Building brands kids love love love

I’ve been writing about Martha Stewart as a brand for a nonfiction project. The American Marketing Association defines a brand as “a name, term, design,

symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers.”

Books are often part of the branding.

For girls, the unsurpassed branding wizard is American Girl Dolls. Three words every parent dreads. For the cost of two dolls and a cool bedroom set, you could make two car payments. Maybe three. (Check the web site here.)

Books are a key feature of the AGD strategy. Why? Because what parent, teacher, or librarian says don’t read age-appropriate books that explore periods in history.

AGD founders realized girls have been losing their taste for dolls. Instead of trying to build better dolls (this doll pees! this doll says I love you mommy!), they talked to girls. Turns out, most girls don’t want to play mommy with their dolls. They want cool, older dolls – dolls that are friends. Dolls that role model real-life girls.

(In fairness, the dolls are fantastic quality. The company knows the most important part of a doll is its hair – and AGD hair can be combed, twisted, and braided without turning into fuzz.)

And …

  • The dolls come with names and stories. They have fascinating backgrounds, and their own tastes in accessories and clothes. Girls learn their dolls’ stories by reading the book. Some best-selling dolls get a movie.
  • The dolls are limited, and they ultimately get retired. Anything with a shelf date prompts a sense of urgency for the purchase.
  • When a new doll is released, it’s released in public relations frenzy.
  • Staff treat the dolls like real people. The store features a salon. Staff curl, primp, and spray dolls’ hair. (Turns out, the spray is water.) They pierce the dolls’ ears. And if a doll has a flaw, or their hair oh no! falls out, they go to the doll hospital and are returned fixed, with a little hospital report.
  • To seal the deal, girls can buy outfits that match their dolls.

AGDs aren’t really dolls – they’re friends. Brand building occurs through word of mouth, tapping girls’ competitive spirit (who has the most? who has the new release?), fun catalogues, a web site, birthday parties at the store, and much, much more. The catalogue, by the way, is eagerly anticipated. My daughter calls it a “subscription” and can’t believe it’s free!

So back to the books. They open imagination’s door. Once girls know Caroline’s history, they build her future through play.

My almost-husband took my daughter to an AGD store as a bonding experience. They spent six hours in the store. How many kids would spend even two hours in a candy store?

And books are integral to the brand. So much so, they come with the doll for just $5 more, and that’s nothing compared to the $100 price tag for Addy or Ivy or Julie.

Few writers are brand builders. But we should study and learn.

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