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No Product Ready at Launch? Content to the Rescue (B2C CMY Finalist)

Editor’s note: We’re sharing insights from Content Marketer of the Year finalists on the blog before we announce the winner at Content Marketing World in September. This is the first year we will name a Content Marketer of the Year in two categories – B2B and B2C.

How does a company launch without products and still manage to hit $12 million in sales in its first year? You guessed it: a brilliant content strategy.

Today, that company, venture capital-funded Away, has sold more than a million pieces of luggage and is valued at more than $1 billion.

Jen Rubio, Away co-founder and chief brand officer, leads the empathetic, audience-first approach to business building. Her work at the company landed Jen a spot on the 2019 B2C Content Marketer of the Year finalist list.

Audience-first business-building leads with #content at @away. @jennifer #CMWorld Click To Tweet

Why she caught our eye: Jen offered a glimpse into the philosophy that propelled the company into rarefied air at the top of the consumer brand pyramid in a Yahoo Finance interview. “We found a way to build a brand that emotionally resonates with people and really connects with them,” she said. “Where before, luggage brands were just selling bags, and I don’t think that’s what consumers are looking for today.”

It’s no surprise Jen and the Away team have their finger on the pulse of what consumers want. In the company’s early days, they surveyed 800 people to find out what they wanted from a suitcase (durable, easy to pull, and easy to carry), according to the Yahoo Finance story.

But Jen and her co-founder, Away CEO Steph Korey, also thought about their own travel experiences. In fact, the two credit a broken suitcase on one of Jen’s trips as the catalyst for the idea behind Away. But Jen never lost sight of the fact that it’s the trip, not the suitcase, that people get excited about. “We didn’t get into this because of an obsession with luggage but because of an obsession with travel,” she told Forbes.

Jen’s path to leveraging the obsession she shares with a community filled with customers, observers, and active admirers holds many lessons for content marketers.

Pay for content, get free product

Today the global Away brand is known for customer-focused products that help create great travel experiences. The direct-to-consumer business is known for its unique buying experience tailored to millennial consumers. The sleek, well-designed luggage pieces combine function and style at accessible prices and have caught the attention of celebrities, the fashion industry, and Instagrammers by appealing to travelers ready for their next adventure.

But in 2015, when the first production run of suitcases hit a delay and wouldn’t be ready by the holidays, Jen turned the problem into an opportunity. Away created a beautiful hardbound book that came with a gift card for a suitcase that would be available after the holidays.

The book, The Places We Return To, served as an early promotional piece, featuring nearly 40 high-profile travel photographers, writers, and other creatives talking about their favorite destinations. Instead of paying contributors, the brand gave them a gift card for a suitcase.


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Today we launch The Places We Return To, a collection of travel memories from our friends around the world. #travelaway

A post shared by Away (@away) on

The book included beautiful stories that helped the company build a community of trendy globetrotters and other potential customers interested in travel content.

The 1,200 copies of the book sold out. Everybody who bought the book, which came with the gift card, essentially bought a suitcase.

Everybody who bought a book from @Away, which came with a gift card, essentially bought a suitcase, says @jennifer. Click To Tweet

Focus on the experience

Away’s success owes a lot to its engaging and powerful content. Jen and the team focus on aspirational content and storytelling through the online (free) and print ($10/quarterly issue) Here Magazine. The beautifully designed travel publication celebrates people and places by using travel journals, photo essays, interviews, and city guides to tell personal, honest, and compassionate travel stories.

You hear the emphasis on the travel experience in nearly every line on the publication’s website, starting with the mission statement on its About page:

“Here Magazine tells compelling, thoughtful, and unique travel stories through the lens of local, creative, and influential people.

“We focus on people because they are the pulse of a place, defining the culture, and creating connections worth sharing. Whether about an art collective in the Caribbean or a hip-hop star in Vienna, each travel journal, photo essay, interview, and city guide is a window into the way we see the world.

“Published by Away, a global lifestyle brand designing thoughtful objects to make traveling more seamless, Here celebrates personal, honest, and inclusive travel storytelling. Get the magazine in print, online, and sign up for our newsletter to get it in your inbox, too. We’re Here for you, wherever you are.”

Unlike traditional luggage companies, Away steers away from talking about product-focused features and the perceived luxury of the items. Instead, its content has made it a trusted source for travel information, trends, insights, and inspiration.

Let your customers sell the product

As former head of social media at Warby Parker, Jen understands how to harness the power of online communities.

Instagram enables the brand to explore visual storytelling and interact with consumers directly. It also provides a wealth of user-generated content. Some of the company’s highest-performing posts on the platform are photos posted by Away customers with the hashtag #awaytravel.

Away thanks each poster and tags them in the caption. It also features some reader posts in its This Week You… series of Instagram Stories.

Each #Instagram poster is thanked by @Away and is tagged in the caption, says @carlajohnson. #CMWorld Click To Tweet

This approach has built an active and engaged community of 117,000 followers. The beautifully curated images generate thousands of “likes” and hundreds of comments.

Be ready for change

Today, all Away brand channels showcase thoughtful and authentic content designed to get people excited about the experiences a suitcase makes possible.

In the future, the bold team plans to further evolve its content strategy by finding new ways to amplify the voices of the Away community. Ultimately, Jen and crew look to customer feedback and response to develop (and sometimes pivot) their strategies.

.@Jennifer & @away team look to customer feedback to develop (& sometimes pivot) their strategies. @carlajohnson Click To Tweet

That means Jen and team continuously assess, pilot, and implement new platforms, partners, and technologies. They’ve already experimented with a podcast, celebrity partnerships, and a pop-up hotel (Chez Away) in Paris during Fashion Week, and expansions of the brand are to include wellness products and travel apparel, according to Forbes.

No matter what direction Jen and the company pursue, share-worthy content is sure to result.

Be among the first to learn the 2019 Content Marketers of the Year – the opening act to Scott Stratten and Henry Rollins’ keynote presentations. Register today for Content Marketing World Sept. 3-6, using code CMIBLOG100 to save $100. 

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute