When you start your company at 16, there’s a decent chance you won't be doing the same thing by the time you graduate high school, let alone two decades later. Yet Tina Wells, founder of Buzz Marketing Group, defied that decent chance and remains CEO, founder and captain of the marketing company she started in her teens.
It wasn’t her intention. She didn’t set out to run a company. Rather, the goal was to be a fashion writer, ideally at a Hearst publication. “Seventeen was the dream,” she says.
“Never in a million years did I think I’d run a company or that twenty years later I’d be doing the same thing.” Like the start of many companies, her foray into marketing came from a place a need. As a fashion and beauty loving teen with five younger siblings she knew her parents weren't going to be able to buy her the newest trends. "My parents," she says, "were working their butts off to get us into private school and I knew I needed to come up with a way to make money. That's all it was. I figured out that I could review product and then wear it."
It is a resourcefulness that followed her through high school graduation, into college, and helped her grow BuzzMG's buzzSpotters-- a network of trendspotters that was cast to be a research network. It's a group of those in-the-know "and now and always looking around the next corner." In the beginning the buzzSpotters consisted of Tina and her ten friends. “I remember when we got to 200 people I thought it was too much," she says. There are now 37,000 people worldwide. "Consumers know what they want and want to be part of the process," she says. “That’s something I recognized as a 16 year old. I knew that if my friends and I wanted to be a part of the process of a company making something for us, then other people had to want it too."
It's a thought that has paid off. It was during Tina's freshman year at Hood University when someone said to her, “I just paid someone $25,000 to do market research and what you’ve done is ten times better.”
It was perfect timing. When this conversation occurred Tina was taking an Intro to Business class with the head of the Business Department. She went to visit that professor during office hours and told her what she’d been up to the last two years. That professor told Tina to take independent study with her to figure out how to make it a viable business. She did. “That was the launch pad,” she says. “It wasn’t me saying, ‘I have a great idea for a business,’ rather I was being told I was doing something really interesting that could be a business.”
Today, Buzz Marketing Group is an award-winning media communications agency that focuses on Millennials, moms, and multicultural consumers. They deliver data and strategies that drive the marketing approach for clients. “I’ve been doing this so long,” Tina says, “that back when I started it was youth marketing. There weren’t Millennials and there certainly wasn’t the idea of Millennial marketing.”
"So long," gives Tina and her team a certain edge-- even though the technologic landscape around her has moved seismically. “I still reference the business plan I developed with my professor 18 years ago,” she explains. In addition to running her company Tina is the current Academic Director of Wharton's Leadership in the Business World program and is teaching a summer program based on the principles set forth in that business plan. "The basics of building a business are still the same." she says. Adding, "You still need to answer those ten questions every business owner has to answer." (Check back, we'll be sharing those next week!)
What has changed are the tools. She jokes that if she had launched her business now she would have scaled in three months “Technology tools empower us to be better at our jobs every day.” It's technology that allows Buzz to survey people in their network better and provide better results for clients.
“Technology has the ability to do the unbelievable, but my business is built in a very brick-and-mortar way," a foundation she insists has the ability to withstand any tech wave or crunch. "I realized early on build a great business and let the tools empower you. But don’t be so focussed on creating a business for a particular tool."
BuzzMG is built in a way that's evergreen-- they are, says Tina, "research first, not creative first, and we're very honest with our clients about that." They develop marketing strategies based on data from consumers of all ages and internally develop original research for the client. "We’ll go to our network of buzzSpotters, conduct an internal survey, and go back to the client with an audit of where their brand is, where it need to be, and what we will do to get to achieve that goal.”
"Because we’re research driven we never go into any situation assuming how a conversation is going to go." It also helps Buzz create campaigns that are likewise evergreen. One of the things Buzz is known for are their lists. They help build the inspiring Levo100 List, which was first released in 2015 and is still being shared today. They worked with American Eagle Outfitters on the aerie beauty and body line, leveraging their proprietary database of influencers to create and educate a curated in-market ambassador program of over 150 ambassadors in every state with an aerie store. Upon re-launch, aerie performed 500% better than projected, generating over $250 million in sales for AE.
It’s an approach Tina believes (and has the results to prove it) gives her a great advantage because her team is always looking at what the consumer will tell them. "We make decisions by looking at all sides. Culture is changing, it’s moving so quickly-- how we’ve survived for twenty years is by sticking to the solid principles of marketing."
“I never want to get caught in hype.” she says. “There are people who say 'this is dead,' 'that is dead,' 'blogging is dead', 'influencer is dead.' 'No.' I’ve said to clients, 'Print is not dead, bad print is dead.' And it should be."
“A great brand is always a great brand," she says. "It’s just the tools that change.”
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