Masters of Marketing Interview: Bill Nowling – Managing Director/Partner at Lambert & Company

Clock Tower Insight’s exclusive series, Masters of Marketing, continues with William Nowling, Managing Director/Partner at Lambert & Company. He’s been with them for about two years, coming to them from a global public relations company. Prior to that, he managed communications for the City of Detroit through their bankruptcy. All in all, Nowling’s been in the field of PR and marketing for about 24 years.

Communication is Changing Marketing

Across the industry, we’re seeing an increase in demand and a need to integrate communication services across the spectrum. “Brands are demanding that. They’re demanding to see the metrics and ROI on what they’re doing. They want their marketing and brand messaging linked up with their reputational messaging, and that linked tight back up with their brand messaging.” The trend is growing on the PR side and will continue. Brands are much more national, and in some instances global, where they weren’t before. It’s easier now, given the technology and the flattening of how communication works across the industry. “For a company to be a global company, there isn’t the need for investment in bricks and mortars overseas anymore.” Nowling believes that’s a result of the digital explosion in communication over the last decade.

His own focus has changed with those times, too. “I used to be very mission-focused. I was always either a spokesperson or someone managing a campaign for a brand. Now I do that, but in a different way. I make sure that the clients’ needs are met, but also have a need to think strategically to grow the company. I’m working to do the same here, but as a partner now. It’s been a change for me.”

Retail Is Influenced By How We Communicate

“With retail, we’re seeing a shift away from vertical centers of retail to a more horizontal or flattened environment, just as with communication.” People are still buying as much stuff, transacting as much. They’re just doing it in different ways. “I think of retail as being redefined. If you’re the customer, you’re still in search of goods and services. You may just not leave the house, but you’re still buying soap. It’s just coming to you in a different way.”

It’s as simple as basic microeconomics. “In a battle for the lowest unit price, if you don’t have the lowest unit price, you’ll lose. That’s the environment.” Amazon and the big box stores like Walmart and Home Depot have the ability to drive that unit price down. “When you’re in that space, you’re going to lose to the person that can do it for a penny cheaper, so you either need to find a way to get out of the cycle, or change the business model to do it.”

Retailers especially need to learn how to adapt and change. They’ve always had to adapt to the market historically. “Consumers are fickle. Their desires and needs change, and if the business providing goods and services doesn’t change, they’ll go elsewhere.” But the speed at which it happens now, with many more players coming into the space without the same investment cost as before, has changed that. “If you’re not changing with your clients, providing what they want, they’re not going to shop with you.”

The brick and mortar stores that are providing unique value to customers that can’t be found elsewhere are going to survive. Nowling talks about one of his favorite stores in Detroit. Henry the Hatter has been there for 90 years or so. They’ve moved around some, but they’re still in the same city. Nowling talks about the experience of purchasing a hat. “I want to go feel a hat. I want to put it on. I don’t want to order it and have to ship it back when it doesn’t fit. That, I want to touch.” There aren’t five hat stores in Detroit. There’s only one. There’s only a need for one. And they do what they do well. They provide not only products and services, but they provide an entire experience. “I think we’re going to continue to see that trend in the near and long term future because people are going to continue to make that switch.”

Not everything we purchase merits the experience, though. “Why go to the store to buy the same 20 items every month when we could have them sent to us? That’s a commodity. You don’t have to touch it,” referencing items like soap and toilet paper. “They’re non-durable goods, and I’m going to go through them, no matter how they get to my house. Other things, I don’t want to get that way. I want to go and put a hat on.” He notes how people want to go and touch clothes before they purchase. They need to feel the fabric, see the color in real light, check out the seams and craftsmanship.

Amazon is catching on. They’re experimenting with ‘online’ stores where you can go look, touch, and see items for sale, but they’re not in stock. That saves them the resource of having to keep hundreds of items in stock in a brick and mortar store, yet still provides consumers the ability to experience their purchases before they commit. Nowling goes on to point out that you can do that at Macy’s right now, too. You have the option of taking it right from the store, or they’ll give you a discount to let them ship it to you. “They incentivize ordering from the warehouse because it’s easier to manage inventory and is more cost-effective.”

Nowling predicts that the need for engagement and content will continue to increase at a very fast rate, simply because the ability to communicate is increasing at that same rate. “The platforms people communicate on change just as fast now.” A decade ago they were more stable. “This is the time of change. Focus on things you’re able to control like your brand voice, your values, how you engage with your customers and the public, how you fulfill their needs and this funnel process and how you get them to come back.” Those are all the things you have the ability to control. “Whatever the trend, the retailers will be able to adapt. You still need to stay true to your voice and provide exceptional value.”

Be True To Your Values

Whether you’re at the ad, retail, marketing, or public relations side of the die, at the end of the day, you have to sit down with someone and interact. “If you’re able to provide that level of engagement, I think you’ll do well as this business and industry continues to evolve.” At the end of the day, that’s what retail is about. “It’s about convincing you I have the product or good or service you need, and that it provides the value to you, and we have an honest exchange based on that. I don’t know of anything more human than that.”

Success depends on having a very clear picture of yourself, your brand, and your vision. “I always come back to the same questions: ‘Why do you do what you do?’. If you can tell me why you do something, then I can connect you with people who also want to know that ‘why’ and can relate to that.” Nowling believes that’s the secret sauce.

“Don’t tell me how you do something; not what you do. Tell me why. Why do you get up in the morning? Why do you come into work? Those that can answer the why question tend to be my most successful clients. It doesn’t matter what industry they’re in.”