Authenticity Now: Moving Beyond the Buzzword

Content Director
Published 1/5/16
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We knew "authenticity" was an overused word, but experts at The Future Laboratory recently said it’s not just becoming meaningless – using the word can backfire and come across as dishonest.

Chris Sanderson, co-founder of The Future Laboratory (which has worked with brands like Airbnb, Condé Nast and Starwood Hotels and Resorts) says it like this: “The authenticity bubble is about to burst.”

With so many destinations claiming to be authentic and offering authentic experiences, it makes sense that consumers would become numb to the idea, get annoyed and feel sold to. 

So is authenticity dead? In my opinion, no – but it has moved from buzzword to basic expectation. Think of the color TV: You just assume your hotel room will have one, and if you see it advertised it makes you go “hmmmm.” In the 1950s, automatic was the word – ads touted exciting automatic dishwashers, automatic washing machines, even automatic toasters! Over time, automatic became old news, and it dropped out of conversation (and ad copy). Of course, color TVs and automatic appliances are still around, but we talk about them differently. 

The same thing is happening with the idea of authenticity. Our content doesn’t need to claim authenticity – it just needs to be authentic.

Here’s how to create authentic content without using the word “authentic:” 

Reflect the destination accurately

Whenever possible, hire local writers who know and appreciate the destination. Consider highlighting the less-polished side of things (no one does this better than Anthony Bourdain) – it’s like a meal that loses points on presentation but wins them back in taste. Also, use discretion when manipulating photos. There’s a difference between PhotoShop work to improve quality and misrepresenting a destination to make the sand whiter or the sky neon.

Elevate the “now”

Talk about what’s happening now. Not just events and festivals, but larger trends or movements at work – maybe a culinary renaissance or a sports winning streak. Think timely, not timeless.

Avoid these G’s: general, generic, glorified

(I mean general as in broad; generic as in boring; and glorified as in hyped and hollow.) General overview-style copy does have its place, but in most cases, choosing specific detail over the broad strokes can make the copy more powerful and more useful to the reader. Generic copy doesn’t get noticed – take those rich details, apply strong verbs, layer on your best brand voice and make that copy sing. And don’t glorify or hype a place or experience; readers could sense fakeness and lose trust.

Listen to your local community

Good marketers listen to their target audience, but good destination marketers must also listen to their local community. If you’re promoting a great local music scene, get out there and listen. Talk to or interview the band. Get deeper into the community – even if it’s not something you’d ordinarily do – to uncover new angles and ideas.

All destinations have authentic elements and experiences, so move beyond that idea to differentiate your destination and intrigue visitors.