Zettabyte. It’s the latest term to describe our global data overload. Think you’re struggling to filter the signal from the noise in your stream now? Addicted to your iPhone? How about as a marketer? Wondering whether it’s really possible to get your messages noticed and remembered in an age of endless bits? Wait until the zettabytes get here.
Because you ain’t seen nothing yet. Consider this. Between the first written data of any kind and 1999, civilization recorded 800 exabytes of information. (One exabyte equals a billion gigabytes; five exabytes equals all the words ever spoken by human beings.) Between 1999 and 2010 mankind recorded 788 exabytes of information. In the last 10 years, we added nearly 80 times the data generated since the first cuneiform scripts.
And now, Google informs us that in another 10 years they’ll have to sift through 53 zettabytes of digital data and detritus to bring us our search results. As I recently learned, one zettabyte – that’s a one followed by 21 zeroes worth of bytes – would be the equivalent of every human being on the planet tweeting non-stop from January 1, to December 31. Good grief.
So what does it all mean other than the fact that Google probably isn’t going anywhere? Two things, at least.
We all have to master inbound marketing
Buy stock in Hubspot the day they go public. With this much noise there is no way we’ll be able to buy attention. We’ll need more, better and smarter ways to earn it by generating incredible content, adding value everywhere we appear, and being easily findable, whether someone’s scouring their friends’ likes, scrolling through a Livefyre comment stream or relying on one of the search engines.
We’ll have to get even faster
David Meerman Scott calls it a mindset in his new book Real-Time Marketing and PR. In his explanation of the real-time power law, Scott reminds us that in the connected world in which we live, stories and opportunities can develop and peak so quickly that there are times when our only real chance to garner attention and stand out among the imminent zettabytes is by learning how to think, initiate and respond in real-time.
Great storytelling will separate the famous from the invisible
Despite all the change, one tried and true tactic will continue to work. Story telling. The kind that captivates, rivets, amuses and ideally makes us want to pass it on. Until recently we’ve told stories as TV spots or with written words. Those may no longer be the only skills needed get a story across. We may have to get even better at gaming, user participation, and experiential, but as marketers, good stories well told will continue to be our greatest defense against the onslaught of the zettabytes.
So what should you do? Learn the technologies. Embrace the real-time mindset. And use them both to make the stories you tell more modern, more findable, more instant and more involving.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel at the 4A’s first Agency Transformation Roundtable held in Philadelphia.
I know what you’re thinking. “Oh, no, we’re not going to talk about this again, are we? Not another session/panel/conference/presentation about getting digital, changing processes, reinventing our business. Can’t we just get back to telling stories and making cool shit?”
If only it were that easy. Consider this from Rishad Tobaccowala, someone most people think knows what he’s talking about. Rishad shared the fact that in every conversation he has with senior clients around the world, they all express the same three concerns.
First, they’re worried about making the numbers. Second, they don’t believe their current partners (no matter who they may be) are equipped to lead them into the future. A big part of this is because most agencies have no idea how to work in the new collaborative manner necessary in world where everything is converged. Instead they try to do it all themselves. (Rishad adds that any agency claiming they can do it all themselves if full of shit and their clients know it.) And third, most senior management at clients don’t even believe their own organizations are ready for the future. It appears that people, processes and incentive systems remain rooted in the past.
Now do we need to transform? And help our clients do the same?
The 4As, which started the conversation at its big annual event in San Francisco, plans to take the roundtable event to a number of markets over the next year, convinced that the havoc being wreaked by the digitization of everything calls for everyone – agencies and clients alike – to restructure what we make and how we make it as we morph from crafting messages that reach to building experiences that engage.
Kudos to them and to everyone willing to participate. Sure talk is cheap, but if the right people are talking and others are actually listening and subsequently acting, perhaps the predictions of the industry’s demise will prove to be greatly exaggerated.
I’ve been watching Erik Proulx reinvent himself for the last year and a half. In that time he’s gone from a laid off copywriter, to an advocate for the many advertising professionals who lost their jobs, to a promising documentary filmmaker. He’s become a blogger, a public speaker, and perhaps most importantly a source of inspiration for an awful lot of people.
Erik stopped by Mullen last Friday to talk about his newest project, Lemonade Detroit. Following on the heels of the highly acclaimed Lemonade the Movie, which documented the lives of 16 former ad agency staffers who suddenly found themselves out of work, he’s now moved on to a city that’s earned the label of poster child for the misery brought on by the recession.
Only instead of focusing on how the city is down and out, Erik’s perspective is far more optimistic. The city that gave us the assembly line at the beginning of the 20th century is likely to create something equally inspiring 100 years later. As he begins his research and quest for person stories he’s discovering entrepreneurs, start-ups that actually possess souls, and an underlying energy and determination that seem to contradict the depressed real estate prices and vacant office space.
One of Erik’s theories is that people would rather be unhappy than uncomfortable. So many of the unemployed had been doing jobs they never really loved anyway, and in a strange twist of fate losing their livelihood helped them find other passions.
Lemonade Detroit is a story that needs to be told. It will reveal a side of a city and the people who live there that we don’t always get to see. Ideally it will remind us all of what’s possible and perhaps inspire others to re-invent themselves, too.
We’re in the middle of election season right now. There’s more hot air and bullshit out there than ever. Maybe Erik’s next re-invention will be a run for office. If he does, he’ll have my vote.
In the meantime, I’m making a donation to the production of Lemonade Detroit. You can as well. Go to buyaframe.lemonade.com and claim a few frames of the movie. You’ll be supporting the re-invention movement.
Steven Johnson’s new book, Where Good Ideas Come From, may be filled with obvious truths – cities breed creativity, ideas are just networks of other ideas, work environments play an important role in stimulating breakthroughs – but the way he explains them and the examples he offers – a neonatal incubator assembled from readily available car parts so it can be repaired in resource deprived third world countries, or how GPS, initially designed to guide submarine missiles toward Soviet targets, became ubiquitous when President Reagan made the technology open and accessible to all – illuminate those truths in ways that get you both inspired and determined to improve the way you generate your own good ideas.
If you haven’t read the book, do the next best thing and watch his Ted talk.
In the meantime, here are four observations you can put to work right away.
Forget about Eureka
Ironically, the words and expressions we associate with having an idea – eureka moment, stroke of genius, flash of brilliance – all distort the truth. Good ideas rarely just pop into our heads. They develop over time. They tend to be combinations of other ideas. They emerge from a network of thoughts and inputs and observations that eventually produce something new rather than appear in the form of a single epiphany. Johnson cites Darwin’s theory of evolution, Timothy Prestero’s NeoNurture and a host of other examples.
Lesson: Introduce your early, half-assed ideas to other ideas. Look in unexpected places for the spare parts you might need to make them work.
Creativity needs the right space
Johnson has spent years answering the question, “What is the space of creativity.” He tells how the coffee houses of England played a role in the Enlightenment. He shares research from physicist Geoffrey West proving that cities breed innovation in relationship to how big they are. (It turns out that individuals, too, become more creative if they live in large cities.) He even relates how rich natural environments like coral reefs yield biological creativity. Again, old conventions — closed laboratories, secured R&D departments, creative departments – restrict ideas from flourishing. We need collisions between and among people along with spaces that let ideas “flow” so they can breed with other ideas.
Lesson: Force collisions. Get rid of offices and walls. Mix up the kind of people who work together. And make both the space and way of working liquid, so that ideas can breed with other ideas in the stream.
Support the slow hunch
One of my favorite chapters in the book is called The Slow Hunch. The best example cites Tim Berners-Lee’s development of the World Wide Web. It began when Tim, still a child, explored an encyclopedia titled Enquire Within Upon Everything: a Portal to the World of Information, continued years later with a freelance project to stay in touch with colleagues, and eventually ended with a deliberate attempt to connect the planet’s computers.
Lesson: We sometimes have partial ideas, or hazy hunches. It’s important to keep them alive rather than kill them because there’s not an immediate ROI. Give them time. Let them develop.
Connect rather than protect your early ideas
In a great passage, the author reminds us that while every economics textbook argues that competition between rivals breeds innovation, their argument may be flawed. If you look at innovation from what Johnson calls the long-zoom — a perspective that looks at creativity form multiple, rather than single scale observations — you conclude that openness and connectivity are far more valuable to innovation. The GPS example in his Ted talk is a perfect example.
Lesson: Share. Connect. Build on other people’s ideas and welcome their contribution to yours.
There’s more, of course. Johnson suggests that seven patterns reveal themselves anytime you study innovation — The Adjacent Possible; Liquid Networks; The Slow Hunch; Serendipity; Error; Exaptation; and Platforms — and dedicates a chapter to each. But perhaps the single most important lesson from all of this can be found in the closing line of his Ted talk. “Chance favors the connected mind.” I think those five words say it all.
Have you transformed yet? If not, you better hurry up. Because everyone else has either transformed or is in the process of transforming. Themselves. Their business. Their companies.
If you work in the advertising industry, you may already be tired of the word and the topic. It was the theme of the 4A’s San Francisco conference and remains the subject of blog posts, conferences, and keynote addresses wherever you go.
Of course the reason for all the attention is this: transforming is hard. It calls for new skills, new people, and new processes. And if you’re an ad agency, with the making of messages and the buying of media baked into your DNA, becoming digital (which is what transformation is all about) takes a huge commitment of time, effort and even money.
The good news is we live in the age of social media, so it’s easier than ever for those who have made progress to willingly share their experiences, failures, successes and recommendations. In fact I’m off to Philadelphia next Tuesday to join some really smart people — Rishad Tobaccowala, Chief Strategy & Innovation Officer, VivaKi; Andrew Deitchman, Founding Partner, Mother; Scott McCormick, Chief Vision Officer, VML; John Paulson, CEO, G2 USA; Ian Schafer, CEO, Deep Focus; and moderator Nancy Hill, President-CEO, 4A’s – to talk about the very subject.
No doubt there should be an active Twitter stream capturing at least a few worthy sound bites. And in all likelihood a few good blog posts after the fact. But if you’re in Philadelphia on Tuesday, stop by or try and register in advance. Looks like the 4A’s site is down as I write this, but this link to a cached page details the event.
And if you’re interested, take a look at the questionnaire prepared by 4A’s President Nancy Hill. See if you can answer these questions with any sense of authority. If so, you’re on your way to being transformed.