Neurodiversity in marketing: How my dyslexia helps me as a CMO

Neurodiversity in marketing: How my dyslexia helps me as a CMO

For Neurodiversity Celebration Week, Benjamin Braun, the chief marketing officer of Samsung Europe, talks about his own personal experience of being neurodiverse and how it has shaped his career.

I write my work notes in my native Swedish. Not because I don’t have a good command of English, but because I am dyslexic. I am still embarrassed by my unfortunate spelling. My Swedish spelling is also rubbish, but at least most people at work don’t know that. They just see neat handwriting and drawings.

I also use a voice assistant on my Samsung mobile to dictate emails. It works for me. In fact, it makes me a very fast email responder. These are a few of the many “hacks” that help me. Neurodivergent people are known to develop such “coping mechanisms”. But that term implies neurodiversity is something to be managed, when in fact it should be harnessed.

This week is Neurodiversity Celebration Week, a time to challenge misconceptions around neurological differences. As a dyslexic marketer, I am compelled to champion change because differences are not only valid but vital in our industry. You have to dare to be different.

Marketing leaders would be wise to recognise the untapped potential of a neurodiverse workforce, especially at a time when we are all having to demonstrate how we add greater value. Neurodivergent individuals with conditions such as ADHD, autism and dyslexia can bring unique skills to marketing roles.

Attention to detail, creativity, an analytical mindset and out-of-the-box thinking: when was the last time you saw a job listing that didn’t feature some combination of these under essential traits?

Neurodiversity can supercharge marketing

My dyslexia certainly helped me get where I am today. When I read, my brain wants to constantly think about how I can use information. The additional processing slows down my reading speed. To compensate, I do a lot of learning by listening to podcasts and lectures while I do other tasks. An easy hack that works.

I do not get slowed down by intricate details. My brain does not seem to bother about the micro as it races to think about the macro. In my role, it helps to be able to have a big vision for where we want to be. Dyslexia also allows me to identify patterns, come up with unorthodox solutions to complex problems, and apply these creatively in ways other people might not have thought of.

Neurodivergence makes us exceptional at certain things. It can help us challenge the status quo, intentionally or not. As a marketing professional, I have found being wired differently to be a strength. Sir Richard Branson says that dyslexia helped him to shape the Virgin empire.

The best marketers are those who approach every task with unique methods and insights. Similarly, great campaigns need creative individuals that can bring fresh ideas to the table.

Many neurodiverse individuals have an aptitude for processing complex data sets and drawing insights that others may miss. This makes them well suited for analysing data, market research and business intelligence.

Some neurodivergent individuals experience hyperfocus, where they can become fully engrossed in a task for an extended period. Or they have a talent for visual thinking. Both of these are ideal for visual communication roles such as graphic designers and video editors.

There is no shortage of ways in which the unique strengths of many neurodivergent individuals could supercharge marketing and creative work. Not only is it important to embrace neurodiversity from an inclusivity and social justice perspective, but the fact is there is also an overwhelming business case for it.

Misconceptions and missed opportunities

The biggest obstacle to neurodiverse representation in the workplace is a lack of awareness. Because if everyone knew about the potential benefits, we would not be having this conversation.

Albert Einstein’s secondary school teacher told him he would never amount to anything. Many years later and once his confidence had recovered, Einstein expressed that his dyslexia allowed him to think differently from others and that helped him solve what was thought to be impossible.

Approximately 15-20% of the population has a neurological difference, but half of leaders would be uncomfortable hiring a neurodivergent person. Often that’s because of a perception that they are less intelligent – when there is no association between intelligence and neurodivergence.

In my career, I have often worked with people who see dyslexic colleagues as being at a disadvantage. This misconception could stem from the idea that things like spelling equate to business performance. In modern businesses, we must not hold on to these old-school ways of measuring ability.

Ignorance is also often the reason that neurodivergent people seem "challenged", when it is really the fact they are placed in environments and systems designed by a majority population. If employers provide neurodivergent employees with the same provisions as everybody else, this inadvertently puts those employees at a disadvantage and without the tools they need to do their job.

How to build a neurodiverse workplace

I believe there are some simple steps that marketing leaders can take to enable organisation-wide change.

The first is creating a more inclusive work environment. This means valuing different ways of thinking and communicating and accommodating unique employees’ needs. It goes beyond the positive developments in flexible working. As an example, offices can be loud, and some people work better if there are dedicated quiet areas.

The second is reducing stigma and bias. Where I can, I talk openly about neurodivergence to help break down misconceptions and stereotypes. The misconception that neurodiverse people are less intelligent is woefully wrong and hurtful.

Finally, providing support and resources. Mentorship can go a long way in helping neurodiverse workers develop strengths, confidence and overcome challenges.

Ultimately, it’s about creating an environment where neurodiversity is factored into a balanced equation, not treated as an anomaly. Having a diverse workforce, including neurodivergent people, offers businesses a broader skillset to draw from – and that can only help our industry.

I am more of a big-picture thinker and not worried about details. I am fortunate that at Samsung, this trait is balanced by a great team. We have a successful mix of visionaries and people with amazing attention to detail. That combination is magic and more valuable to me or my company than any “coping mechanism” I could dream of.

Benjamin Braun is the chief marketing officer of Samsung Europe

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