What Can A Doll Company Teach Us About Emotional Engagement?


The American Girl Doll Company takes the cake, literally, when it comes to earning customer loyalty through emotional engagement.

In April, my niece celebrated her 5th birthday at the American Girl Boutique and Bistro in Dallas, Texas. It seemed a little odd to me when my sister told me that several of her friends (over 40) would be joining the party with their own dolls. My first response was, “Really?”

Since I am the mother of two boys, the idea of taking a doll to lunch seemed a little odd to me.  It wasn’t until my “marketing mind” kicked in that I realized what a brilliant idea it was.

The American Girl Boutique and Bistro sells experiences, not dolls. Their average store visits are three hours long, party sales are booked months in advance and in-store events are sold out without promotion. The Dallas store has had such success that their doll hair salon was expanded to meet overwhelming demand.

How do they emotionally engage their customers?


A brand is much more than a name and logo.  It’s the experience the customer feels when doing business with the product/company, it’s what the customer expects from the product/company and most importantly it’s the feeling the customer takes with them when the experience is over. It makes them happy, it’s wonderfully consistent and the anticipation of the experience matches the outcome.

The American Girl was created in 1986 by Pleasant T. Rowland. Here is some background for those of you who are unclear on what exactly these things are. American Girl Dolls began as historical dolls based on fictional girls that existed during various times in American history. Each girl has a set of books that serve as their personal biography and a mini American history lesson. In addition to all the historical dolls, there are also “My American Girl” dolls that can be customized to look exactly like you (with matching outfits), which I think is kind of creepy—but again, I am a member of the boymom® club. The American Girl brand is a masterful blend of education and entertainment, all rooted in storytelling.

Molly McIntire (1944) was one of the first three Historical Characters of the American Girl Dolls, representing the World War II Era. Molly is prone to daydreaming and fanciful ideas. She is not very good at math and is afraid to swim underwater. Molly is a great tap dancer and misses her father very much—he is far away caring for wounded soldiers. She is a big schemer, often the ring leader when she and her friends make plans. Molly’s mom calls her a “chatterbox”. American Girl characterizes her as “lively” and “lovable”. –AmericanGirl.Wikia.com

Everyone wants to hear a story and to be part of an experience. A great story adds value and personality to a brand. It makes the product more approachable, friendly, real, and can make your brand stand out. Today’s customers aren’t just purchasing your product; they are purchasing an experience and the story behind the product.

What’s your brand story? Is it consistent? How do your customers feel when doing business with your brand?


Designing brand experiences isn’t about writing a script. It’s about setting the stage and allowing customers to participate in the story. One of the best ways to accomplish this is by creating emotionally engaging experiences that customers can discover for themselves and retell over and over again. The American Girl Boutique and Bistro has designed such a stage.

Disclaimer: I’m not making this stuff up!

As you enter the American Girl store, there are customized bistros with signature Treat Seats for visitors and their dolls. Yes, dolls are given a seat at the table, too. If anyone forgets her doll or doesn’t have one, they will provide them a loaner doll. They have thought of everything! You can receive a portrait of you with your doll and even take her to the salon for a haircut. And, if that wasn’t enough, they have a “hospital” that admits dolls in need of new limbs, a head, new eyes, or just a “wellness visit.” The patient is returned in a hospital gown with get-well balloons. Again, I am not making this stuff up!

So, let’s total up the experience. A $50 lunch, $15 hair styling, $25 photo session, a few new outfits at an average of $40 each, $150 for a new bedroom set, a $6.00 book, $50 for a new head, and just in-case you want to add a new doll to your collection, throw in $100 and you’re talking about a tab of several hundred dollars. The best part—you’ll gladly pay it and look forward to coming back. It is fun, entertaining, memorable and emotionally engaging—just like an amusement park.  Barbie has no chance here.

What does your stage look like? Are you setting yourself apart from the rest? Do your customers leave happy and fulfilled?


The American Girl brand anticipates the underlying, subconscious needs and wants of its consumers better than any competitor. It offers girls of all ages meaning, value, entertainment, friendly and caring service, and a sense of belonging. Every detail reinforces the brand—the colors, the patterns, even the words. All five senses are engaged during the experience and there is no disconnect along the way. They have even placed fixtures in the stores at varying heights so customers of all ages can interact with the products—birthday girl, mommy, grandma, and little sister. Even those easily spotted red American Girl shopping bags have their purpose—to create a longing in your heart to be toting the very same bag.

Customers that give a brand experience an extremely high satisfaction rating are 2.5 times more likely to repurchase from that brand than customers rating their overall satisfaction as average, according to new research from Accenture.  

Are you paying attention to every detail? Are there any disconnects in your customer’s experience? Are your customers extremely satisfied?

No matter what business you’re in, you can create experiences that are emotionally engaging, drive repeat business, and ultimately lifetime value. Experiences can take place at a physical location, via your website, social media, email, over the phone etc. Rethink how you emotionally engage customers and start creating memorable experiences that will create trust, value and something worth talking about.

Check out this short American Girl video to see the experience with your own eyes.

Do you have a story to share about emotional engagement? Do you have an American Girl customer experience to share?

We would love to hear from you!