“Marketing is more than just being the loudest voice," says Shalea Brown, a digital marketing expert and independent agency partner. An introvert by nature, Brown considers her introversion to not just be a personality trait—she believes it serves as a 'superpower' in this industry.
"In our line of work, where empathy, insight, and a keen understanding of the human psyche are invaluable, my introversion becomes a superpower. Emotionally intelligent campaigns are twice as likely to succeed."
Speaking from her own experience, Brown says that introverts shine as observant strategists, favouring careful listening and thought over overt showmanship. "As introverts, we excel in crafting campaigns that tap into deeper market sentiments, often capturing nuances that louder voices might miss."
However, it's still those louder voices (extroverts) that we typically assume will be more likely to succeed in an industry where great value and often career success or failure is placed on one's ability to be outgoing and excel at things like networking and public speaking.
The extrovert bias
The unconscious bias towards extroversion and the belief that extroverts are more likable, smarter, and make better leaders is known as the extrovert bias.
It's something that Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, has challenged in her best-selling book.
"Many studies have documented the extrovert ideal, but this research has never been grouped under a single name," claims Cain. "While introverts may need to adapt to a leadership position, they are no less capable of succeeding," she explains.
In truth, most of us have been sold on the idea of the extrovert being the ideal. Our contemporary open-plan offices are clearly designed for the lively, chatty, and vivacious "ad person."
But times are changing and so are attitudes towards introversion. Adam Grant, an organisational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, has pointed out that introverts often make better leaders
when it comes to guiding proactive individuals who take initiative. And that introverted leaders excel at attentively listening to their subordinates and discerning when to actively help versus when to quietly observe.
Still waters run deep
Yooin Cho, a senior UI designer at Media.Monks Korea says that her career journey serves as proof that introverts can not only thrive in the marketing field but can emerge as invaluable team contributors without the need to pretend to be someone they’re not.
"I believe in the saying, 'still waters run deep'," says Cho. "We often perceive that people with extroverted tendencies are more likely to succeed, especially in fields or societies that value outward expressiveness. However, this perception does not necessarily hinder the careers of introverted individuals."
Cho has built a successful career in design, which she credits for its capacity to leverage the attributes of diverse personality types for successful projects.
"Introverts, known for their observational skills and adept listening abilities, bring valuable attention to detail and strong work ethics to the team," says Cho. "When introverts do express themselves, they make each word count. They take the time to observe, listen, and analyse, contributing insights that bring clarity, overcome obstacles, or open up new creative possibilities."
Nancy Lan, national managing director at Starcom Australia, points out that introverts bring important richness to our industry and ensure greater representation that is reflective of our diverse society.
"By definition, there are just as many introverts as there are extrovert clients and consumers," says Lan. "Having them in our industry allows us to have a more holistic view as to how we might effectively communicate with these people."
"Additionally," Lan adds, "introverts tend to be purposeful in how they listen and can be more inclusive, because they create space for different voices to emerge. This is one of the key reasons they make great leaders in a people and relationship-based industry like ours."
The pressure to conform
According to research
conducted by psychologists Gregory Feist and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, most creative people in many different fields are introverted by nature.
The research also found that introverted and highly creative people are underrepresented in positions of leadership influence. These naturally quiet and creative people can't realise their full professional potential because of this unconscious bias.
With an industry like marketing that relies so heavily on creativity, you would think more introverts would rise to the top. But, sadly, while there is a discernible male population that holds a greater proportion of leadership and executive roles
, bias affects more than just gender and ethnicity. You might belong to this under-utilised category of future leaders if you are an extremely introverted, reflective, or creative person.
Given these findings, one wonders if introverts look at sacrificing authenticity to try and conform to the typical industry extrovert mould to avoid missing out on opportunities or risk falling behind.
"I don’t see this being the case," says Mandy Goh, head of talent and HR, TBWA Singapore. "If employees are given a safe space to embrace their individuality and share their thoughts and ideas, there won’t be the pressure to conform."
Goh adds that confidence can be built regardless of personality.
"Plus, I feel the younger generation are a lot more aware and confident of the value they [introverts] bring," says Goh. "There may be instances that could be more stressful for introverts like network events or public presentations, but these skills can be learnt in your career and everyone gets better with experience and opportunities to learn and grow."
Meanwhile, Boone Wong, creative director at We Are Social Singapore says that the most well-rounded places will hold space for all kinds of personalities, and will know how best to use each person’s talents—no matter their personality trait.
"If extroverts are usually good at speaking publicly and ‘making the sale’, introverts are typically found in the more creative side of things," says Wong. "Any advantages each kind of personality may have, in my opinion, boils down to how well an organisation is able to foster and harness these traits to meet everyone’s objectives."
And Wong, who identifies as an introvert himself, believes that if there are opportunities lost to other peers due to being an introvert, it might be good for them to evaluate how much they can adapt and evolve themselves to circumvent this.
"One of the biggest challenges in this case would be to treat their inherent personality as a crutch and a barrier," says Wong. "Introversion isn’t an excuse not to try new things—it should be clear, shyness does not equal introversion."
Can an introvert truly thrive in the marketing industry?
While one can certainly survive as an introvert in a more commonly thought of extrovert field like marketing, is it possible to truly thrive?
"Absolutely, introverts can thrive in marketing; it's just about adopting an approach that aligns with their strengths to achieve success," says Brown. "They can excel by focusing on areas where their introspective and analytical skills come to the fore, such as strategic planning, content creation, or data analytics. The key is finding the right niche where their introverted qualities are accepted and celebrated."
Numerous theories of personality suggest that introversion and extraversion are present in all people to some extent. Nonetheless, people frequently have a tendency to lean one way or the other. But perhaps finding a balance is key.
"Given that your level of introversion sits on a spectrum, it means many of us have introverted tendencies and many introverts, at times, exhibit extraversion," says Lan. "We are a communications industry and a story-telling industry, so I think it is about how introverts can effectively tell stories in compelling yet authentic, sometimes quiet, ways."
And for Cho, who works alongside many of her more extroverted colleagues, she believes it's essential for introverts to fully embrace their extroverted co-workers in order to truly thrive.
"Extroverts play a critical role in the process, and without them, the contributions of introverts may go unnoticed," says Cho. "This involves liaising with extroverts before important meetings, preparing them, ensuring key points are covered, and comfortably stepping back from the spotlight. Extroverts’ ability to handle small talk is also something to be thankful for."