Warning: the zettabytes are coming

No, this is not a zettabyte, it's a cuneiform, counted among those 12 exabytes of data recorded between the earliest days of capturing data and 1999.

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.

Your thoughts?


It's important to note that "learn the technologies" means doing more than simply reading articles and research docs about them. We need to get immersed in these channels if we're to make communications that really make sense there.

Many in our industry don't get actively involved, and it's often the reason for bad, ineffective advertising in interactive spaces. (And the subsequent distaste for such advertising in consumer culture). It's a shame - because these are often very smart people making that mistake.

If you can't be a digital native, then be a digital immigrant. But make sure you're really immigrating; move in, get comfy. If the projections laid out here are true, it is the only way you're going to survive until the natives take over.


Well-put. Naturally, there's currency in better storytelling. "Learn the technologies' can not be oft-enough repeated.

Also worthy of discussion: how are you/we abetting the abilities of others to tell stories in which we play a role? Certainly propagation plays a significant role in the storytelling narrative. Are the tools and platforms on which we begin stories portable in such a manner that we allow those who engage us to take the stories in new, unimagined directions?