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How authenticity sells: Lessons from The Canoe Man

Authentic guest experience with The Canoe Man
  1. What does authentic mean?

  2. Create the authentic experience

  3. How can you get the authentic experience right?


We talk a lot about experience here at Katapult. That’s because it’s super important to all of us. Research shows that people are spending more time and money on experiential activities and less on actual stuff, we even have a name for this new phenomena The Experience Economy. People value quality time, from LARPing to family days out, chilling in the countryside to riding the latest roller coasters. Whatever the format the experience has to be authentic.

What do we mean by authentic?

Authenticity is something that just feels right. It flows from the brand to the experience to the customer and back again. Authenticity is a true reflection of the brand, what it stands for and what it communicates.

A mudslide at Glastonbury is authentic but the same experience at Ascot? Probably not…

So, authenticity is also about being appropriate. What do we expect from this brand or venue? If the brand promises a fun-packed day but you spend 3 hours getting out of the car park is that authentic?

So, authenticity is also about the whole experience then. The pre-, during- and post-visit. If a resort promises a stress-free stay then sends you a complex pre-visit booking form, is that authentic experience?

That means authentic experience is:

  1. A true reflection of your values

  2. Appropriate for you and your customers

  3. The whole experience, delivered consistently

The Canoe Man - Starting a fire

Getting an authentic experience right

On our recent holiday we booked a ‘Swallows & Amazons’ family day with The Canoe Man. The experience entailed a short trip to a launch where we paddled in our family canoe on the Broads. We stopped off in a private wood, made a cuppa and ate lunch around a campfire, learned how to build fires and tried our hand at archery, before paddling back along the river.

What made it authentic?

The guides were totally in love with their jobs. They knew the river, the wildlife and the activities like the backs of their hands. They gave us oodles of knowledge and attention. Aaron and Sparky (yes, he did teach fire lighting!) were great with our kids. They knew exactly how to communicate, how to keep us safe and how to create a sense of wonder.

The activities totally matched the promise of an outdoor family adventure day. Our family really worked together to paddle and steer our canoe. The slight bit of competition in building and trying to light our fires with a single match added an extra edge, and of course, when they didn’t light, we were taught how to do it for real. And nothing beats the experience of using a composting loo in the middle of the woods!

Even when we had a glitch the experience was still engaging and fun. Our minibus back was a little late (rescuing some other would-be boaters as it turns out). Aaron took the opportunity to turn the wait into a foraging lesson! He did this because he had an authentic and real connection to his own brand, and so passed this onto us in an engaging and authentic experience.

The Canoe Man - A tree face

The values behind the experience

Afterwards, I spoke to Mark, The Canoe Man himself. He explained why he’d set up the business. Then it all made so much sense.

15 years ago he was in financial services and after a close personal friend died suddenly he asked himself if he was really happy.

“I didn’t want to have any regrets in my life” Mark explained.

He upped sticks and moved to the countryside to create his own authentic brand. And you can really tell it’s him through and through. Not only did he pick us up in the minibus and answer the phones, but he talked about his brand with passion and humanity.

Archery with The Canoe Man

Actions you can take to improve the authenticity of your guest experience

  1. If you’re not sure if your experience is authentic then try it out, or better yet ask us to come and guest audit for you. You would be amazed at what you see and feel when you do a mystery shop.

  2. Ask yourself, does it embody our brand values powerfully and consistently?

  3. Explore the guest experience as a journey – what is the experience before they arrive until after the guest has left?

  4. If you are still not sure, speak to us, we are the guest experience experts and we’re happy to share our insights with you.

About the author: Kelly is the Strategy & Development Director at Katapult – A Creative England, Top 50 Company that creates physical and digital guest experiences that amaze and engage your visitors.

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