Five minutes with Away's Jen Rubio

Jen Rubio is the Co-founder and Chief Brand Officer of Away, a global lifestyle brand designing thoughtful objects to make travelling more seamless. Before starting Away, Jen built her career as a branding, creative, and social media expert, redefining how customers and brands connect. Ahead of her appearance on stage at Cannes Lions 2019, we sat down to ask her some questions about her view on marketing and creativity.
In 2015, Jen was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list for Marketing and Advertising.

Away has been called a “challenger brand” and a “disruptor”. What unique practices do you encourage in your office and working environment to ensure the “disruptor” mentality remains strong?

For our team at Away, innovation is a mindset that’s threaded through the entire organisation. We don’t have an Innovation Team whose job it is to think of new ways to make travel more seamless for people - it’s something we’re all working towards. Being “innovative” or “disruptive” and challenging the status quo of what it means to be a brand today is something that our team is doing all the time. Whether by quickly coming up with a creative solution to a customer experience issue, developing new products that speak to the needs of different types of travellers, or launching our own pop-up hotel, we’re always coming up with new ways to do things a little differently than others have before.

We’ve built a culture that fosters an entrepreneurial spirit, and that gives people the space to do the best work of their lives. Our team has already proven that they’re up for the challenge, and I’m excited about what we have in store for the year (and decade) ahead.

Disruptor brands tend to have a unique approach towards product design - what does this look like for you at Away?

We wanted to create a brand that felt both familiar and fresh, so our logo and products were designed to be simple yet recognisable, and all of Away’s products and branding are created with a clean and minimal aesthetic. We know that everyone travels a bit differently, so we designed all of our products to be versatile enough to complement anyone’s personal style, while being deliberate about including thoughtful features that solve real problems people dealt with while traveling - like a compression pad to maximise how much you can fit inside and a built-in laundry bag.

"Being 'innovative' or 'disruptive' and challenging the status quo of what it means to be a brand today is something that our team is doing all the time."
Jen Rubio
The Away shop in London

You’ve been repeatedly complemented for your ingenious marketing ideas – which one are you most proud of? Which have been most effective?

We launched Away less than three years ago with one product, and today we’re building a global travel brand with a community of people all over the world. I’m so proud of that, and how we’ve been able to create a brand that’s synonymous with great travel, not just great luggage.

Positioning ourselves in that way is what’s allowed our “crazy” marketing ideas to actually feel really intuitive to our customers. Because we’ve always said that Away isn’t just about luggage, but about improving every part of the travel experience, we can do things that other luggage brands might not be able to pull off. Like Chez Away, the pop-up hotel we created during Paris Fashion Week in September 2017, and Terminal A: a pop-up airport we brought to life in the middle of Manhattan last summer.

Or through Here Magazine, our quarterly print and digital magazine that’s produced by our in-house media team. Our team recognised an opportunity to tell our story in a new way, and in a format that actually delivered real value to our community. We created a new type of travel magazine with content that wasn’t available anywhere else. It’s not traditional marketing - it’s storytelling that tells people who we are, what we stand for. We just closed Issue 06 and have had people like Jonathan Van Ness, Phoebe Robinson, and Rashida Jones on the cover. I’m really proud of how our media division has evolved, and excited to see what other creative means for storytelling they’ll come up with next.

"People today value experiences more than anything else, and they choose to shop from brands that create authentic, genuine experiences and reasons to engage."
Jen Rubio

Can you share insights on your approach to your brand strategy? You’ve built up a phenomenal following and community – what do you think you’re doing that is so different?

Before Away, luggage brands were talking about the features of their products (the zippers and the wheels), but none were talking about travel. Whether it’s through the pages of Here Magazine, our podcast, the stories we tell on social media or through our in-store programming, we’ve always set out to create a brand that inspires people to travel more, and to be more open to seeing the world and experiencing new places and cultures around them.

We’ve also always put our community at the heart of every decision we make, and our customers are constantly coming to Away to share their issues with the travel experience with the trust and belief that we’ll be able to solve them. We’ve focused on providing an unparalleled customer experience, and I think that relentless commitment to our community is one of the reasons we’ve been able to build such a strong following.

There are a lot of successful direct to consumer brands disrupting the markets at the moment – Peloton, Casper, yourselves, and Glossier for example. What do you think you and these other companies are doing differently to power their success?

The way people shop now is drastically different to how it was 10 or 20 years ago. People today value experiences more than anything else, and they choose to shop from brands that create authentic, genuine experiences and reasons to engage. It’s not enough to have a great product anymore - that’s just table stakes; people will either get a great product on Amazon, or they’ll seek out the brands that they have an emotional connection to.

One of Away’s biggest competitive advantages is our direct-to-consumer model, because we’re able to have a consistent relationship with every single customer. But it’s not just about owning the relationship, it’s about nurturing it. We’re listening to everything our customers have to say and letting their feedback be a guiding factor for what we tackle next.

Away offers a popular personalisation service for customers
"It’s not just about owning the relationship, it’s about nurturing it. We’re listening to everything our customers have to say and letting their feedback be a guiding factor for what we tackle next."
Jen Rubio

What’s 2019 got in store for Away?

We know that there’s so much that can be improved within the travel experience, whether it’s where you go, how you get there, or what you do once you arrive, and we think there’s a big opportunity for Away to be part of creating those solutions, while helping to frame how people think about travel more broadly.

In the year ahead, we’ll continue to expand our product line to help people build their personalised travel uniform from Away, open additional retail locations as community hubs that bring people together who love to travel as much as we do, expand into new markets to reach our customers wherever they might be, increase our social impact efforts, and more.

Jen Rubio was one of the first speakers confirmed for Cannes Lions 2019. You can check out who else will be joining her on stage here.