We most often use the term “one hit wonder” to describe music performers who have had a single success. Sometimes these one-hit wonders produced novelty songs such as Jeannie C. Riley’s 1968 number-one hit “Harper Valley PTA.” In spite of the song gracing the charts in the 60s, hardly anyone today would admit to thinking the hit represented true quality. And since Ms. Riley never produced another top-seller, we can also agree she didn’t offer consistency.
Consistency of performance involves starting with a high-quality offering and then understanding not only that you’ve been successful but why the success occurred. In Riley’s case, the success might have been because of timing, the novelty of the song, or mild curiosity of pop fans about country music. Judging from its short-lived success and inability to pass the test of time, Riley didn’t start with a quality song, so even if she had deconstructed her achievement, finding a consistent way to duplicate it might have proved impossible.
Contrast Riley to Elvis or the Beatles. They too introduced a new “sound” for their time, and both enjoyed consistent places on the pop chart, and in the case of Elvis, on the country and gospel billboards too. Their fans began to trust the quality of their work, frequently buying new records even before they had heard them. Apple has built that kind of trust about its products, but few other companies have.
Quality may be in the eye of the beholder, but the commitment to reproduce success consistently lies on the shoulders of those creating the offering. For example, in 1959 Mattel introduced the Barbie Doll, which experienced immediate and wide-sweeping success.
Today, someone buys a Barbie doll every three seconds somewhere in the world; Mattel has sold more than a billion of these dolls; the company has produced more than a billion fashions for Barbie and her friends; and Barbie has had more than 130 careers in her lifetime.
Mattel offered further evidence of its ability to consistently produce excellence with the Cabbage Patch kids in the early 80s. American Girl dolls and their related clothing and accessories came on the scene in 1986, released by Pleasant Company. In 1998 Pleasant Company became a subsidiary of Mattel, adding yet another rung to the toy maker’s ladder of excellence. Through its history, Mattel has modeled excellence in both its quality of toys and its consistent commitment to leverage the newest trends.
In 2016, almost 6 decades after it introduced the Barbie Doll, Mattel reported better-than-expected quarterly revenue, driven largely by demand for Barbie. Mattel’s shares rose about 6%, and Barbie’s worldwide sales increased nearly 16%.
How did this toy manufacturer remain relevant for so many years and quickly recover from temporary setbacks? For one thing, Mattel responds to customers. It recently rolled out Barbie dolls in a variety of skin tones, hairstyles, and outfits. They also introduced three new body shapes–tall, curvy, and petite–to appeal to a larger demographic. Similarly, the company changed its marketing strategy to position the dolls as more than a “pretty face” with an ad campaign that insured little girls “You can be anything,” appealing to both the girls and their parents.
While many critics might suggest that modern Western culture has lost touch with excellence, the facts tell a different story. The winners in the organizational survival game–recently redefined by the economic downturn–have reinvented the standards for us and let us know what to expect. We know that to build trust with our clients, we need to start with quality products, consistently improve them over time, and agilely adapt to new customer demands. That’s what the many-hit-wonders do.