I spent most of my corporate communication career focused on employee communication, where the return on investment was often larger than for marketing or public relations. How so, you ask? The answer is that the most credible, knowledgeable and enthusiastic spokespersons for your company are your employees (of course, assuming you treat them right).
One golf community in South Carolina understands this. Keowee Key is a mature golf community beside a clean lake that has gone under the radar for years, much of that owing to a rather quiet approach to marketing. Even a few years into my work with couples searching for a golf community home, I had never heard of Keowee Key. It was only during a search in behalf of a couple looking for a Carolina lake home that a search with the keyword “Keowee” surfaced Keowee Key. I did some research, later paid a visit, and was impressed especially at the extremely reasonable prices for real estate. That was more than 10 years ago and, even today, you can purchase a waterfront lot at Keowee Key for as little as $60,000. You won’t find many of those in the Southeast.
What Keowee Key lacks in advertising breadth it makes up for in smart, targeted messaging. Homeowners’ Associations are particularly conservative when it comes to spending, especially spending on marketing. Christine deVlaming has led the marketing effort at Keowee Key since 2015, and because she reports to the community’s Homeowners’ Association, she has to make some convincing arguments when it comes to budget. Indeed, when I consider the process of budgeting at any golf community, I am reminded of what a colleague once told me about fighting for money at the university where I worked after my corporate career: “The battles are so fierce because the stakes are so small.”
deVlaming is too much of a professional to even hint that is the case at Keowee Key. But from the evidence, the community’s marketing has done a lot with a little. Take, for example, the email I received recently from Keowee Key, inviting me to take advantage of their “discovery package.” It accompanied a video titled “Indian Summer Golf at Keowee Key.” The discovery package, priced at $349 for 3 days and 2 nights of lodging on site, two rounds of golf and a complimentary dinner in the clubhouse, was enticing and, always trying to put myself in the shoes of my clients looking for a golf community, I thought, “Maybe I should look at the video.” Most of these videos from golf communities make me groan with their unremitting references to “paradise,” “championship golf” and “the best people anywhere.”
The four-minute clip is hosted by Rion Groomes, director of golf, and while much of what comes out of his mouth – “no place like Keowee Key,” “people here are great” – is marketing hyperbole, he cites his experience elsewhere which makes the rest of what he says a little more credible than typical golf community website palaver. He also shares some key information (no pun intended) about course conditions, the effects of the pandemic and some of the changes they have made to accommodate Covid. (Note: Normal number of rounds in August is 3,000; this past August it was 4,500.)
deVlaming told me that she has developed an internal communications plan for Keowee Key this fall, she has sent out one of these email blasts per week for the last four weeks and has already covered boating (after all the docks in the community were refreshed), golf and the clubhouse. She says the fitness center for the community is on deck for a video blast.
Mindful that her audience is not just potential residents but also those who can influence them, deVlaming shares all the email blasts with local Realtors (and me). This is even more important now since Covid keeps local real estate agents and their clients in separate cars during drive throughs. Having explanations on video of the community’s amenities makes it easier for the agents to describe Keowee Key’s attractions.
Customers are beating a path to Keowee Key lately, producing multiple bids on homes for sale, some selling for higher than asking price. The historical “normal” inventory level of homes for sale is 100; in recent weeks, the level has been just three to five.
“September was absolutely on fire here,” deVlaming says of traffic to the community and the number of home sales, adding “maybe it was the [upcoming] election.” (There are rules at Keowee Key against signage of any kind on properties, and that includes political, as well as for-sale signs.)
Quiet. Pollution free. No political controversies. Employees who take their jobs seriously. And marketing that spends homeowners’ money wisely. Not many better messages than that.