8 Tips for Emotional Branding

How do you show someone the magic of a place without taking them there?

That’s the creative challenge we accepted this year when Crescent Communities charged us to help tell the story of Palmetto Bluff, an extraordinary community and recreational preserve on the South Carolina coast. 

We’re not the first marketers to try to articulate something indescribable — or the first to succeed at emotional branding.

Think about the iconic Harley-Davidson brand. Sure, they make great motorcycles. But the machines’ solid feel and unique sound aren’t what fuel people’s emotions. Some years ago, the company ran a great marketing campaign that featured a photo of a person waving at an unseen passerby from the seat of his Harley-Davidson. Did you ever pass a stranger on the highway and instantly know he was a brother? Well, the marketing folks at Harley-Davidson understood that’s a feeling their audience understands. A feeling that transcends a great engine or tires or style.

Of course, there’s more than one great motorcycle brand on the market. Just like there are thousands of beautiful places in the world. And it isn’t the hundred-year-old trees cloaked in Spanish moss or the bald eagle nests or the gas lamp-lit streets that give Palmetto Bluff its transformative power.

Instead, it’s the Bluff’s uncanny ability to tap into people’s deep-rooted passions — love for the land and beautiful moments and memories that never die. The magic of a place like Palmetto Bluff is more complex than the feeling you get walking along winding tidal creeks or watching the sun set over the May River. Their special brand of magic is authentic. It’s the dance of a fly fisherman and his rod or a great egret in a dusky sky. 

How can marketing convey magic like that? Here are eight emotional branding strategies that worked for Palmetto Bluff.

  1. Talk to the experts. Before we did anything else, we connected with devotees to hear what fuels their passion for Palmetto Bluff. We learned what they love about the place so we could talk to other people who yearn for some of the same things.
  2. Experience it. We understood we had to crawl inside the Palmetto Bluff brand to breathe life into it on the page and screen. In our many visits, we walked its secret forest trails and village streets. We toured the land with the conservancy experts and talked with the archeologist. We caught up with the sommelier. We passed time with the boat captains and placed our tripods in the mud just feet from where the alligators swam. We didn’t just learn about Palmetto Bluff. We talked it and tasted it and lived it.
  3. Be authentic. Search for the essential truth that makes something special. Build a deeper understanding of that truth. Then, broadcast it in a way that feels just as authentic as the product it’s selling. Because if your marketing reeks of an ad campaign, it’s a fail.
  4. Set out to be different. One of the worst mistakes a marketer can make is to take a single formula and try to force it on everything. We couldn’t start with the hallmarks of any previous campaign and apply them to Palmetto Bluff, because Palmetto Bluff isn’t like anything else.
  5. Let the product speak for itself. Recognize those times when you have something so amazing, the marketing just has to live up to real life. Palmetto Bluff is so magical on its own — such a perfect marriage of beautiful luxury and raw wilderness — it doesn’t need any spin. All it needs is a conversation starter. And for us, that starter consisted of four simple yet powerful words: “It never leaves you.”
  6. Know the differentiators. Palmetto Bluff’s commitment to conservation makes it a place unlike anywhere else. Their staff includes not just chefs and personal trainers but also environmental engineers and scientists and an archeologist. This commitment to the land shines through in the creative style of the campaign. It gets right to the heart of what makes emotional branding so effective.
  7. Tap into people’s passions. From sporting clays to racquet sports to a walk in the woods, Palmetto Bluff is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. Figure out what people want, and show that.
  8. Become a brand advocate. If you believe in what you’re marketing, your marketing will be more effective. This was a simple task for us, because we all fell in love with Palmetto Bluff.

It isn’t easy to demonstrate the magic of a place. But when a campaign succeeds in doing so, it touches nerves and hearts. It begins to build relationships with people who will become brand ambassadors, not just customers.

We’re honored we got the chance to tell this story — and now we’re diehard fans of Palmetto Bluff, too. Because it never leaves you. 

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