The modern brain is more than 40,000 years old and it’s certainly seen a few crises in its time; the Ice Age, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, all 45 seasons of UK Big Brother and most recently COVID-19.
As the most complex and arguably wisest organ in the human body, surely it has a thing or two to teach us about how we can best deal with the current pandemic? Here are some thoughts on what 5 learnings could be:
Master the survival arc
In a disaster, our brains move through a ‘survival arc’; a 3 phase path from denial, to deliberation and finally, decisive moment. Those whose brains can move quickly past denial, employ rational thinking at deliberation phase and actively take positive control of the situation when it comes to the decisive moment, seem much more likely to come out on top.
– Which phase is your brand currently at on the survival arc? And is it moving through the phases quickly and rationally?
Practice ‘deliberate calm’
One thing that might help our brains (and brands) get through the survival arc, is the practice of ‘deliberate calm’. Here, our cerebral cortex (the part of the brain responsible for reasoning) is able to take back control from the emotional, automatic limbic system.
Deliberate calm is a key part of pilot training, where immediate emotional responses are ignored in order to focus on rational performance in an emergency situation. We have deliberate calm to thank for the safe landing of Flight 1549 on the Hudson River in 2009.
– Is your brand acting on emotional panic? Or is it practicing deliberate calm to make effective, rational decisions?
Don’t jump to conclusions
Over the last 40,000 years, our brains have evolved to instinctively try to predict what will happen next and to do this we rely on mental shortcuts based on past experience. The problem is that in a crisis, things aren’t happening as they usually would and so our predictions are usually wrong.
It’s here we need to fully focus on what is actually happening around us. The video of basketball players and a man in a bear suit is a great example of how our brains prefer not to see the unusual, unless it is specifically asked to do so.
– Has your brand strategy jumped to erroneous conclusions? Is it based on what’s happened in the past, instead of full interrogation of its new, unexpected context?
Know your environment
In order to make correct predictions in a crisis, we need to force our brain to objectively assess what’s actually going on. This means rigorously interrogating the new environment; for example, the main fire exit may be blocked but that doesn’t mean that the crisis hasn’t created another, new exit that might be behind you.
– Has your brand really assessed the brand new environment? Have any new sources of sales opened up that weren’t there before?
Rely on your training
Finally, the one thing that can help every brain perform more effectively in crisis, is training and this is why drills and simulations are such a key part of military life.
Brains that have learnt to follow a particular process over and over again, are able to perform calmly and rationally in the face of adversity and danger. No time is wasted denying or deliberating over what to do and no effort is wasted on unhelpful emotional panic or making erroneous conclusions.
As marketing professionals, we’re all trained in best practice and now, more than ever, we must all fall back on that training. Yes, everything has changed but the key questions remain the same: Who is our target audience? What are their needs? And how can our brand and product help?
About the author
Creative Planning Director, Sarah Mason, has over 15 years of experience in marketing and advertising. At S3 Advertising, she leads on creative strategy and campaign planning – pulling the agency’s skillsets together to build efficient integrated campaigns. If you have any questions, feel free to drop her an email – firstname.lastname@example.org.