What is neurodiversity?
The term neurodiversity is a relatively new and fluid definition for members of society with a neurological condition that includes, but is not limited to, Autism, Aspergers, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Tourettes. As many as 1 in 3 people identify as being neurodivergent. Yet it is not always understood, accepted or valued in the workplace or beyond.
John Elder Robison, a co-chair of the Neurodiversity Working Group at the College of William & Mary, who himself has Asperger’s syndrome, writes, “Indeed, many individuals who embrace the concept of neurodiversity believe that people with differences do not need to be cured; they need help and accommodation instead.”
Neurodiverse talent and marketing
Embracing neurodiversity has many benefits, the most immediate in this case are within recruitment and marketing strategy. The Harvard Business Review article ‘Neurodiversity as a competitive advantage’ cites “most managers are familiar with the advantages organizations can gain from diversity in the backgrounds, disciplinary training, gender, culture, and other individual qualities of employees. Benefits from neurodiversity are similar but more direct. Because neurodiverse people are wired differently from “neurotypical” people, they may bring new perspectives to a company’s efforts to create or recognize value.”
In terms of marketing, the MaryVille University Guide to Diversity and Inclusion in Modern Advertising points out that not only does more diversity and inclusion contribute to a more aligned society, it allows companies to target new populations and increase response rates with relatable messaging, helping boost their bottom lines.
Although neurodiversity is a subject most commonly discussed by HR professionals who are striving to create strong, inclusive workplaces that thrive, building more accessible marketing programmes that talk to a broader range of audiences (specifically in this case the neurodiverse) is also really important.
“When you produce quality marketing for neurodiverse people, I see that news spreads like wildfire through social media, this audience will do the marketing for you – because so few marketers do make the effort to be more accessible”.
“And there’s a multiplier because it’s not only communicating with the neurodiverse community but their families and their supporters, too.” Rachel Worsley, CEO Neurodiversity Media.
The benefits for any brand of recruiting a neurodiverse workforce and refining marketing messaging to speak to these groups are wide ranging and transformative. From leading new innovations to enriching the wider company culture, having a neurodiverse workforce makes strong business sense.
“Our brains work in many different ways, and forward-thinking marketing leaders should do everything necessary to support that diverse potential.”Mark Evans, Marketing Director, Direct Line Group
Communication is critical
The common challenge when it comes to both recruiting talent or winning new customers from neurodiverse populations is a lack of understanding on how to communicate with these groups.
Arguably this shift needs to come from within, with neurodiverse talent being employed into roles that can then help inform the messaging brands take to market to ensure they accurately and appropriately communicate with these parts of their market. For marketers to achieve true diversity of thought, having access to a broad and representative internal workforce will help shape thinking and understanding when designing marketing programmes that really deliver diverse communication. Teacher and author Dr. Nick Walker writes “The greater the diversity of the pool of available minds, the greater the diversity of perspectives, talents, and ways of thinking–and thus the greater the probability of generating an original insight, solution, or creative contribution.”
Tools in this space are rapidly evolving to help marketers more quickly create more accessible experiences, such as more accessible fonts, caption creation and options for users themselves to customise a site to align in real time with their specific needs.
A lot of the recognised literature on neurodiversity is in the context of communication with employees in the workplace, however there’s a lot marketers can apply from those learnings into the consumer context. It’s also really important to acknowledge that neurodiversity is a specific aspect of the broader DEI narrative, and for most brands the first step will be broadening communication across a wider ranging prospect group. Working towards tailoring messages to specific audiences within those groups is essential, but resource may not always immediately allow for that so to build it into your marketing roadmap is a decent starting point.
A consistent message across most literature written on this subject is that businesses shouldn’t see this sort of outreach as altruistic, but as fundamentally business critical. The point is not to hire or target neurodivergent people as part of corporate social responsibility or to wave the diversity flag. The point is to actually value minds of all types and appreciate the significant opportunity being missed by brands who aren’t communicating with these audiences.