“I really think that Coronavirus has just been an accelerant”: Max Hopkinson, Bind

Max Hopkinson is Joint MD at Manchester-based digital agency, Bind. He previously worked for Google as an Industry Manager, has been a successful start-up founder and advisor, and has been at the helm of Bind since its formation two and a half years ago. 

We caught up with him to understand how lockdown has been for him, for Bind, and what his thoughts are for the future. 

How has lockdown been for you on a personal level? 

My wife runs a charity and I run a business. We’re both working and our childcare options disappeared, as with many people up and down the country. Nursery was closed and we ended up having to split the day. Half of my day was spent looking after young children so there was less time. 

What has been the most positive change you’ve made to your daily life?

Because there was half the time, I became incredibly productive. It’s powerful when someone puts a constraint on you. 

It’s interesting what happens with that constraint. And for me, it made me focus much more than I had done for months. So I weirdly think there’s a bit of a long-term win for me in just being more focused and more disciplined in how I use my time. 

It’s definitely something I’m going to try and continue with. 

How have the last few months impacted Bind? How did the lockdown affect working practices and how did you adapt?

We definitely got lucky as a business, as we were already planning change. We started using a planning methodology called OKRs. I’d used it before at Google many years ago, and it’s a really powerful framework. 

Normally in agencies and most businesses, you end up reacting far too much. It’s the curse of being in an environment where there’s a lot of change. 

In these types of businesses, medium to long-term projects just don’t get the love. Too often they don’t get the planning that’s needed and when they launch they’re often half-baked and need to be worked on post-launch. OKRs gives you a framework to deliver the medium and long-term projects. 

We launched this in the business just before lockdown happened and it kind of saved us. It was a really helpful way to keep us on track with some things that could have potentially fallen by the wayside because they weren’t necessarily the priority for that day. We’re still using it and will continue to.

As a young business, reasonably small and digitally native, with everything in the cloud, we didn’t face the challenges that many legacy businesses would have.  

Have you made any major changes? 

Early on, we realised we needed to keep the team connected. 

My brother (Oliver Hopkinson, Joint MD, Bind) understands people and has strong emotional intelligence. He knows how to create connections with people, and he realised early on we needed to work harder at bringing the team together. 

We ended up doing all sorts of random things. In the first week we did a squat challenge together over Zoom. We were doing squats to the Bring Sally Up song. And then he said how do we get a thousand people to join this Zoom? We ended up getting a load of random people to join us. 

This was just the start of the silly stuff, but it was so important. When you’ve got a member of staff living in a flat on his own in Manchester, his family are in a different place and he truly is isolated, that silly stuff was the connection that he needed in his life, let alone his job. 

These are the things we’ll continue whether we’re in lockdown or together because the impact on teamwork and trust was pretty powerful. 

One of the big stories from the marketing world in lockdown was whether brands should continue advertising or “go dark”. What’s your view on this? 

My personal view is it depends. 

If you’re going to do marketing to create demand and you can’t satisfy that demand then stop. At the moment businesses are trying to establish how their sales and costs fit into a model that works. Marketing is a cost and if you are spending that money and can’t turn it into sales, that’s a problem. I would choose to save money every day of the week. 

Take the example of Coca Cola. After about four weeks of lockdown, they stopped all paid media. I thought that was really interesting that they decided it wasn’t going to influence consumers and it wasn’t cost-effective. It therefore wasn’t a high priority. 

If you’re making a brand investment, it’s slightly trickier. Spending money to add value to a brand is completely different. It’s really difficult to measure the ROI of that in a short period of time, so common sense is essential. 

If a business is not going to be able to operate at full capacity for a long time for example then I’d really consider that brand investment. 

The main thing I would work on right now is the proposition. Is your proposition relevant for now, three months, six months, 12 months? 

Most people have ended up without product-market fit. Their product no longer fits what the market needs or can do. 

This is where my energy would go. Concentrating on product-market fit. 

How did “going dark” play out for your clients? 

We had one client that had a chain of pubs. We were contractually due to start spending money to send people into pubs. We walked away together. They said we can’t do this and of course we agreed. We were in it together. 

eCommerce thrived during lockdown – for many non-essential items – how do you think consumer desire will change with the reopening of the high street? 

If a customer has been forced to switch from buying in one way to buying in a new way, and they like the new way better then they’re going to stay. 

Some customers that never bought groceries online for example will see how much they like it and will decide to keep on doing it or will maybe do it half the time. Each industry will have a different answer on how good the online experience was in comparison to the offline experience. 

Take the example of Barry’s Bootcamp. It’s a wonderful face-to-face experience and right now people won’t necessarily be going back in droves because there’s still a threat. But let’s say we get to a post-vaccine situation – I believe that proposition is so strong and it’s an experience that people still value. I don’t think online can compete. It might be able to give you a substitution but it’s not a perfect substitution at all. 

It all comes down to the strength of the online vs. offline experience. 

Take cinemas for example. Aside from a few boutique options that have got their experience exactly right, the industry felt doomed before lockdown in the face of streaming options. I’m not sure how it will survive this. 

Any final thoughts on these strange times we’re currently facing? 

I really think that Coronavirus has just been an accelerant. All the trends that were happening before, they’ve just fast forwarded 10 years in one go. 

It hasn’t necessarily changed anything or brought in anything completely new. 

My advice to most people when they think about their business is that this is what you need to plan for. Imagine 10 years on – build your business and your life around that and you’ll be well placed.

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