Samsung Europe’s CMO Benjamin Braun on Neurodiversity, Business Growth and the Met Police

Jason Papp
Founder & Editor-in-chief
June 19, 2024
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LONDON - Do you know the early signs of dyslexia? Often wrapped in misunderstanding, this question requests us into a vulnerable and, at times, lonely place where words jumble and yet ideas flow with an uninhibited grace. 1 in 5 people are said to be influenced by it, and it can run in families. It’s an inherent part of an individual's neurological makeup. A child, for example, might stumble over playful nursery rhymes. In writing? The challenge intensifies. According to Scientific American, approximately 10% of the British and Swedish populations are thought to have some form of dyslexia, while in the United States, this figure rises to about 20%, reflecting varying diagnostic criteria and educational systems.

But here's the twist: this isn't about a lack of smarts. It's a brain wired for something else. Spatial abilities? Extraordinary. Enabling those neurodiverse to manipulate and understand spaces in ways that defy convention. Perhaps most intriguing is someone with dyslexia’s ability to think in vivid pictures. In a world dominated by words, these gifted minds navigate with a richer currency – images and visual scenarios. They envision concepts as mental movies, exploring solutions in a dynamic, multi-dimensional space. So, when we discuss dyslexia, we're not just pinpointing challenges; we're unveiling a distinct kind of genius.

This unique genius is exemplified in individuals like the kimchi-loving, Ben & Jerry’s obsessed Braun, born in Sweden and now Samsung’s Chief Marketing Officer for Europe. Braun's multi-chapter career, spanning time on both sides of the brand-agency aisle, keeping the peace on London’s streets to steering the complexity and innovation at the heart of Samsung, mirrors the multifaceted abilities repeatedly seen in those neurodiverse. As we spotlight his story, we delve into how these extraordinary cognitive traits play out in the high-stakes world of global marketing. Something we are absolutely delighted to share.

"Samsung was born from necessity," Braun commences pointedly. His voice echoing the brand's stark post-war beginnings. And he’s not wrong. From a humble grocery store to a global consumer electronics powerhouse, Samsung's rise was not a triumph over adversity but a necessary response to it. "His son scaled it," Braun continues, "creating TVs, seeing an opportunity to export... growing globally." 

Samsung is Korean for three stars. It was a name aptly chosen by Samsung founder Lee Byung-chull, whose determination was for his company to become powerful and everlasting like stars in the sky. 

Today, that ambition to solve real-world issues endures, spurred on by Braun's rallying cry to his team, “Technology for Good. The philosophy is simple: if Samsung's innovation benefits customers or society, it's the right thing,” he says. 

And we give that a solid five stars. 

The company's commitment to this mission is embodied in a diverse range of products. Braun enthusiastically describes Samsung’s environmentally friendly air source heat pumps. What is a heat pump? It’s a simple technology that uses electricity and free energy in the air to create heat that can warm our homes and produce hot water. He then passionately explains how the application of AI to their ultrasound scanners are revolutionising sonographers' work by automating measurements and comparisons. Amidst his role of representing the brand, a genuine admiration and appreciation for his place at Samsung shines through. He believes in their innovation. He sees the potential. 

And Braun, broaches more than just healthcare. Sustainability is his leitmotif. Gesturing with his Samsung Galaxy Z Flip5, he says, "You're actually walking around with a part of the phone made from old discarded fishing nets," he says, his visage lighting up like the brief yet radiant Nordic summers. It's a modern alchemy, turning sea waste into the plastic sinew of Samsung phones.

Braun's voice fills with playful exasperation as he continues, describing a universal moment of frustration. "You're about to sit down, click on Netflix, and then it happens. Disaster strikes. There's no battery in your remote control." A relatable drama painted in jest for Samsung's solar-powered television remote. It's a game-changer, a simple pivot that cuts out both inconvenience and eco-waste.

This is but the overture to Braun's broader composition—Samsung's Technology for Good. It's not just about products as sleek as the reflective waters of the Kosterhavet; it's about crafting both apt and altruistic utilities. And this extends to breathing new purpose into antiquated phones as guardians against poaching in Africa, and syphoning WiFi signals as a charging elixir. Actually, the ‘Wildlife Watch’ Programme, in partnership with Africam and The Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit, to protect against animal poaching in the South African bush has just been expanded, it was announced. In the latest development, Samsung will utilise technology in Galaxy S21 Ultra and new S23 Ultra devices to broadcast the 24/7 live streams of wild animals.

Samsung's ‘Wildlife Watch’ Programme, in partnership with Africam and The Black Mamba Anti-Poaching Unit

 

Ultimately, Braun etches a portrait of Samsung as a steward for good, as balanced as the Swedish "lagom," (just enough), embracing both technology and the greater good of humanity. "Is Technology for Good of personal importance to you?" I probe. Braun's answer is unambiguous. "This ethos," he confirms, "serves as the compass leading Samsung's troops through both inventive dialogues and material decisions." Exhibit A? The consumer clamour for bigger screens and TV frames that moonlight as art displays—in Braun's case, a gallery for his children's artwork. Necessity, it seems, is the mother of Technology for Good.

Audi, BBH and Inclusive Agency Relationships  

Turning to Samsung's relationship with its agency partners, Braun emphasises the value of holistic partnerships. He treats agencies as integral members of the Samsung family, advocating for complete transparency of objectives to foster an understanding of Samsung's needs.

I question his approach to dealing with conflicts within an agency. Braun acknowledges past missteps, opening up the broader conversation about the dynamics between agencies and clients. "Over my career, I think I've changed my attitude toward agencies and suppliers. Maybe naively, when I was younger, I thought of it as us and them, but I have to say that that was a long time ago,” Braun admits. Today, he embraces a more unified vision, treating agencies as a natural extension, “Now I see it as an extension of the Samsung family. I share our goals with the agencies, so they have full transparency.”

Reflecting on his previous role at Audi UK, he says, “I started a monthly meeting with all of our agencies. So I used to sit there, and we had the media agency and the creative agency, the PR agency, all of the different social media agencies, and it was just like my weekly leadership team meeting. I went through everything so they know everything that goes on.”

Braun believes these interactions fostered rapport among the agencies and facilitated a seamless team operation. “They got introduced to each other, which allowed them to go away as a team and operate as one team. I think sharing goals and being honest about what budget is available is key. If agencies know, they can optimise their plans.” And it's this shared knowledge that can eliminate disconnects between the creative ideas and the teams responsible for PR, media buying, and social media.

“Rather than prescribing the solution, I prefer stating the business challenge and encouraging the agency to find a creative response.” To illustrate this, he recounts his time with Audi UK, faced with the rising trend of AI and autonomous driving amongst competitors. The challenge wasn't merely staying in the game but making the technologically advanced features emotionally resonant for the consumer. He underscores, "Rational, functional expressions of technology don't necessarily strike a chord with most consumers. Emotion, storytelling – that's memorable."

A key turning point arrived at Audi UK when BBH, in collaboration with other agencies, channelled Braun's vision into a strikingly creative concept: making Audi vehicles 'clown-proof.' This approach to showcasing Audi's advanced technology – avoiding the standard tech-heavy language – resonated with audiences and clinched a Gold Cannes Lion award. Reflecting on the success, Braun says, "It didn’t show any technical stuff; it showed the cars avoiding crashing and auto parking with all of these clowns around."

BBH for Audi UK

Braun distils his wisdom for strong client-agency relationships from this real-life scenario: "Share the business challenge, and the agency will come back with a solution." A compelling reminder to agencies - their purpose is not to merely execute a client's vision but often to reinvent it by taking the raw material of a business challenge and crafting an extraordinary story around it. And Braun reminds us, "People do ask for what they want, but that's not why you pay an agency."

Dyslexia 

Persisting in our mission to capture the full orbit of Braun, he shares: "I have dyslexia." At face value, it might sound like a familiar truth for many. But, growing up in a time dyslexia was poorly understood or tolerated by the education system, Braun found himself on the battlefield. His opponent? His own spelling. He recalls, "I kind of got penalised for poor spelling, but the stories were good." 

Yet, while the letters failed to sit still, his imagination soared and despite his spelling woes challenging his confidence, Braun refused to succumb. Instead, he tapped into his resourcefulness. His saving grace appeared in the unexpected guise of a computer. This piece of technology his father, a psychology professor, had introduced to their home. Suddenly, the computer program Microsoft Word and its spell check function transformed into his secret weapon. "It became my invisible support. Technology really enables people, not only people with neurodiversity but especially someone like me."

Fast forward to the present day, Braun’s trusted Samsung mobile, furnished with a dictation feature, offers an "invisible assistant," ready to quicken his tasks and record inspiration fast. Pondering the future, Braun speculates, “AI might take it even further," hinting at a prospective landscape where technology brings even more aid to those with neurodiversity. 

A Catalyst for Innovation 

In a turn of the conversation, Kelcie delves into a more personal angle, seeking to understand how Braun, through his unique lens of neurodiversity, acts as a catalyst for innovation at Samsung. Pausing to recollect, Braun recounts the tale of a previous colleague, who he describes as "different but creatively brilliant." Their neurodiverse traits, according to Braun, played a pivotal role in instrumentally creating fantastic work. Championing Samsung's Future Generation Lab, he says, "It is fueling innovation by involving the younger generation in our operations." Braun explains, "We created user-generated content to promote our products." Recounting an instance where a team member from the program created content for a Samsung Frame TV, he says, "Over the weekend, it just went viral...and I got an email from Samsung Korea with a link saying, ‘Have you seen this? We should get this guy to work for us.’ I was very happy to hit the reply button and say, 'He already is.'"

The Yellow Pages 

Kelcie pivots the conversation to Braun's career scope—from creative agencies to British Gas, and then hopping from Compare the Market to Audi and finally Samsung. Each gamble, Braun admits, isn't just a dice roll; it's an adrenaline rush fueled by diverse cultures and untapped learning. 

Taking us back to his agency days, Braun throws a curveball—a PR snafu involving a Yellow Pages wrap on the London Underground. The ad’s placement invited a less-than-desirable word to be shown as it wrapped the chairs of the Tube for his then-client. A laugh echoes in the room as Braun narrates his heart-sinking moment: “That was fun to stand before the Yellow Pages leadership team and explain. I thought it was gonna be the end of my career.”

Quizzed on navigating such fiascos, Braun concedes the initial sting of embarrassment, punctuated by restless nights. Yet, he's quick to highlight how these mishaps schooled him in the art of cool-headed crisis management.

Echo, Aesthetics, Equation

Pausing to gather his thoughts, Braun teases a story to unfold. "Once upon a time," he begins, his voice carrying a silence as deep as a Swedish winter in Abisko, "La Croissette and Cannes was very much an echo chamber, and that's dangerous; the same thing with social media, echo chambers can be very dangerous." Braun then marks a sea change, tracing back to when consultancies like McKinsey, KPMG, and Ernst & Young began infiltrating Cannes. "Suddenly, these consulting firms materialised, and now you'll notice a broader range of suppliers and ad platforms."

He confesses a somewhat unorthodox perspective of his professional identity. "I studied. I have an MBA, and my undergrad is in business studies. I like aesthetics, and I like designing, but I'm not sure I'm a marketer. But I know that I'm a business person."

Braun then encapsulates the role of progressive marketing, framing it not merely as a promotional exercise but as a critical business function: "It is the role of modern marketing...to be able to differentiate and create a positive point of differentiation between your brand and your competitor's brand." According to Braun, this notion drives the consumer's emotional attachment to a brand, their willingness to choose one brand over another, even at a higher price or longer wait time. And this is the core mission of marketing — to foster this powerful brand affinity.

Braun is not one to gloss over the hard truths of his trade. "If marketers are to be taken seriously in the boardroom, I need to show how many incremental units or incremental revenue the marketing team has added and improved profit margin. Marketing isn't just walking around with colourful crayons and birthing creative ideas; that's only part of it." Braun asserts. 

He ties it all together like a knotted fishing line, strong and purposeful. "So it is a business function," he concludes. A statement often overlooked in boardrooms, but with the right metrics—the ability to quantify every pound, euro, or dollar invested—he argues that marketers earn their seat at the table, as essential as any other element in a brand's complex equation.

Braun's insights not only illuminate his unique perspective on the evolving role of marketing but also echo his commitment to the principle of creating lasting, meaningful connections between brands and consumers. Braun's view of the marketer's position is a breath of fresh air. It's a compelling mix of business smarts and creative enthusiasm, serving as a potent reminder of the infinite possibilities that can emerge from the sharp junction of these two disciplines.

Lions, Revenue, Reality: The Great Agency Disconnect

Kelcie delves into the nuanced understanding that agencies often lack when grappling with a brand's key concerns. "Our CEO is CFO and is much more interested in the incremental revenue that I can bring than, say, a Cannes Lion, or other awards," Braun reveals. While the prestigious accolade may serve as a morale booster for the marketing team, the overarching focus of their commercial organisation remains firmly on revenue and profitability. This revelation highlights the need to align agency perspectives with the brand's ultimate goals.

And for Braun, BBC is defying industry standards on a shoestring budget with its streaming service, iPlayer. It's a standout in the crowded streaming landscape. "They’re like David to the Goliath of the other streaming services and still do phenomenal work," he praises. 

The Met Police 

Sharing his story about serving as a volunteer Special Constable in the Met Police and swapping Sweden for London, he puts it simply, “I wanted to be part of the community. It was an incredible way to volunteer and connect with my new country and contribute to making it a better place." This deep sense of community engagement and a tenacious drive for positive change continue to serve as foundational principles guiding Braun's leadership at Samsung. He firmly believes that every endeavour undertaken by the organisation should ultimately make the world a better place. Braun recognises technology as a powerful catalyst for change, asserting, "At Samsung, we believe technology is a powerful changemaker capable of removing barriers." This, of course, echoes the triumph technology afforded him in childhood.

With an unwavering commitment to environmental stewardship, Samsung stands as a beacon of sustainable innovation. And Braun’s and wider SLT’s resolute belief in the power of technology to minimise our impact on the environment merits attention and reflection. By integrating sustainable practices and embracing eco-friendly solutions across their products and operations, Samsung sets a compelling example for other players in the industry. 

Shifting the focus back to agency relationships, Braun shares insights into his enduring partnership with BBH that continues on from his tenure at Audi. Emphasising the vital importance of true partnership, he affirms, "Those agency relationships that stand the test of time have one thing in common. We act as true partners." Braun clarifies several crucial elements that contribute to the success of these resilient partnerships, “We share the same business goals and work together to solve them.” Underscoring the significance of aligning business objectives with an agency, Braun counsels, “Addressing shared challenges, allows both the client and agency to establish a robust foundation for collaboration.”

Recognising the value of agencies that challenge existing boundaries and encourage innovative thinking, Braun elaborates, "The agency [BBH] stretches our thinking, gives us ideas and forces new ways of doing things." This collaborative exchange of ideas nurtures innovation and fuels creative solutions. “As a client, we listen to those ideas and work together to find a way to make them come to life.” He continues, “Success is measured by increased consumer love for the brand and the positive effect on sales.” The success of a partnership extends beyond consumer appreciation for the brand and encompasses a buoyant impact on sales. Braun encourages agencies to focus on tangible business outcomes, demonstrating their efficacy and ability to drive sustained success.

And it’s important to note that these principles are not limited to the client side. Agencies also bear the responsibility of upholding their end of the partnership. Clients expect agencies to share business goals, challenge their thinking, and deliver campaigns that drive real business impact. Braun insists, "When we work as partners, we can create incredible campaigns that demonstrate real business impact and strengthen our brand."

Potential and Cloudberries

At Samsung, Braun has built partnerships that deliver exceptional results by cultivating relationships rooted in trust, shared objectives, and a commitment to innovation. His overall career? A blend of trials and treasures. Each role he assumes is a diverse dish on life's smörgåsbord, and he navigates them with a perspective that transcends profit. 

Photograph taken on film in Cannes by George

For Braun, technology isn't just a toolkit—it's a language for our deeper human aspirations. Whether he's employing repurposed mobiles to conserve African wildlife or digitising his children's artwork, each act serves a grander purpose: to make our shared world a touch more hospitable and to enrich our collective human experience.

Similar to a trek through Sweden's rugged forests—each step a mix of harsh beauty and the promise of an elusive cloudberry—so too unfolds the career of Braun. As we anticipate what comes next, one thing’s for sure: Braun isn't just part of Samsung's story; he's the intersection where business acumen meets a profound sense of humanity. And that is a pivotal chapter indeed.

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Jason Papp
Founder & Editor-in-chief