data-driven programmatic advertising is the wave of the future, but without compelling creative content all the placement in the world won't turn a casual viewer into a customer.

In order for digital advertising to reach its full potential, we all need to do our part, especially on the creative side. Creative teams are constantly at work, digging deep into the depths of their brains to drum up something that consumers will actually want to watch. It's probably the most difficult facet of advertising, and some do it much better than others. In order for a message to drive audience behavior, the creative content must not be an afterthought.

For example, I was recently doing research on web analytics and came across a pre-roll video for a website visitor insights platform called Crazy Egg. The insanely creative way the company used animation to effectively explain its product blew me away, enticing me to visit its site immediately after watching the ad in its entirety. In fact, I enjoyed it more than most TV commercials I've seen because of its sensational ability to provide a deep dive into the product's features while remaining humorous and entertaining.

Another pre-roll video that resonated with me was one for Spartan Race. It was beautifully done, showing participants struggling as they trudged through mud, climbed over obstacles, and pulled concrete blocks through dirt. It showed everything that Spartan Race represents -- from participants grimacing from the pain they're fighting through, to picking themselves up after a fall. Since I have a Tough Mudder race coming up, I was compelled to visit the site and take a look at the sign-up form. Here was a case where evocative emotional content met with effective targeting in a powerful combined package generated positive results. It's the type of Holy Grail that all advertisers should be shooting for.

Too often I see non-compelling, irrelevant ads that flat out bore me, and I'm sure there are plenty more that I never even notice. What causes this lack of creative effort in the digital realm? Too many brands focus on high-quality print, TV, and even radio messages. Then they settle for bland digital banners merely to get impressions.

This is where we get bogged down as an industry, and it is also the space in which we have the greatest opportunity to provide value to the companies we represent. Those of us in the advertising business have so much data at our fingertips that we can lose sight of the human element that ultimately drives the success or failure of our venture. With programmatic ad buying, we can immerse ourselves in endless iterations of data, thereby losing sight of the real purpose of our message: to turn everyday people into customers. No matter how well targeted and widely viewed my message is, it's all for naught if the message itself isn't compelling enough to influence the people who view it.

Advertising, especially in the digital world, needs to be more engaging. People consume digital content rapidly, so if you want yours to be viewed it needs to stand out. Just think about how often you switch tabs, open new apps, go back and forth to and from social platforms, and get distracted from your computer, tablet, and/or phone. In order to get a consumer's attention, there must be a robust, refined creative effort that stands out.

The winds of change are starting to blow. Currently, agencies and brands are revamping their ad spend and focusing more on device interaction rather than broadcast and print. Since new forms of engagement are so easy to switch off, or look away from, creatives need to step up and show us something that can keep us attentive and entertained. It's an entirely new and unique way to engage users, which is precisely why there is going to be a drastic shift in how creatives create. The success of digital advertising falls on their shoulders, and there is no doubt in my mind that they will answer the call and prevail.  

Does this add a wrinkle to the true definition of what counts as a viewable ad versus non-viewable?  Will it add more complexity to an already complex issue? The answers may be yes, but wouldn't you agree that the quality of the creative plays a major role in true viewability?

Jason Appelbaum is director of marketing at Q1media.

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Social media has had a tremendous impact on our culture over the years. Back when I first dipped my toe into social media, that world was dominated by kids and computer geeks. In 1998, I spent time on bulletin boards, forums, and chat rooms, telling college students not to "rip" their favorite music and instead to support the artists and pay for it. That effort didn't go too well because my client didn't respect the medium or the students.

Since that time, I've applied my learnings from that early experience to inform social media strategies for organizations large and small. One truth about social media is that it is dynamic in nature, and not just the platforms and features, but the people using them. Culture has evolved since then, with a new generation of socially-native children learning to communicate primarily via mobile devices.

As behavior has evolved, so too, should your social media strategy. Sticking to a social media plan or guidelines developed five or 10 years ago may be bad for your brand. In this article, I attempt to uncover social media rules you may have grown up with that are worth breaking. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments at the end of this article.

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Say no and have restraint

For ambitious marketers, there is the temptation to say yes to everything. The "throw spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks" strategy has its place sometimes, and at large brands the budgets are often big so you actually can try a lot of things. However, picking and choosing the right initiatives, and saying no to a whole bunch of clutter can help you avoid the perception that you're a pushover that will approve almost anything.

Choose creativity over bigger budgets

More money doesn't always mean better outcomes. To highlight your value within your organization, you need to prove that you work smarter and don't solely rely on bigger budgets to accomplish creative work.

Hire the right talent, not the most qualified

When you're hiring, so many resumes will fly past your desk that it's tempting to simply look at employment history and accomplishments to make your choice. While those things are important, you need to take a breath and ask what kind of talent you actually need. Highlight your department's goals and comb through the pile to make the right choice, not the most obvious one.

Matt Targett, director of interactive and product marketing at La-Z-Boy discusses these simple ways that you can stand out without screwing up.

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Article written by media production manager David Zaleski and video edited by associate media producer Brian Waters.

"He needs help. Frustrated young man in formal wear" image via Shutterstock.

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We can't just blame Groupon, or Savings.com, or Coupons.com for that matter. The rise of discount-focused websites, bloggers, and retail offers make finding and redeeming deals easier than ever. Marketers have dived into the discount fray as well -- for fear of losing customers to a more promotionally savvy competitor or as a means to shore up short-term volume. Collectively, we have trained consumers to expect a deal or at least to eagerly hunt for one before making a purchase. This is our new reality.

The pressure is on, marketers. How can you adapt to the new normal while still building the affinity and loyalty brands need to thrive? Carefully managed and executed, promotion marketing strategies as part of a larger marketing plan mix (online and offline) can deliver the short-term volume we all want while creating the long-term equity brands need.

Smart, strategic activation

A brand's story, delivered in an insightful, creative, and compelling manner, is essential to forging an emotional connection with consumers that lasts much longer than a short-term price incentive alone. Many marketers view coupons as the means to the sale, yet if integrated correctly, they can also be an important part of brand-building collateral.

Consider the fact that only one percent of all coupons are ever used. Conventional wisdom holds that there's little value in the other 99 percent. This is not true: A study featured in Harvard Business Review found that the coupons we trash, delete, or forget at home ultimately deliver greater returns to brands than those redeemed because of increased brand awareness (up to 60 percent sales lift). Of course, this only applies if coupons are accompanied by brand advertising. Using vehicles that also deliver brand messaging are proven to attract new customers while inspiring loyalty among existing ones. 

An example would be a standalone booklet that combines brand advertising and coupons. Polybagged on the outside of subscriber copies of top women's magazines, it delivers purchase incentives and brand messaging in the same vehicle.  But importantly, these programs take it a step further, grouping magazines of similar target demographic and/or lifestyle interest to better deliver brand stories and offers to the most relevant audience with the most relevant content, maximizing ad readership and offer engagement. It's all about the marketing trifecta: right consumer, right context, right content.

"The three Cs"

Whether you're delivering a message about baby shampoo for millennial moms or olive oil for savvy home chefs, you need to target your audience when they're most receptive to hearing from you -- when they are looking at the most relevant content and are in the right mindset. Tell them your story plus give them the incentive/coupon/discount. In our age of tight budgets, this makes your dollars work as hard as they can for your brand.

  • Consumer: Today's explosion of data offers many ways to identify and find your most valuable customers, be it one source of data or a combination of transactional, behavioral, or lifestyle data.
  • Context: "Talk" to your target consumers when they're reading and searching for information on topics they care about, and are open to learning about your brand.
  • Content: Surround your purchase incentive with your own meaningful messaging. Communicate your brand's value -- and its values.

The bottom-line is this: Discounts and coupons are here to stay, but they don't need to be brand-eroding. It's up to you to ensure they are used and delivered in ways that are brand-building. Beware of discounts delivered without brand equity messaging. The synergy of the right context supporting brand messaging supporting activation, all reaching the correctly targeted consumer will win every time.

Karen Koslow is partner and CMO at Synergistic Marketing.

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The word "no" is just two little letters, but it is arguably the most powerful -- yet most difficult to say -- word in the English language. Because most marketers want to be helpful, contribute to the team, and earn recognition for their efforts, saying "yes" to work requests can seem like the natural, easier option. Unfortunately, chronic "yessing" can also cause the entire team to feel overwhelmed, overworked, and underappreciated.

In fact, saying "yes" to everything can actually make your marketing team less productive than if they were able to say "no" to certain requests. For sure, no one likes to have conflict in the workplace, and declining requests could give the impression that your team members are creating conflict or being confrontational. However, pushing back is sometimes necessary for the benefit of the department, the company -- and your own sanity.

Achieving a smart balance of "yes" and "no" is an important part of driving organizational and individual effectiveness and productivity. It's up to senior-level marketing leaders to help their team members learn when to just say "no." Empowering them to do so is both an art and a science that has as much to do with an overflowing to-do list as it does with overall company strategy and individual personalities.

So how can your team members say "no" to the wrong requests while letting the right ones in without harming your marketing team's reputation? Here are some tips that can help empower your team to know when to say when, without causing turmoil.

Encourage them to say "no" when:

The work should be done by someone with a different skillset
Some individuals like to play favorites, always asking the same people to work on their projects, even when their favorite might not have the right skills for the job at hand. Perhaps they simply enjoy working with certain people more than others, or maybe it's because their favorites just happen to be submissive and never say "no" to their requests. Whatever the case, it's up to team leaders to ensure that work requests are going to those team members with the right skills and that no one team member is being overrun with work while others remain underloaded.

The deadline is impossible
Misunderstanding the urgency of tasks is one of the top three causes of workplace conflict. Too often, everyone wants everything to be done right now. To combat this tendency, marketing team leaders must set reasonable expectations for what your team can realistically accomplish. Provide visibility into the workload so that everyone can see what's already in the queue, what the deadlines are, and how things will have to shift in order to accommodate new projects. This transparency provides cover to justify saying "no" -- you'll have evidence to prove your team's dance card is already full. Instead of your team coming off as unhelpful, you come across as just reasonable and well-organized.

New requests are a lower priority than existing work
Everyone expects their projects to be priority No. 1, but of course, that's impossible. Opposing priorities is a primary source of workplace conflict and nearly 40 percent of people say productivity is the biggest casualty.  Yet, deadline remains the No. 1 criterion for prioritizing assignments in many organizations. Misdirected fire drills and lack of strategic alignment send everyone scrambling and sap productivity. Instead, as a leader of the marketing department or team, it's your responsibility to ensure everyone is not only aware of strategic goals, but that all the work requests they take on are aligned to those goals. This provides justification for putting work on hold that doesn't meet those strategic objectives.

The time required isn't in line with the value of the work output
One-quarter of creatives say they spend fewer than two hours a day actually doing creative work. That's a tremendous amount of time your team could be wasting each day. What's eating up all of their time? If they're wasting it on pet projects, sitting in status meetings, wading through emails, searching project notes, or otherwise looking for information they need to get work done, is that really the best use of their time? These activities add no value to the organization in meeting its strategic goals. Instead, empower your marketing team with the freedom to say "no" to pointless meeting requests and to carve out do-not-disturb time to get work done. Provide them with automation tools that eliminate busy work and pointless status meetings, so they can focus on getting real work done.

It's not a work-related task
Just as some co-workers like to play favorites, others are quick to take advantage of someone's skill or willingness to help out with something personal. If it happens to be a supervisor, it can be extremely difficult to say "no," especially if the victim feels threatened or bullied into saying "yes." As a leader, you must step in to curb this kind of behavior. It's your managerial and fiscal responsibility to make sure each team member is devoting maximum resources to only the most valuable work-related tasks during work hours. In this case, talk with the both the requestor and requestee to insist that any personal projects be done off the clock. If initial efforts don't solve the problem, involve senior-level, HR, or C-suite support if necessary.

Of course, saying "no" isn't always the right answer.

In fact, it's a bad idea to say "no" when:

Your team member is the one playing favorites
Individuals who say "no" just because they don't like the person making the request perpetuate conflict. This practice doesn't affect only the person making the request -- it can undermine the entire marketing team's success. For supervisors and management, rooting out and resolving these personality conflicts should be a top priority.

Your boss is asking, and it's important
This is a no-brainer. If you and your team value your jobs and the potential for a raise or promotion, it's best to cooperate if the request comes from higher-ups. However, having visibility into the work queue gives you the opportunity to justify a request for more team resources or more time on other projects. In the event that senior managers and execs abuse this privilege, however, marketing leadership should step in to keep it in check.

In organizations across the country, more than 60 percent of workers say there's confusion in their workplace about who is doing what, and part of that problem stems from the inability to say "no." One of the first steps in bringing order to the chaos is to introduce visibility into all the work that is on the plate of everyone on the team. This not only exposes how task priorities map to strategic objectives, but also provides justification for marketing managers and team members when saying "no" really is the right answer. With a solid work management solution that lets you keep track of requests, plan work time and resources, and provide automated status updates to requestors, organizations can empower their team and team leaders to say "no" when appropriate, get the work done that matters most, and still be everyone's hero at the end of the day.

Joe Staples is CMO at Workfront.

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Decades after the financial industry's wide-scale adoption of automated stock trading, we're still apt to treat automated media buying as an anomaly. Insider acronyms like RTB, DSP, DMP, and a host of others may make automated ad buying feel like a fad. Far from being an industry buzzword, however, "programmatic" is becoming an integral part of how marketers do business.
 
As ad campaigns move from manually negotiated media buys to programmatic marketplaces where smart machines make thousands of decisions every second on which impressions to buy, it's become more important than ever for marketers to understand the programmatic landscape. The reason for this shift is simple: we're in the age of Big Data. Marketers have a direct line to their customers in the form of first-party data gathered from website visitors, email lists, and contact databases. Programmatic ad buying is the cost-efficient, real-time application of all that data for strategic ad campaigns that can predictably transform data into customer revenue.

Although real-time bidding technology is still comparatively new, programmatic purchasing already accounts for 50 percent of all digital display spend. In addition, 85 percent of enterprise advertisers use programmatic buying and 72 percent of publishers support it. This trend will continue to grow -- in the US, Europe, Australia, and Japan, more than 90 percent of marketers consistently report that programmatic retargeting campaigns perform better than or as well as other display campaigns.
 
The success of digital media is also influencing other media channels. Even legacy media industries that have been traditionally slow to adopt new technology are open to the promise of programmatic. There are predictions that 2015 is the year programmatic comes to television, while Jelli and Cadreon are just two of the companies betting on the future of programmatic in radio.
 
As in any growing industry, success creates opportunity, and opportunity leads to options -- and competition. With well over a thousand ad tech partners to choose from, it's up to each company to find the unique blend of technologies that will work for their goals. Organizations that don't have experienced in-house tech resources and personnel, or who prioritize best-in-class reliability, may be better off outsourcing to a partner who specializes in tech. In limited situations, certain companies may find themselves unable to adopt an outside ad tech partner. Some industries -- healthcare, for example -- have to abide by strict legacy data security requirements. It can be challenging to find a tech partner who offers the right products and has all the right certifications and protocols, so it may be more practical for these industries to build an in-house solution with those data specifications in mind.
 
Some large companies view programmatic technology so core to their success that they are making huge investments to build the requisite in-house talent, to develop a home-grown custom ad solution. Organizations that elect to grow their internal talent to meet the market need for knowledgeable programmatic specialists include advertising giants such as Procter & Gamble, Netflix, and Kellogg's. They all have famously taken over management of their advertising, establishing in-house RTB trading desks. Meanwhile, General Motors has dropped from 70 agencies to three, demonstrating its interest in a more tightly managed approach.
 
As technologies evolve to give advertisers more control and let publishers offer more options, we'll continue to see new opportunities open up. Getting in on the ground floor will ensure that you're the first to adopt new innovations, that your campaigns stay on the cutting edge, and that you're always one step ahead of the competition with the best advertising techniques. We've already seen that programmatic ad buying helps acquire, engage, and retain customers, and gives marketers a powerful application for their first-party customer data. There's no telling what it will deliver in the future.
 
Neil Coleman is managing director at AdRoll New York.

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What do Civil Rights, the Women's Movement, Vietnam and the first steps on the moon have in common? Baby Boomers.

This is the same generation that drove the growth of bell-bottoms and hula. It's also the generation that witnessed the dawn of space exploration, and participated in some of the greatest, unprecedented social advances in our country's history.

Don't forget -- the progress Boomers' have seen in technology and communications is beyond electrifying. They have lived through the age of the computer, the advent of the world wide web and mobile, and they've seen the explosion of communication in a wide range of channels, including telephone, radio, TV, and the internet.

Born between 1946 and 1964, Baby Boomers are entering the "senior" category. However, unlike their predecessors, this group of 77 million Americans refuses to believe that it's aging or -- in any way, shape or form -- losing its edge and vigor.

While many marketers seem to believe that Baby Boomers aren't tech-savvy (or barely use computers), according to Pew Research Center, at least 65 percent Boomers, ages 50-64, use Facebook, and a Google Study shows that more than half engage with their community through video or by supporting causes online.

Today's marketers need to get past antiquated notions that older adults are baffled by high-tech devices and shun the digital world. In fact, a large segment of this population actually tends to fully adopt most popular, emerging technologies.

Despite typical "senior" stereotypes, Boomers spend considerable amounts of time online: roughly 78 percent report using the internet, according to Hanover Research, and those that do spend an average of 39 hours a month online. As a result of the increasing adoption of digital media by the Baby Boomer generation, many direct marketers are pushing for direct marketing campaigns to implement digital techniques for Boomers as well as other generations, presenting significant opportunities for today's brands.

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There's an irony inherent in modern marketing -- when you've done your job well, it actually becomes less necessary. You are no longer initiating tons of interactions with your customers, because they're initiating them instead. This is the concept of social gravity, and you can see it exemplified by a number of the brands we love -- Zappos, Hubspot, and Apple.

Social gravity isn't a new concept. The term that was coined in the Harvard Business Review to refer to those companies with such strong brand followings that it feels like they're pulling customers into their orbit. The opposite of this would be brands who are shouting on social media and still can't get customers to give them the time of day. For every one company with social gravity, there are 10 who fall into the latter category.

Social gravity hasn't actually changed over the last few years since the idea was introduced; the hallmarks of a brand which exemplifies the concept remain the same -- providing value, utility, and an environment for community to thrive. What has changed are the data and science used to approach the subject.

So how does a brand develop a high degree of social gravity? The top five things marketers can do to up their social game are:

Participate
Take advantage of the opportunity technology provides to be dynamic (think Google's Doodle). Interactivity is a great way to create stickiness.

Engage
Arguably one of the most overused words in social, "engage" is really just a fancy way of saying talk to your customers in all the channels they want to use! It's overused, sure, but it's impossible to overstate.

Humanize
Your company is the sum of all the awesome people who work for you. Share the story of the people that make you special. Customers like to interact with real people they identify with.

Provide value
The golden rule of social gravity. Draw customers in by providing value to their lives in the form of helpful, interesting content, insider information, deals, or community.

Be a good corporate citizen
When your customers feel like you're giving back to the community you share, they feel good about engaging with you.

They key is to build a community centered around value and utility. One of the earliest and most successful examples of this is Johnson & Johnson's BabyCenter. The site provides valuable (some might say essential) information and an environment where parents and expecting parents can learn from and ask questions of the community.

BabyCenter has been very successful extending engagement across apps, social media channels, and e-mail. The fact that J&J's association with these properties is subtle makes the pull even stronger. The content and the platform unlock the opportunity, but the community itself drives the experience. Their customers, in other words, are doing the heavy lifting for them.

So, you might be wondering, how can social data help brands increase their social gravity?

The power of data science and the social graph lies in offering brands powerful, efficient ways to grow community size and engagement. There are three core dimensions where social intelligence can drive community engagement and growth:

Community mapping

Successful marketers don't just understand the demographics, behavior, and preferences of their own online community; they have insight into the broader networked landscape. When we look at conversations around the Fitbit, for example, we can clearly see the natural communities that have formed around the Fitbit ecosystem, some of which Fitbit is already connected to, some of which they are not. By understanding who these communities are, what they are talking about, and who the connectors are, Fitbit can dramatically increase its reach and spread.

Topic mapping

Groups and subgroups often connect around specific topical themes and the more relevant a brand can be the better. Going back to our Fitbit example, clear communities have formed around the Fitbit's use in sports versus daily casual activities and sleep. Understanding the dynamics and interests within communities makes for deeper relationships and more targeted communications. Finding the highly connected, topical influencers and engaging with relevant content and value can spark activity, like increased reach, retweets, reblogs, and the like.

Accelerators

Influencers have always been an important part of any brand's strategy, but the conventional tools available have now evolved. Context is key to understanding an influencer's impact on the subject in question -- regardless of followers, a person may be well regarded in the field of sports nutrition but have little influence when it comes to cars. A second key element missing from traditional influencer tools is the idea that certain people can regularly spark and drastically accelerate the spread of content.  By analyzing the spread of content through networks we can now identify who these people are. With the vast amounts of data available today and the significant analytics capabilities of today's tools, there's no reason for brands not to understand the context of their influencers and to target the most influential among them.

Jeff Cann is the senior director of client experience at Sysomos.

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