There’s a “comeback for Barbie®”, Mattel shares are “soaring”, Barbie® sales “beat estimates” with a 16% increase for the Third Quarter, and sales reports describe this as a huge success for Mattel.

How did this transformation happen to such an entrenched brand and American icon as Barbie®?

Here’s three lessons I took away from how Mattel achieved their recent success:

Turn Feedback into Insight

With more and more available entertainment outlets, aggressive toy merchandising, and the attraction of electronic games, the competitive pressure can be tremendous.

Per consumer feedback from parents and children demonstrated that, Mattel must have learned how to listen to kids and parents to learn why children were looking elsewhere and heard Barbie® was a great brand; but it wasn’t something they could identify with or didn’t match many consumers’ values.

Mattel faced a major decision on how to make the brand more relevant, but that comes with risk in changing an icon.

Mattel then got to work. What we see today are the results of a company working simultaneously on strategies across brand, product, and imagery. Mattel built on the inherent strengths of the brand while leaving nothing untouched, creating a revitalized brand that included an overhaul of Barbie® across her shape, skin, eyes, and hair; the fashion and jewelry accessories available for Barbie®; the career options and choices for Barbie®; and the messaging behind the Barbie® brand.

A lesson here is ongoing contact with our customers provides us with an incredible opportunity to uncover new learning about our products and services, as well as offer us insights into our consumers’ minds, if we are willing to listen.

Adapt and Evolve

After two years of declining sales, Mattel was willing to make changes to Barbie® that expanded their audience. Mattel’s 2016 line of Barbie® Fashionistas® includes 4 body types, 7 skin tones, 22 eye colors, 24 hairstyles, including curvy, tall and petite dolls body types with several on-trend fashion and accessories. This line extension now offers children choices that are more aligned with the world they live in and it expands Mattel’s business opportunities.

The company also changed their marketing strategy, focusing on the potential of Barbie®.  Mattel launched an “Imagine the Possibility” campaign that was tied to a “You Can Be Anything” messaging, all designed to highlight the potential of various professions.

Taking feedback about Barbie® to heart, the brand, the product, the marketing campaign, and the company’s image all received a makeover.  This transformation builds on the brand’s values and has enabled Barbie® to grow to previously unseen heights.

The lesson here is that no matter how new or old our business model is, there is always an opportunity right around the corner.  Watching the market, listening to the customer, letting the user define the problem, are all examples of ways we can adjust and modify not only to modernize, but to fulfill a need.

Think Forward

Mattel also has initiated a limited edition launch strategy to keep current and boost interest in the brand.  In 2016, the Barbie® “heroes” campaign focuses on inspiring the young and encouraging potential. The launch of a Misty Copeland doll was in such high demand that Mattel had to schedule follow-up production.  Mattel also indicated we should expect to see an Olympian Gabby Douglas doll hitting store shelves in Spring 2017.

Mattel’s restaging of Barbie® is only one example of how companies can be successful in turning consumer feedback into deep learning and innovative thinking.  And it’s clear this is an ongoing process for successful organizations. Sejah Shah Miller, Vice president of Global Marketing at Mattel recently indicated “The brand is continuing to listen and make sure that it’s reflecting the world and trends. We are going to continue to evolve.”

The recent success for Barbie® may be an opportunity for the rest of us to focus on “how is our business evolving”?


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