If you ask anyone in marketing how to scale a startup quickly right now, the first thing they’ll tell you is to focus on brand partnerships – and fast. Seriously, nothing comes close to brand partnerships when it comes to growing a customer base that’s ready and primed for what you have to offer, and nobody is nailing it quite like Away.
The direct-to-consumer luggage company bet big on leveraging relationships with likeminded brands when it launched early last year. Now, almost two years in, and $31million in seed funding later, they have some major collaborations under their belt. For up was a line of millennial pink luggage with Poppy Jamie and Suki Waterhouse, followed by collaborations with Minions, West Elm, Madewell, model Devon Aoki and actress Rashida Jones this year alone.
24-year old Emma Bates is the force behind the strategy. Before joining the business as Head of Global Marketing and Operations, she’d already made a name for herself in London as a social media influencer and consulting, helping brands cultivate engaging communities.
Like with anything, there are major dos and don’t’s when it comes to choosing who to collaborate with and when so we quizzed Emma on the everything you should know. You’re welcome.
My friends and I launched The Un-Idle Collective in January with the goal of cultivating activism through education and encouraging people to get outside of their immediate circles and understand what else is going on in the world. In the short time we’ve be around, we’ve been lucky enough to work with leaders and non-profits across a number of sectors to ensure that our communities have access to accurate information.
Before joining Away, I was consulting and mostly gained new clients through word of mouth and networking—my generation is so lucky to have access to so many different channels so I make sure to take full advantage of that. On a day to day basis, I was mainly focused on building community through brand marketing activations, content marketing and forming strong relationships with influencers and photographers that made sense to partner with.
I think there are a number of benefits to hiring external consultants, especially when companies are just getting started and looking to expand. It can be extremely beneficial (and refreshing) to have an external consultant give their unbiased perspective to an idea or strategy. When you’re in the midst of fast growth, it can be helpful to have an ‘outsider’ opinion.
I worked across the board with a number of different start-ups, from tech to fashion. There were definitely a number of significant takeaways however I think the biggest learnings for me were recognizing the importance of building a brand’s community and how priceless customer feedback can be.
The most common mistake made in community building is a lack of authenticity. It’s so important for brands to align with the right people and stick to their brand vision, otherwise customers may start to feel a disconnect and move on to a new brand. There’s a number of ways to avoid this, but a Community Manager and strong Customer Experience team are definitely key!
While consulting, I was forced to learn how to balance a bunch of projects at once and manage my time effectively. It was also a great crash course in networking and forming valuable partnerships in a variety of areas. Brand partnerships are a huge part of what I currently do at Away so the experience I gained previously has been invaluable over the last year.
ON MAKING AN UNSEXY PRODUCT CATEGORY FEEL FRESH
Our co-founder and creative director, Jen Rubio, has done an amazing job bringing her vision to life and creating game-changing products. With a focus on beautiful design, thoughtful branding (storytelling!) and an unbeatable lifetime warranty, we’ve been able to turn luggage into a more glamorous item. Really what we put it down to is extreme attention to detail, which Jen has instilled in all of us.
HOW HER ROLE AT AWAY HAS EVOLVED SINCE SHE STARTED & THE REALITY OF WORKING FOR SUCH A FAST-GROWING COMPANY
I was initially brought on to head the opening of our London pop-up, then transitioned over to our NY HQ to focus on partnerships. My current role at Away is all about global marketing partnerships and initiatives. No day looks the same.
Working at a startup definitely isn’t for everyone—it requires a lot of flexibility and adaptability. But, for people who find they thrive in a dynamic environment, you have the opportunity to grow in your role very quickly and work cross-functionally with other departments to execute a number of different projects.
Since Away was still a fairly new brand when I came on board to open to London pop-up, I knew it was crucial to partner with local, like-minded brands to get the surrounding community engaged. One of my favorite London events was one we hosted with Suitcase Magazine. We rented a beautiful warehouse apartment in Shoreditch and decorated it beautifully. We invited a combination of Suitcase and Away friends to enjoy an evening of great conversation and tap into the local community!
Since joining the team in NY, my favorite project has been working on our Pop & Suki Pink limited edition collaboration. It was our very first collaboration and we were overwhelmed by the positive feedback we received.
THE STRATEGY BEHIND THEIR EVENTS & BRAND PARTNERSHIPS
When deciding whether to move forward with an idea or not, we make sure it’s in line with our strategy and the markets we’d like to reach. That sometimes means passing on opportunities if they don’t seem like a perfect brand fit for us or if the timing isn’t right.
We aim to offer events that fully immerse customers in the Away brand. Whether an event is targeting potential new customers or current customers, we make sure that everyone leaves feeling like they have a strong understanding of our mission of making modern travel better. We want our customers to experience everything Away stands for—which is so much more than just luggage. That’s why we made the conscious decision to bring in third party travel items from some of our favorite brands, like shampoo, books, bath robes, the list goes on. We also partner with like-minded brands to host in-store events and activations, which has proven to be so valuable for us since it allows us to connect with our community on a deeper level.
We have an amazing in-house growth marketing and consumer insights teams whose research helps guide us in the right direction in terms of who we partner with, what new products we introduce, and new channels we introduce to our community. Really what it boils down to is listening to and keeping our customers happy—we take their feedback very seriously.
HER TOP TIP FOR CONVERTING INSTAGRAM FOLLOWERS INTO CUSTOMERS
Create and post content that is organic to your brand message. Instagram provides the perfect tool to display a visual representation of your brand. It’s important to stay true to that as you grow, to maintain your existing customer base as well as attract new customers. For Away, posting a combination of product and lifestyle imagery on Instagram has worked best to build a visual reference, launch new products and grow our customer base, leading directly to conversions.