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Tetris’ Megan Buettner on how a background in design shapes her approach to brand licensing.
Megan, it’s great to connect. Before we explore your role at Tetris, you actually have a background in design, is that right?
Yes, I started out as an exhibit designer – and I absolutely loved it! I designed the planetarium for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and led the creative for companies such as Sherwin Williams. This was at Exhibit Dynamics; I grew a lot there and had incredible mentors.
What brought you into the brand space?
I started my career at American Greetings. I had a great in – my dad worked there for over 50 years which opened the door for me to intern. I was only 16 but fell in love with brands and American Greetings! I quickly moved from trade shows and back full time into an environmental design position, before working my way up to the director of retail experience. My team created everything but the product… The fixtures, the layout, the POP – it was incredible.
“It’s special to shepherd the brand’s evolution.”
Brands continued to draw me in, and I later moved over to become the VP of the creative studios at AG Properties. I oversaw the studio for brands like Strawberry Shortcake, Madballs and Care Bears. It felt like things came full circle because my dad was the original creative director for Strawberry Shortcake.
Yes, it was special to take on the life of a character brand that he had his hand in. I worked in that capacity for a few years and, as a mother of two girls, decided to venture out and create a better work life balance. The universe really cooperated with me. I met Maya, the CEO of Tetris, at Licensing Expo, and discovered they were looking for brand support… It was a great fit. I came on board in 2017 and took the role as Head of Consumer Products in 2018. I am super grateful for the ability to work from home and feel closely connected to the team in Honolulu. I truly love it.
Does your design background inform how you approach brand collaborations with Tetris today?
It means I can think of an idea, pitch that idea and show that idea conceptually. It gets us faster from A to B. It’s a bit of a ‘if you build it, they will come’ approach! For example, I wanted a Tetris waffle maker. I thought that was the coolest idea so I mocked it up to show our now licensee how it would look.
We’ve really grown so much with this approach and we’re at the point where we’re creating products that are playful, happy and spark joy. I mean, I never thought we’d have a Tetris energy drink or Tetris candy gummies! But if, from a creative perspective, you know what you want and you can articulate that, you’ll get where you want to be faster… The design background definitely helps.
Tetris turns 40 next year. What’s the key to keeping the brand fresh?
It’s great partners, combined with great assets. Our game licensees are a perfect example. They keep the game relevant, new and fresh. For example, I never thought Tetris would be a VR game, but when you see it, it’s like “Wow!” They’ve managed to continually surprise and delight the fans with these Tetris reinventions. It’s why the brand is still relevant. They don’t break the model; they enhance the idea.
‘Don’t break the model; enhance the idea’. Great line. And that’s true of the consumer products approach too, I imagine?
Absolutely. We need to keep the brand fresh, and that’s where working with a creative studio is also really important. It ensures there’s lots of hands touching the brand, rather than just one person. It’s why I love working with the team at Fluid. There’s so much personality in what they’re creating for us and they’re showing me things with our brand that I’ve never seen before. They question the model and that’s important. It keeps things fresh, which keeps us open to new opportunities.
Also, when you work with a great studio like Fluid, you can see some really exciting artwork and envision where it could go. For example, there’s a piece of artwork in our new style guide that would be perfect as a label for a Tetris wine… And I’d love to do a Tetris wine! Incredible assets are tools to make magic.
Sounds like Fluid is doing a fantastic job.
They are – and Tetris is going to be around forever, so it’s exciting for us and our partners to be a part of the brand’s history in this way. It’s special to shepherd the brand’s evolution and impact how it’s received by the next generation of fans.
What is the key to a successful, creative brand collaboration for Tetris?
It’s the sparks you get from these relationships. I’m a big LinkedIn fan and when I see people’s articles that spark something, I’ll connect with them and reach out. That’s what is key with these relationships, you must be all in. I have a relationship with each one of our partners; it’s a personal thing for me. I’m a steward for this brand and I need to ensure that everyone is on that wavelength and doing their very best.
Does Tetris being a family-run company have much to do with its enduring success?
Absolutely. When you look at some companies, they have a lot of rotating doors – and I think you can lose the heart of a brand that way. At Tetris, most of the team have been working on the brand for a long time. We have a real passion for what we do, and we all want to make sure Tetris lives on. When you talk to Maya, or see Henk and Alexey together, family is at the heart of this. It’s so cool.
Looking ahead, what areas are of interest to Tetris?
It’s about expanding the reach of the brand – and that includes expanding into a younger demographic. There’s a lot of potential for growth there and it’s an area we’re actively pursuing opportunities in.
Fantastic. One last question! What helps you have ideas? How do you fuel your creativity?
I love going to retail to see what’s going on in the market. Coming from a design background, I really find that inspiring. My kids go crazy because I’ll be grabbing things and looking at the tag asking, “Who made this?” The other thing that helps is having a lot of conversations… Even if I’m not working with somebody, I’ll still give them a call every couple of months to see what they’re up to. It really matters and partnerships can come from that.
What people are doing on LinkedIn fascinates me. The Licensing Letter fascinates me. Writing things down is also really important for me. That includes what I’m going to do today, but it also might be what I’ll do tomorrow. I’ll keep those lists on my desk and that inspires me and guides me.
Just touching on what you said about retail – do you think it’s important to bring new licensees into the licensing industry?
Absolutely. We do a lot of discovery, and I love doing that – it’s one of my problems! We love finding someone that found a white space and helping them understand the world of licensing. Mentoring is something I also enjoy; helping open doors for people. It makes the world go round. It’s important to help new people, and new companies, enter the industry.
It’s my job, it’s your job, it’s on everyone to help lift people up. It’s a big deal.
I absolutely agree. Megan, thanks again for taking time out for this. I look forward to catching up again soon.
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