DX Digest: Sheryl Pattek on Customers Controlling Your Brand

7 minute read
Scott M. Fulton III avatar
You may only have eight seconds to make the case for your brand to your customers. They, however, have a full 140 characters.

“It isn’t easy to disconnect the perception of your brand from the ongoing customer experience,” said Forrester Vice President and Principal Analyst Sheryl Pattek, “because every touchpoint matters. And customers now control the brand.

“It’s more important what they say about you than what you say about yourself.”

The weight of that statement probably hasn’t hit you, especially if you’re not yet flat on the floor in shock.

The only reason the World-Wide Web is in existence today is because of advertising. While investors sometimes equate Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn with “the web,” the truth is, more everyday users experience these brands through their mobile apps.

Even when these users are not mobile themselves at the moment, they’re using mobile apps. They’re better.

Major brands that operate their own colossal data centers, with massive scalability across continents, have their own advertising models. Some of them are still a little questionable, but the biggest question today still looming with regard to YouTube is, “Why didn’t anyone think of this before?”

Those brands operate their own mobile apps. (See prior note about “better.”)

The rest of the Web — the part you’re reading now, the part that sustains publications such as this one — relies upon your use of browsers. And in turn, that part is solely sustained by advertising.

And here is one of Forrester’s most important executive analysts, declaring that the social end of the Internet — the part that thrives on the contributions of individuals, on user-generated content, on word-of-mouth (or, more accurately, word-of-thumb) — has already trumped the advertising-dependent part of the Web in terms of influence.

That’s good news for you, perhaps, if you’re ready for this sort of thing. It’s not the best news for us.


I’m also an artist, so several of my metaphors (the ones that make sense) have something to do with painting.

I told Sheryl Pattek my idea that perhaps organizations give their customers the tools they need to paint portraits of their brands and the way they do so gives customers the notion of what mood those portraits will take.

Pattek didn’t quite agree.

“I don’t necessarily think they [customers] are observers,” she said. “It’s much more important to have them engaged in that dialogue and in that relationship and that’s really what organizations are striving to do.”

(Editor's Note: Pattek's colleague, Forrester analyst Mark Grannan, will be speaking at CMSWire's DX Summit conference on Nov. 3 in Chicago.)

In an earlier era, when mass media such as television commanded the way messages were being delivered to audiences and audiences were measured in huge pluralities, people paid closer attention to what other people were speaking to one another.

But we have already moved from this realm of attention abundance, she called it, to one of attention fatigue.

“The average attention span of an adult is eight seconds,” she said (within a three-second span of time). “So an observational mode is what you want to try to avoid, because people are tending now to scan and multitask.

“They give you that eight seconds of their time and if you can’t engage them, they move on and they may never come back. It’s important that you get that engagement and not have them be just viewers of the scenery as it passes by.”

Years ago, I wrote a message to some colleagues of mine in this business that became something of a treatise, as it took on a life of its own: Its basic premise was that, on the web, we only have about 15 seconds of time to make our case for why our publications are important enough to be listened to, before the reader will click on the Back button and move on.

(One colleague responded, tl;dr. It was in jest, I think.)

In my conversation with Pattek, it seemed to have become clear that this 15-second span has since whittled down to something closer to 3 seconds.

Mind Shift

Could the attention fatigue to which Sheryl Pattek refers be caused, for the most part, by a bombardment of brand messages on so many channels simultaneously, that customers have more difficulty sifting out one brand message from another?

“That’s the point of having information scarcity,” she responded, “versus information overload.

That’s another dynamic that happens in the marketplace today, where brands now — both B2B and B2C — need to figure out a way to cut through that overload and stand out and be differentiated.

“That’s a little bit different from the attention point. The attention point really comes from the fact that people are busy, they’re really pressed for time, they look for things in context when they need it and mobile has caused such a huge shift in the way people operate.”

Learning Opportunities

Forrester’s term for this phenomenon is “The Mobile Mind Shift.” The idea there is that there are moments in time during which people are searching for particular data points with critical urgency.

Being able to respond to those data points — conceivably, even if the source of that data is not in your bailiwick — could help you convert those individuals into customers.

(This says a lot about why IBM is investing about $2 billion to acquire the co-parent company of The Weather Channel).

“When you’re scanning things on mobile devices,” Pattek explained, “very quickly you just look and move on.”

There’s another observation whose meaning might not floor you on first glance. It’s a process that eliminates the step of launching the browser in the first place.

It’s why browsers are failing in mobile while the Web moves forward.

Millennials in the workforce, said Pattek (with apologies to our Noreen Seebacher, who’s tired of hearing about this), have grown up in a digital age where multitasking has never been a novelty, nor has oxygen or electricity.


So the dynamics driving the evolution of content and the dynamics affecting personal behavior and intention, Pattek concluded, are actually separate.

The attention span phenomenon is a factor of our society, as she sees it, whereas the media bombardment issue is more a factor relating to marketing — to a department over which we humans actually do have more direct control.

It suggests that content strategy and technology strategy may actually be separate topics.

This is an issue that has been on the mind of Meghan Walsh, who heads up global marketing for Hilton Worldwide and who will be speaking at 11:30 a.m. CT on Wednesday, November 4 at DX Summit in Chicago.

We may need to come to terms with the realization that, while Web browsers’ evolution as a component of DX may be stalled, they should not impede the forward motion of companies’ content strategies.

In fact, it may actually help us to see content as independent of technology, so that we may turn our attention back towards the people we purport to serve.

In the fifteen seconds it took you to read that last paragraph, you might have lost two customers’ attention.


Next Monday through Wednesday, at the W Hotel City Center in Chicago, CMSWire will sponsor a full day of workshops and two days of full-tilt discussion and introspection on the topics related to digital customer experience delivery.

DX Summit 2015 will feature a plethora of industry leaders in the DX space including: Tony Byrne, founder and CEO of Real Story Group; Tami Cannizzaro, senior director, Marketing at eBay; Mike Gilpin, CTO of Siteworx; Elie Auvray, CEO of Jahia Solutions; Bruno Herrmann, director of Globalization at The Nielsen Company; Deb Lavoy, founder and CEO of Narrative Builders; Melissa Webster, VP, Content and Digital Media Tech at International Data Corporation (IDC); and Mike Strutton, VP of Product for the Oracle Social Cloud.

Okay, so the strategies may be separate now, as Sheryl Pattek is suggesting. But you’re accustomed to multitasking by now, aren’t you?

Still with me? Did my eight seconds expire already? Anyway, we’ll see you in Chicago.

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Title image by London Scout