I wrote recently about "smart reach" and the need to understand that how, when, and where you reach your prospects (and your existing customers) is as important as the content of your message. People who are socializing aren't likely to be in shopping mode; people who are chatting aren't generally consuming; and people digitally scrapbooking aren't really looking for new medications (whether they may need them or not).

These days, context (where they are and what they're doing) often trumps content (what you're saying or selling) unless your messages get both active engagement from the consumer and are accurately aligned in terms of your target's time, interest, and attention. Blindly launching your campaigns into indiscriminate channels (regardless of their aggregate volumes) is just too sloppy and too costly. These channels are readily accessible; they may be relatively easy to use and to measure (at least in terms of tonnage if not genuine reach); and they may not actually appear to cost that much (ignoring the obvious opportunity costs). But there's very little economic benefit in wasting your scarce bullets on bad marketing regardless of the CPMs or per-piece cost.

Frankly, these days, "the crowd" is crap. You need to focus on the folks who matter, not the masses, and make your message real for them.

These mega-channels are often the wrong places to focus unless you have thoughtfully crafted and precisely targeted your messages. It's exactly like the old joke about the guy who is searching for his lost keys under the nearest street lamp: not because that's where he thinks he lost them but because the light is so much better there. Lazy marketers use these big fat channels because everyone else is doing the same thing.

To succeed, you need real visibility into relevant behaviors and a plan to move away from the crowd and do your own thing. If you want to beat Babe Ruth, don't play baseball. Change the game.

Context matters, but it's only one dimension of the new data and metrics-driven approaches to digital marketing that are changing the game and increasingly distancing the winners from the also-rans.

To really understand what’s going on you need to focus on (a) the multiple dimensions of ongoing social conversations; (b) who's having them; and (c) who's listening to them. Those are the keys to spending your time, energy and resources wisely--and, more importantly, to be sure you are targeting and successfully reaching the right audiences.

Today, no one with a brain wants to reach millions of easily influenced nobodies, regardless of how many fractured flicks they watch or how many allegedly fervent (and generally faithless) followers they have. Even faithful followers only matter to a marketer if the reason they're following an influencer is directly connected to the messages the marketer is trying to communicate. Asking a Justin Bieber fan about Bach is a lot like asking Mrs. Lincoln how she enjoyed the play.

The only goal that matters is to get your messages in front of highly influential people (think digital multipliers and megaphones) who are tightly connected to significant (and fairly sizeable) niches of active and desirable individuals whose actions and attitudes they can directly influence (amplification) and whose behaviors as consumers, voters, or other cohort members you are looking to change and channel into actual results.

To do this successfully, you need to look at all four elements of the equation. The big guys in the social listening spaces (Radian 6, Buzz Metrics, etc.) are all myopically focused on just one part: what is being said (and the apparent sentiment associated with it). As a result, if you hurry, you can jump ahead of them and deliver valuable and truly differentiated products and services to a marketplace that is ready, willing, and able to buy anything that makes economic sense--and that makes common sense out of the tsunami of meaningless data that they're swimming in right now.

The other three elements that matter are where the conversations take place (context), when the conversations take place (time), and, most important of all, who is speaking. Specifically, what are his or her relationships and connections to the ultimate target audiences, and how much ability does he/she have to amplify and extend your messages. Figuring out who has the power to direct or drive behavior is the vast unmined terrain and opportunity zone.

Bigger and better versions of these types of tools are desperately needed because the stakes are high. So are the opportunities for new disruptive entrants into this space. It's clear that today even the best language-parsing engines and related algorithms are no match for the old family connectivity trees built out of bright-colored Post-its tacked to the wall, or the white boards that we see every night on the tube in the police procedural shows like Law and Order. You can't tell the players without a program and a scorecard, and the best computers can still only do our bidding (and massive data assembly), but not our thinking (yet). The companies that build products and services that help us identify, reach, and influence the people who matter most--those highly influential and deeply connected prime movers who can move markets and the marketplace--will be the next generation of big winners.

We don't care about the wisdom of the crowd; we only care about the wisdom of the people we care about.