Neuro-Insight’s CEO on how marketers should step up during the coronavirus pandemic

Pranav Yadav, CEO Neuro-Insight US

Pranav Yadav has seen plenty of marketers get things wrong during the coronavirus crisis. In turn, the chief executive officer of neuromarketing company Neuro-Insight US, has also witnessed how to do it right and, through viewing human behavior and insight, sees how the industry can take a leadership approach if it takes time to understand people.

“In terms of what (marketers) need to be doing, I think their biggest responsibility is to understand how people are feeling right now and actually give them that and not try to serve them their brand,” Yadav tells The Drum.

Essentially, Yadav says that the marketing industry hasn't yet taken the lead on this, which it should have. “All they're doing is doing the same thing that they used to do in their offices but over virtual meetings, which takes away from the impact of the physical presence.”

At the start of the crisis, he thought that the marketing industry just didn't know what to do. Then came the concerns of if companies put something out, they didn’t want it to be associated with the negativity of coronavirus.

What gave him hope was seeing a few brave brands take solid creative stances, including some brands donating selflessly to the cause, and also what Guinness did for St. Patrick’s Day. The beer brand told potential revelers that parades and celebrations can wait, and that the brand was giving $500,000 through its Guinness Gives Back Fund to help local communities it serves.

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“People are smart enough to know that Guinness is a beer company and eventually wants to sell beer. But the fact that they are using their media dollars to put a nice message out there that is not just about the virus – ‘we're all human first, and let's take care of each other, we'll have beer another time’. That is something that earns the respect and the trust of others and gives them something to smile at when there's not much to smile at, gives them knowledge and put the responsibility back on them to act a certain way,” says Yadav, adding that, in the long run, generosity of spirit and adding value to society is the only way to keep people's trust during this time.

Valuing people over profits

Yadav said for marketers to adapt to the rapid changes in human behavior brought on by the coronavirus, they must understand that humans are on the other side of their messaging, one not described by the typical buying scenarios, as everyone is infinitely more complicated.

“The human brain is a complex computer with a lot of hidden files, which you know as the subconscious, and we rely on them for our functionality, but we don't have easy conscious access to them,” he said, adding that people’s responses to intense and extreme situations such as these times will have an obvious impact on people's subconscious – how people react to physical proximity, how they react to crowded places, how they express love and what they expect to happen in life.

“No topic is off bounds in a situation like this for a fundamental shift in human perception during this time,” which is why he believes marketers need to shift their thinking and spend time and money to look at the subconscious. If they don’t, he sees “a good 20% of media brands (will) fail over the next few years”.

Yadav says the industry should use personality typing, like Myers-Briggs, that people can take at home to understand what their personality type is and what their work-from-home lifestyles should be like. If a person is relatively unstructured they would need to come up with a plan to add structure into their day to be more productive, while a highly structured person may need to practice a creative exercise every day to make sure they don’t get too focused.

“If brands don't take the responsibility, there is actually nobody else who would because big media outlets are busy giving basic news out to people,” he says.

Fighting loneliness

“One of the most fundamental human needs is other human beings…that makes us human. It is actually the presence of other people that make us act in the way that we do,” says Yadav, adding that understanding how physical personal interaction has been taken away by the virus, people still are seeking connections.

That stated, anything that enables interaction, including video conferencing systems, online digital activities like Pictionary-style word games and Battleship, watching livestreamed concerts, and other forms of communication are vital to keeping people mentally well.

The online games and communications are actually triggering a subconscious response of being with someone in a way that is familiar to them, states Yadav. He also cites activities like singing together – as people in Italy have done across balconies at a safe distance – and singing collectively online through video chats. Yadav is writing poetry and reading it in Zoom sessions with friends over happy hour, while others are using meditation and online yoga as a connection point.

“Our tools in terms of being able to share things are basic and the technology is basic, and it is out there…but I feel to find what is it that engages the mind and giving people that, that is the magic,” he says.

He cites institutes like the UnLonely project, which has been tackling this pandemic of loneliness for the past few years, and thinks that brands could come up with various ways to connect people through technology to cut down on feelings of isolation.

The need for strong leadership

Yadav bluntly states that for this crisis, in the US “we have terrible leadership”, which means brands need to step up.

“This needs to come from top-tier leadership of the country, which it hasn't. But the good thing is it actually leaves room for brands who want to be leaders to actually be the guiding force for the entire population.”

He cites Germany's Angela Merkel and Indian Prime Minister Modi in India as positive examples of telling the populace what it needs to hear while reassuring that the government is taking care of as much as it can. The two leaders mapped out that these are extreme circumstances and that people have to understand the gravity of the situation and take the measures necessary to contain the outbreak.

He says the weakness of US leadership is an opportunity for brands to take on the leadership role and be a “fundamental guiding force and see if they can build that trust during this time”.

Responsible budgeting

Budgets are crunched right now and businesses are scrutinizing every line item, while many workers are not earning incomes. The first thing Yadav suggests is cutting out unused programs and subscriptions, ones that suck up monthly money that aren’t productive.

Since people will be monitoring and cutting, brands then have to come up with ways to reengage the consumer in the things that they may have taken for granted. That means budgets should shift from basic price promotions to building trust again, creating meaningful content and telling stories that associate the right kind of attributes with the brand.

“Budgets need to be allocated to putting an understanding to this new way of being, this new human, how does he/she react to this new situation? And then how do I then tell a story that correctly delivers my brand to the consumer in the way that I would like? It's a philosophical model, rather than a direct 20% move of this budget to that budget. Fundamentally, people will need to allocate a lot more money to understanding the consumer, how perception has changed, and brand building rather than promotional advertising and other means that we have been doing over the past few years.

“The philosophy of what it is that a consumer needs right now, that is actually what will take precedence over the rest,” he states.

Currently, he says, people are questioning how society functions, especially as people hoard and crack under pressure. Yadav says that the marketing industry hasn’t done anything to earn his trust, as it has become too tactical.

“They have gone away from the very basics of what marketing stood for – finding the unmet needs of the consumer and delivering them in engaging stories that the consumer will find value in and therefore associate those qualities with the brand.”

He says the industry has gone away from that to just tactical executions, like TikTok and Facebook strategies, without going back to the basics of understanding the consumer, and “much like every individual in society, marketing will have to have a fundamental introspection into itself and to figure out what it wants to be once all of this is over.”

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