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Michaela Jefferson 

Five questions with Neuro-Insight's UK CEO, Shazia Ginai

Five questions with Neuro-Insight's UK CEO, Shazia Ginai

As the leader of a small business which has been heavily affected by Covid-19, Ginai explains how she has approached the last eight months. Plus: how the brain has adapted to the pandemic and what that means for brands.

How has Neuro-Insight been affected as a business by the Covid-19 pandemic, how has it had to adapt, and how have you approached the situation as a business leader?

In all honesty, Covid has affected the business a lot. You can find a lot of social media love for small businesses like local coffee shops and book shops, but in the marketing world, the support is not nearly as strong.

Further, as a business whose main tool measures brain response, when all the brains went into lockdown so did our research.

It’s not how I anticipated my first calendar year as CEO to go. But, 2020 has certainly given me ample opportunity to stretch new-found crisis management muscles.

My first approach has been to prioritise people. It’s incredibly important that my team feel secure, mentally-healthy and happy. We have an open communication policy here, which is vital at a time of such deep uncertainty.

Secondly, I had to reassess our finances. As a small, privately-owned business, there’s no massive pool of funding to fall back on. This has meant trimming down on less vital costs and keeping cash-flow healthy.

Finally, at a time when client budgets were being slashed, I’ve made sure to not let our visibility dwindle. I’ve stayed in touch with our clients, guest-starred on podcasts and spoken at several events. It’s great fun, but it’s also extremely important to stay top of mind. It’s also an opportunity to share my voice and use the platform to promote discussion on what really matters.

Working in the area of understanding people means real, positive change can come from what we know about the subconscious, not just for brands but for the betterment of the world.

Has the human mind changed at all as a result of this pandemic? How, and why?

The function and structure of the brain has not changed, but our life context has. Ultimately, this will have a knock-on effect on human behaviour.

This year, we’ve witnessed a rise in social movements such as Black Lives Matter and major shifts in mental health impact. This all results from changes in how humans are interacting with one another and also with the world around us.

The pandemic has given us the capacity to think and absorb information in different ways as we try to understand and frame this experience. Ironically, this is one of the reasons advertising is more important than ever. Our research has shown that in this time, people are actually absorbing more information about brands – albeit in a very different fashion.

How should brands approach media and advertising during this period from a neuroscientific perspective?

Firstly, advertise. The volume of brands that have pulled back has been a shame. Whilst we know everyone is trying to tighten up on spending, for advertisers cutting back on comms may not be the smartest move.

We measure long-term memory encoding, and we know that memory correlates to future action, decision-making and behaviour change. Our memories are a network of associations, and when brands go silent they are losing opportunities to build more associations.

Over this period, brands that pull back are going to lose out on those memory structures that ultimately drive long-term brand building.

This is an awful time. Everyone is just trying to keep their heads above water, but we somehow have to also be able to find a way to ensure that when all of this is over, there’s a route to recovery.

You’ve been an outspoken speaker on the importance of diversity and inclusion in advertising - how well do you think brands have addressed this issue in the last few months, particularly since the re-ignition of the BLM movement?

I’m a woman of south Asian origin, so I have many hurdles to face when it comes to bias. This issue being addressed is massively important to me and I do believe that the first step of actually taking notice has happened. It’s been good to see many brands acknowledging the importance of this space. Some have done it well, others not as much.

The key to addressing diversity and inclusion – or lack thereof – has to be authenticity. It’s been great to see brands creating ads that portray more people of colour, or genders shown outside of their stereotyped roles but the crux of the issue is deeper.

The true step-change needs to be not just in the adverts but in the people who create them. Shaping real change within the senior leadership teams of these organisations is where we’ll start to see difference.

If we don’t change organisations themselves then the brands that create diverse ads are just paying lip service and not addressing systemic issues.

What is your biggest hope for the future of the media and advertising industry?

My hope is: less talk, more action.

Many brand and media leaders state the consumer is boss, yet they don’t invest appropriately to understand their customers in meaningful ways. Surveys with claimed responses and big data don’t get us to the heart of the underlying motivations around behaviour.

Fundamentally, the media and advertising industry won’t adapt quick enough without understanding our brains. We are forever chasing our tails for the sole reason that we aren’t looking at the seat of all human decision-making; the subconscious.

Secondly, I hope the industry takes a hard look, not just at the diversity of consumers but at their own organisation and acknowledge that talking about diversity isn’t enough.

Employing a variety of genders, races and sexual orientations gives businesses diversity of thought and ultimately leads to better business results. Why wouldn’t this be a priority? The number of times I have entered a room of my peers and stuck out is astounding.

Whilst the gender disparity is still an issue, it’s not nearly as much of an issue as the racial inequality I see. There are many talented Black and Asian people out there. It’s time to seek out and give that talent a seat at the table.

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