Far and AWAY: Creating patient-led movements to rise above the noise

I recently gifted an AWAY suitcase to my girlfriend. AWAY is one of the hottest companies in the world right now, hallmarked not just by the product — which is exceptional — but by how their other worldly emphasis on intangibles is paying them dividends upon dividends to their bottom line.

My experience with AWAY was so exceptional that not only do I feel convicted to write about it out of pure obligation to the world, but also because it taught me lessons that can be universally applied to any business.

As most lessons are best shared through stories, let’s get to telling it.

My Experience with AWAY.

The digital experience

My girlfriend Lesley has been wanting to purchase a new carry-on suitcase for a few months. She adored her other bag, but it was time for a change.

When I asked her why she was so drawn to AWAY, it was quite simple: AWAY seemed like a community she wanted to be a part of and of course, apparently their bags were supposed to be quite awesome (though neither her nor I really knew why). After interacting with AWAY digitally, it was easy for me to understand why this was so.

AWAY attracts you because it feels like a movement, of which the natural expression is to make great products that support it.

The key to note here is that the product is in the periphery, the movement is what matters.

The physical experience

When I learned that AWAY had a pop-up store in Austin, I knew we had to purchase it there.

The first thing I felt when entering the store was the perfect cohesiveness it had to AWAY’s digital story. The store expresses the hallmarks of AWAY: simple, calm, elegant.

Most importantly, it's a store that expresses its why; the movement of reimagining travel and equipping its customers to reimagine it with them. The physical layout of the store reinforces this ethos, as the suitcases are only slightly the focus point geographically.

The sales rep greets us and walks us through a product demo. After careful consideration, Lesley chooses the elegant white carry-on model and we proceed to purchase it.

And then, something amazing happens. 

They place her suitcase in a nylon bag, tie up the ropes of the bag to make a handle, and hand her her suitcase as if they were Santa Claus...

They put a suitcase in a bag — who puts a suitcase in a bag? 

The defining moment

We were staying with my parents that weekend. When my dad came home, I shared that we bought Lesley a new suitcase. Naturally, he wants to see it. So Lesley goes upstairs to retrieve her suitcase, still in its bag, so she can proudly show it off.

But guess what she has to do first, since her suitcase is wrapped in a bag?  She has to unwrap it. More accurately put, she gets to unwrap it. It's Christmas morning, brought to you by AWAY.

That simple detail ritualized what would otherwise be nothing special: a suitcase, bare and open to the world. And rituals have a singular purpose. To capture defining moments.

So what does this mean for your practice?

Invest in a superior product & experience.

Moments are the crown jewel of any experience; not just for companies and their customers, but for the human experience as a whole.

AWAY was not first to market in the luggage industry; in fact, they were probably the one thousandth to market, which makes their rampant success a valuable lesson for any business striving to compete in a saturated environment. AWAY founded their company on the understanding that in order to rise above the noise, they needed to transform a typically mundane, commoditized product into a story that moves people to become a part of it.

AWAY was convinced that finding the right piece of luggage should be much more than just splurging on something durable - it should rival the excitement of booking your airplane ticket. 

In a crowded and consumerized health care market, the same principle applies.  Like it or not, most of your competition delivers the same high-quality clinical care that you do (gasp!), just like TUMI delivers a high-quality suitcase as good as AWAY’s. As a result, you have to invest in all of the details that produce defining moments for your patients, which cannot be replicated by the competition. Obsessing over the look and feel of your clinic, prioritizing patient engagement as preeminent, and offering elegant, high-touch experiences all go a long way towards creating these memorable moments for your patients.

Cohesiveness is king.

The moment I stepped foot in the AWAY store with Lesley I knew where I was. Forget the store signs and product tags, this company has perfected the cohesiveness between their digital and physical footprints.

In therapy though, you have to follow the opposite logic. When it comes to your practice, your digital presence will have to follow your physical one. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is every aspect of my business - not just the clinical nuts and bolts - putting the same cohesive foot forward?
  • Am I evoking the same emotions through both my digital and physical presence?

Lastly, find the moments.

Each time Lesley tells the story of her AWAY purchase, she gets another moment and opportunity for celebration.

Can you say the same for the care you provide in your clinic? Think about what details in your practice you can decommodatize and convert into winning moments. It doesn’t need to be rocket science; in fact, you as a practice owner can come up with much better ideas than I can. That being said, maybe start with a couple of the basics:

  • Send a thank you note -- a simple email goes a long way -- to every new eval, no matter what.
  • Ensure patients have convenient access to their care plan and therapist between visits.
  • Develop a discharge ritual in the clinic to celebrate a patient’s road to recovery.
  • Think of a way to empower patients to self-identify with your own company.  A common way of doing this in many companies is making a name for its customers. For instance, Coda, a software that is reimagining documents, refers to its users as “Makers” who are part of the “Maker Generation”.  Do something similar with your patients to reinforce that being a patient of yours isn’t just receiving a service -- it’s being a part of your movement, whatever that may be.
  • Identify a singular enemy that you can rally your patients around as part of your brand messaging.  Drift, a conversational marketing software, experienced explosive growth by starting the #noforms movement, rallying its base around the concept that customers want to talk to you now instead of filling out a 10 field web form just to talk to a human. How can you rally your patients around a central theme that you’re taking a stand against?

Investing in your practice and your patients won’t simply drive a better business - it’ll drive better patient outcomes too. It will activate your existing patients to be your biggest cheerleaders and motivate them to publish articles like this one. Because, just like me with AWAY, they can’t help but share them with the world.

What will be your first step towards creating winning moments in your practice?