Mark's Big 5: Reasons branding needs more introverts.

Originally published in the Forbes Industry Council May 2, 2019.

When I say “ad guy,” what comes to mind? I bet it’s not a studious brand strategist. Somewhere in our collective consciousness—likely between Madison Avenue and Mad Men—we’ve developed a stereotype of people who work in advertising.

The archetype, if you will, is perhaps best personified by Mad Men’s own Roger Sterling—the smooth-talking, effortlessly charming “people” person. In other words, a tried and true extrovert. And, like most stereotypes, it’s based in some truth.

There’s no doubt this business is filled with what we in Minnesota might politely call “big personalities.” They’re vocal, opinionated, dynamic and dominant. They can command a room. And win a pitch. I’ve known and worked alongside many of these extraordinary extroverts in my career, and I can say with total confidence that the industry needs them. But the thing is, too many extroverts make a crowd.

As an undeniable introvert, it’s been my observation (see reason number two below) that our industry would benefit from a few more of us quiet types. Here are five reasons why:

1. We’re good listeners.

When you do less talking, you tend to do more listening. As the wallflowers of the room, introverts hear everything. We’re good at listening to teams as a whole and hearing out the individuals who comprise them. By listening closely, we’re able to identify subtle similarities—and disconnects. The truth is, we don’t miss much. Unlike our more vocal counterparts, we don’t have the problem of getting distracted thinking about what we’re going to say next—because we aren’t going to say anything.

We’re also good at listening to consumers and customers. In fact, we’re most at home in the dark back room of a focus group facility. And, crucially, we can teach this skill to people and to brands—which, as a general rule, need to listen more than they speak.

2. We’re good observers. 

Beyond listening, we are also keen observers. While others are talking and listening, we zero-in on subtle, non-verbal communications. Often, these interactions and behaviors are just as telling, if not more so, than the words that are spoken—especially in an unfamiliar or professional situation, where participants aren’t always the most forthcoming. When it comes to picking up on unspoken thoughts and feelings, if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a side-eye might be worth a million.

3. We know less is often more.

Introverts are human and, just like everyone else, we make plenty of mistakes. But speaking before we think isn’t one of them. In fact, we spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about what we’re going to say. And also think a lot (sometimes agonize) about how it will be received by others.

When you don’t plan to say much, you put much planning into what you say. The benefit is, we don’t often misspeak and what we say is focused. As many of us know, focus is one of the cornerstones of a good brand. When we apply this less-is-more principle to branding, our message becomes more concise and, ultimately, more meaningful.

4. We represent a large and hard-to-reach population.

The old saying is true: most of the time, it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the oil. But what if a big percentage of your audience isn’t “squeaky”?

Though we may be quiet, introverts are abundant. And because we’re not the ones signing up for focus groups or sharing our every thought on social media, we are especially difficult to reach. Balancing introverts and extroverts on branding teams ensures all perspectives are well represented. There are a lot of us out there, and though we may be less vocal than extroverts about our purchasing decisions, we make just as many.

5. We bring balance to the force.

The yin to the yang. The Abbott to the Costello. Whatever you want to call it, we have ample evidence that opposites not only attract, they thrive. When an introvert is paired with the right extrovert, the combination can become an unstoppable force. The contrast in communication style and personality allows both parties to shine even brighter. And, as a result, ideas developed and championed by both an introvert and extrovert are stronger. After all, they’ve already been given two (very different) stamps of approval.

Introverts may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of ad agencies, but they have a lot to offer when it comes to branding.