It’s very hard to make authenticity scale, because size seems to destroy authenticity.
Just one example is the style of “English landscape gardening” that emerged in the early 18th century and spread all across Europe. With its huge trees and wildflower meadows, it was a countermovement to the formal symmetrical jardin à la française of the 17th century as the principal gardening style, which was considered to be inauthentic. Of course, with trying to be more authentic, the English garden and its architects ended up as artificial as the French gardeners before them.
Most modern brands strive to be authentic. Authenticity needs to be built on true narratives and marketers are asked to hone their storytelling skills, tying growth and success back to their authentic origins. Still, the same problem exists: The more an authentic core gets commercially embraced, the less authentic it feels.
It’s likely that every successful rock musician knows this phenomenon. As long as their band tours the small clubs, they’re considered really authentic by a small, elite audience. But once they land a big hit and more people want access to them and their music, they face pressure to constantly replicate what made them so authentic in the beginning, and soon someone will start calling them a sell-out.
In the world of travel, digital transformation has evolved the concept of authenticity in two ways.
The first plays off of the idea that people are their most authentic selves while at home. Travel therefore means extending the feeling of “home” to remote and unfamiliar places. Uber has a Spotify integration so you can feel at home by playing your favorite music when picked up for a ride, and thanks to services like Yelp and Foursquare, it’s never too difficult to satisfy a craving for Thai food. It has become very easy for people to travel without ever leaving their comfort zone. They can live and express their authentic selves wherever they go.
Cars in particular play an important role in this concept. They provide a permanent and accessible mobile extension of one’s home. With self-driving autonomous cars on the horizon, there is a huge opportunity not just for the automotive industry to define this environment as a place of personal self-expression. When the wheel disappears from the driving space, as some say will happen by 2020, the more important it will be to explore how non-drivers interact with their vehicles. Alexander Lautz, a digital executive at Deutsche Telekom, calls it “the change from a vehicle that brings you from A to B in an environment where you can be entertained.” Deutsche Telekom, like many other companies, are invested in exploring how tomorrow’s on-road entertainment will work.
On the other hand, digital has also had the exact opposite effect on authenticity and travelling. It has made even the most remote parts of our world visible and accessible. We now have physical access to original, unscaled authentic experiences formerly out of reach.
“Voluntourism” is a recent trend that represents this new access to authenticity. Startups like Volunteer World offer a marketplace that matches organizations in need of volunteers and funding with travelers who are willing to offer both. Initiatives like this offer authentic offline experiences, enabled by digital.