Q&A with Justine Bassman, Understood.org 

Editor's Note: Justine Bassman, director of insights and strategy, Understood.org, along with two other speakers, will be presenting the session titled “Neurodiversity: Understanding the largest target audience you’ve never considered” at the 2024 Quirk’s Event – New York. 

The 2024 Quirk’s Event – New York will over 90 sessions. One of these sessions, “Neurodiversity: Understanding the largest target audience you’ve never considered,” will be presented by Understood.org, a nonprofit dedicated to providing resources and support to people who learn and think differently to help them thrive in all facets of life.  

The three speakers, Justine Bassman, director of insights and strategy; Eleni Matheou, user research lead; and Shalini Suresh, director of quantitative research, will share why the estimated 70 million Americans who are neurodivergent are valuable to your brands and market research.  

“We only have 30 minutes and there is so much more to say! We are so passionate about this topic, and research specifically,” Bassman said. “We hope folks will reach out if they have questions or want to partner with us on our mission to shape the world for difference!” 

Bassman took some time to answer questions about this session prior to the event on July 17 and 18. Learn more about the topic and the passion the three speakers have below. 

What is neurodiversity?  

The term neurodiversity gets used, and misused, a lot.  

Neurodiversity is a concept that goes back many decades. The idea is that differences in how the brain develops aren’t problems that need to be “fixed” or “cured.” They’re just variations of the human brain, or neurodivergence. 

This viewpoint began in the autism community, but it’s expanded in recent years. Now the term includes differences like ADHD and learning disabilities, which is Understood.org’s area of focus. 

How can marketing researchers keep neurodivergent individuals top-of-mind when designing user research?  

Even if your brand isn’t “targeting” neurodivergent individuals, they’re 20% of the population so as researchers we have a responsibility to ensure their opinions are captured.  

From a logistics perspective, make it easier for them to participate. Ask about and offer accommodations. The most common are closed captioning for qual and screen readers for surveys. Your vendors should be offering these options free of charge already, we just don’t tell participants often enough that they’re available. 

We all know this is best practice anyway but keep your surveys as short as possible! Be ruthless and only ask about what you’ll take action on.

Use simple language, strive for an eighth grade reading level. There are great guidelines available online about the types of questions to avoid – matrix questions are the worst offenders. They’re too complex for everyone!

Consider adding voice response options to open-ended questions – these are easier to answer, and you’ll get higher quality responses.

The main thing to remember is that incorporating any of these principles is good practice from a “universal design” perspective. Making the research experience more accessible and engaging for neurodivergent individuals ultimately enhances the experience for everyone.

What is the most common misconception about neurodivergent consumers?

I’m not sure it's a misconception as much as it’s simply that brands don’t think of neurodivergent consumers as a target audience. We see this with the disability population overall. Yet from a practical perspective this group has tremendous buying power, we estimate around $1 trillion. And neurodivergence inevitably impacts your current target consumers already, whether for themselves or their child – it’s a core part of their identity to consider when you advertise and innovate.  

There is also a lot of stigma and misunderstanding about learning and thinking differences. So, from a research perspective, brands may not imagine neurodivergent consumers could be thoughtful research participants.

In fact, we’ve found quite the opposite to be true. Because essentially nothing is designed with their needs in mind, neurodivergent consumers often have to develop their own workarounds to interact with different products and services. Solutions we think brands may find very interesting! 

Why should a Quirk’s Event attendee listen to your session? 

Understood.org is a nonprofit but most of our team comes from a for-profit background so we’ve built our presentation with that audience in mind. Every brand is looking for new ways to innovate, new consumers to target or heavy users to better engage. We hope our content on neurodivergent consumers sparks some new thinking to bring back to your organization.  

And we hope it’ll feel like a change in “head space” during the day. Come to learn something new and leave feeling motivated to make a difference – we’ll give you a few concrete, easy ways to do just that!