How To Beat The Zettabyte Effect

My new word is zettabyte, which the Jedi knights at define as the equivalent of all the data created and stored online from the year dot through 2010. The people who think of visual metaphors say we can think of one zettabyte as the Great Wall Of China. Now think of this: that wall of data doubled in 2011. And word is that it will grow by a factor of 30 by 2015.

The sheer volume of data underscores a truth that we're all wrestling with: our behaviors have simply changed. We create -- and depend on-- data in ways that defy all previous human experience. It's one thing to say I no longer listen to the radio to find out the weather... What's weird is that I no longer even look out the window. I can find temperature, humidity, and thunderstorm predictions more quickly, easily and accurately on my iPad. We have retrained our frontal cortex (and various other mental lobes) to book our vacations, shop for shoes and manage our money.

We're acting on our digital dreams.

And by the way, my dreams are not the same as yours (with the possible exception of the seaside villa in the Cinque Terre). How do I know? Because my iPad, and my iPhone, are populated with a unique set of bookmarks, apps and cookies. They have become the portal through which I interact with the world, just as yours have for you. Our choice of digital tools and devices governs our interactions with the world.

So how to get someone to spare a thought for us marketers? It's about changing behaviors.

For years, marketers have focused on changing emotions in order to change behaviors (if this hamburger makes you hungry, maybe you’ll buy it!). In fact, most of us are still working with the emotionally driven AIDA model (awareness-interest-desire-action), invented at the dawn of modern advertising in 1898 by early ad-man E. St. Elmo Lewis, the first president of the ad industry's oldest trade association, the ANA. (Total aside: the opera "Aida," by Giuseppe Verdi, premiered in Cairo a generation earlier, in 1871.)



But maybe something has changed in the intervening 100+ years. In a recent column, Jane Brody quotes Suzanne C. Segerstrom, a professor of psychology at the University of Kentucky, who says behavior is actually easier to change than emotions. More evidence of this comes from studies of health behaviors that show that we’re capable of adopting new habits long before we feel the satisfaction of doing something new.

So which behaviors can we leverage for smarter, more strategic marketing? We’ve come up with four for the digital era:

  • Discover
  • Engage
  • Explore
  • Share

These four phases reflect that brands are less in charge than our consumers. In the old days, consumers were seen as passive vessels, allowing us to increase their awareness, interest and desire, and motivating their actions. Today, as we all know, the consumer is active and in charge. 

  • They discover us through any number of means, from retail shelves to product placement to search to social
  • They choose to engage with us if we offer something of value: education, entertainment, experiences
  • They will explore more of what we have to offer if we provide relevance and depth: services attached to products, functionality embedded in apps, mobile access to human beings
  • And finally, they will share what we have to say if they fundamentally see the value -- and want to help their friends and followers take advantage of that value as well

So how can we beat the zettabyte effect -- and make our content and services the ones they will choose to spend their precious time with?

  • Be there when your customer is looking for content and experiences
  • Intrigue her with new information and ideas
  • Give her good reasons to go deeper
  • Embed ideas, entertainment and value that she can share as her own discovery.

Activate the consumer's behaviors… and let "Aida" go back to being a lovely opera. 

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