When Katie McSavaney thinks of Bluffton, she thinks of the May River sandbar.
"You can go there with a group of friends and have no idea who is going to be on the sandbar -- you may not know anybody -- and at the end of the day, when the water is coming up, you might be jumping on somebody else's boat," said McSavaney, 24, who has lived in Bluffton a year after moving to the area from Charleston.
"Everybody is relaxed and welcoming. It's just a good time," she said. "You have kids running around without bathing suits on, and then you've got people dressed to the nines. It's a good mix where people blend together."
Bluffton is beginning the process of branding itself to establish its identity in the Lowcountry.
Researchers from the University of South Carolina and the University of South Carolina Beaufort have been collecting opinions of residents, business owners and tourists through "charettes" -- collaborative public sessions -- to assess how the town is perceived.
About 30 people gathered Tuesday for the third of four planned meetings. The last one will take place Wednesday.
For many at the meeting, the sandbar encapsulates what it means to experience Bluffton -- the pristine, timeless beauty of the river mixed with the rural, relaxed and caring nature of the people who give the community a welcoming, small town feel.
Other's spoke of the rhythm of Bluffton.
"Like the tides ... there seems to be a natural rhythm to Bluffton," said town planner Erin Schumacher.
During the day, the community is active -- with a crescendo of festivals and events as well as plenty of recreational offerings to explore its natural beauty, those at the meeting said.
At night, it's relaxed -- with a soothing, at times romantic, melody of kinship and fraternization in Old Town, they said.
Resident Loretta Novince enjoys Bluffton's "sense of discovery."
"There's a landscape of nooks and crannies where you can find little gems," she said. "... It gives you the opportunity to explore and discover different shops and historic sites."
It's a place where one can drive down the moss-lined road and find something new and intriguing, residents said.
"Bluffton shares in the rich reputation of our region, however, as we evolve into our future, we want others to know our culture, our business landscape, our attractions and our economy has its own identity," Mayor Lisa Sulka said in a news release. "... We want to honor our past as we create the vision of who we want to be as we evolve our identity, our economic opportunities and our reputation."
Town officials said the branding process is expected to be finished by the end of the year.
"This foundational research will reveal Bluffton's core values and characteristics," and paint a picture of opportunities for economic growth, said John Salazar, director of the Lowcountry and Resort Islands Tourism Institute at USCB.
Follow reporter Tom Barton at twitter.com/IPBG_Tom