Thursday, December 17, 2009

Volume vs. Value: The zettabyte generation

Say, 'Zettabyte'. Let it sink in for a second, then say it again. 'Zetta-byte'.

Like 'one trillion dollars', a zettabyte is  a really big number...and yet, it is the amount of data each of us average Americans consumes annually...3x!

Using the faded power of worn out analogies, if a zettabyte were printed on paper, it would bury the continental US AND Alaska in a layer of paper 7 feet deep...a number 9 zeroes more, even, than all the dollars in the national debt!

National debt: $7,938,000,000,000
One Zettabyte: 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

At least, that's the total information consumed according to three researchers at UC San Diego in their report 'How Much Information: 2009 Report on Consumers'

The report's headlines include a deluge of data on media consumption, broken out by bytes, hours, and format.

TV, for instance, occupies 41% of our daily hours, 44% of the daily words we encounter, but only 34% of the bytes we, um, consume. Perhaps hot selling HD video screens will boost our appetite for bytes?

Here's a just a bit (or rather 450,000 bytes) of some fun numbers from the report (click to enlarge):

But beyond the numbers showing:

  • a +5% annual growth rate in the amount of data we consume, 
  • the decades-long relative increase in the amount of reading by Americans (albeit not using the ungreen paper format,) and 
  • the huge amount of data consumed playing video games vs. radio, phone, and print media, 

the report provides an important, mostly obvious, caveat: measures of quantity, whether in hours or bytes, are not measures of value.

Overfed and underread?

The report uses the example of Lincoln's Gettysburg address to show that volume (as in exposures, bytes or costs) does not equate to impact in the general human sense of more-is-more.

For instance, Lincoln's 2.5 minute speech, scrawled on paper, heard by few, but repeated repeatedly to schoolchildren throughout the years, turns out to have more impact--both quantitatively and subjectively--than the much more expensive, high-volume, TV series, 'Heroes'. And yet, looking at Heroes through the lenses of hours of content and bandwidth, one might (mistakenly) conclude the opposite.

Which brings us to a point in all this data masquerading as information...

So what?

For marketers, the message supported by the report would seem clear: as the volume of data consumed by modern Americans--measured by time, volume or format--continues to measurably increase, there is one clear means of breaking through the data noise in a way that leads to measurable informational value: interaction.

And while the move from passive to active engagement in marketing has been underway--at least rhetorically--for some time, it is surprising that so much of our media consumption is paid for based on volume-based models rather than action.

Increasingly, spending on pay-per-action models that support the business and marketing objectives would seem to be the demand of engagement marketers. Engaging one's attention in what marketers have to say comes with the demand that there be value to you. That's hard when you don't know someone by more than their zip code, demographic or gender.

The value of engagement is something that's been evident since before anyone knew what a kilobyte was. Somewhere along the way, we've started to re-discover that our tools alone are poor measures of the ends to which we apply them.

YouTube video showing one type of engagement with our tools (ads included)...for better or worse:

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