#NRF2020: How American Girl and Drybar engage customers using micro experiences

At NRF Big Show in New York City on January 14, Drybar CMO Sarah Hoffman and senior director of global creative services at American Girl, Barbara Carlson, discussed how they serve their customers by offering services authentic to the brand, while staying relevant and engaging to the consumer.

A micro experience was defined by session moderator Robyn Novak, VP and managing creative director at FRCH Nelson as: “a small-format, in-store activation that engages consumers in a meaningful brand extension that cannot be replicated online.” The prevalence of micro experiences represents the changing retail landscape, the rise of experimentation and the shift in the role of the traditional store. To increase the chance of success, data is needed to support the initiatives.

Being authentic is at the core of what American Girl does, explained Carlson. “We develop experiences with ‘the girl’ as core,” said Carlson, referring to its target customer. “Anything we do needs to be relevant, immersive and engaging to the girl and authentic to our core narrative and storytelling.”

Drybar, explained Hoffman, uses micro experiences as an extension of the brand to deliver on its brand promise “to bring happiness and confidence to women anywhere. Our strategy is to replicate the experience of our dry bars and make them available and accessible to the customer wherever she is.”

The premium blow dry bar specialist also forms partnerships with retailers to deploy pop-ups in places like Sephora, H&M and American Express lounges. “This allows us to connect with our customer between her usual Drybar appointments and also enables us to reach people we don’t normally touch. This is especially important to increase our international audience and build our data.”

Drybar has a lot of opportunities for partnerships and creating micro experiences but Hoffman insists Drybar is regimented about ensuring the opportunity is relevant to both the brand and the customer, enabled by the company’s data.

Data, continued Hoffman, is a big priority in Drybar’s marketing strategy. “We put significant focus on building out the data of our customers, including her interactions [with us], her hair, styling and product preferences and even lifestyle and behavioural data.” This data allows Drybar to create more personal digital communication “and solve our customers’ unique haircare challenges.”

This data and customer analysis enables Drybar to market to its customers with more relevance. For example, they send booking reminders, inform customers of their nearest Drybar when they are travelling or the closest one to the gym they go to.

American Girl does not think about size and scalability when creating a new micro experience. “That is something that just flows out of the experience,” said Carlson, explaining that it’s not built into the original blue print. “Everything we develop is intending to enhance the [customer’s] relationship with their ‘friend’”, the terminology which Carlson uses to describe the dolls.

“We find that our core product offering – doll play – is still fairly analogue. Parents and kids are looking for ways to enhance play with their dolls. However, digital plays a role in helping ease the path to purchase. “It makes it a simpler and easier process for parents – online booking and social sharing. That’s how we use digital in the strongest way.

“Digital and data will play a role [in American Girl] going forward, but it has to be authentic and used in a way that is true to brand,” explained Carlson. “It is unlikely that we’ll go heavily digital in-store. We have to focus on at consumer is looking for.”

Today’s consumer has so many choices so strategies around loyalty and engagement are key, concluded Drybar’s Hoffman. “Ultimately, it has to be a balance of art and science.”