The Secret to Long-Term Success
What separates the one-hit wonders from the long-term successes – the Jeannie C. Rileys of the world from the Elvises? Talent and luck play only a minor part in an organization’s lasting power. Linda Henman suggests there is a bit of a formula to success. Here’s what the hugely successful corporations have in common.
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 chart topper, 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 sole 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 toymaker’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 six 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 percent, and Barbie’s worldwide sales increased nearly 16 percent.
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 assured 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.