Marcel Pagnol’s Provencal tragedy, Jean de Florette, tells the story of a Parisian who inherits land that his covetous neighbours, the Soubeyrans, had expected would be theirs. What confused the Soubeyrans was that the sophisticated, book-learned Parisian, one of literature’s first organic farmers, planned to work with the land rather than against it, a method that would produce high yields of native crops without artificial intervention. Nature would do the work. The word he reached for to describe this, naturally enough, was authentic.
Jean’s quest for authenticity isn’t so very different from the quest for truth and honesty we hear so much about today. Unpack the marketing baggage, strip away the accreted layers of theory, and it’s not difficult to see why authenticity has risen to the top of what we seek from a brand, whether it’s a high-street supermarket or a luxury hotel. As young Soubeyran might have asked, what is it? Where do you get it? And what does it look like?
More than anything, authenticity is about the relationship between things rather than the thing itself. Today’s luxury consumers are interested in more than what’s cooking in the kitchen; increasingly, people want to know about the provenance of the fare. The waiting staff who can tell a guest how far the food has travelled, or why this particular local speciality is so highly prized, is giving guests a whole view of where they are, one that goes beyond the restaurant doors.
The message matters, but so does the voice that delivers it. An authentic voice is inflected, unscripted, and sincere; in any setting, this is how we know we are being told the truth. Whilst it is important to meet guests’ expectations that staff will be articulate and polite, it matters just as much that guests see that staff are fully engaged. A hotel’s staff makes up the hotel’s voice, and is the one that will be remembered.
This conversation is what powers every organisation’s presence on social media, a gift of an opportunity to give a brand or a name a human scale, whether that brand is a globally recognised presence or a one-of-a-kind boutique hotel. For all that, there are traps for the unwary. An active presence on social media is an opportunity to loosen the shackles of corporate language, but if the tone is at odds with the identity of the brand, the result can be a puzzling discord at best, powerfully – and lastingly – alienating at worst. In the rumpus-room of social media, it pays to remember that authenticity is also consistent, and tells a story that makes sense.
The essence of authenticity is the story a luxury hotel or brand tells its customers, which means the basic principles of story-telling apply. If we are to believe in the story we’re being told, characters do not step out of role but fully inhabit the space they are in. Only the most uncritical reader – a rare breed – will stick with a story that drops its narrative stitches from one chapter to the next. The good news about authenticity is that it’s already there. It doesn’t entail a costly exercise in rebranding, minting a new logo, or root-and-branch refits. It is, quite simply, the truth of the hotel, how that truth is told, and being sure that everyone who tells it believes in it.