TC Marketing Firms Talk Trends, Challenges and Top Projects

What makes a logo stand out? A brand sing? A marketing strategy attract new customers? All good questions that can be answered by a savvy branding pro or design guru. So this month the TCBN did just that – picking the creative brains behind five Traverse City-based agencies to learn about trends, challenges for the industry and projects that stood out in 2016.


Graphic design and branding studio founded by Jennifer Lake:

New accounts in 2016: We launched several new brands around the region, including Iron Fish Distillery, Mari Vineyards and Element Wealth Management. We also rebranded Benjamin Twiggs and the Wilson Kester law firm. Outside of northern Michigan, we added clients from southern Michigan and a film production company, Trigger Creative, from Brooklyn, New York.

Project most proud of in the last year: It’s always hard to pick just one, as we’ve had wonderful clients for whom we’ve developed some of our best creative work this year. We recently rebranded Frauenthal Center in downtown Muskegon. Housing one of Michigan’s most ornate and historic theatres, we positioned Frauenthal Center as the heart of the community for entertainment and event hosting. The refresh included a new identity, brand messaging, season brochures, website design, signage and more. It is colorful, alive and so much fun!

Trend watch: In terms of visuals, we will see more movement in online graphics. From live video streams to animated posts, content will continue to come to life. Cinemagraphs, which are still photos with single minor movements, are becoming more popular. These images are often saved as GIFs on websites and social media platforms, and create a subtle movement that captures attention. There’s an app for it now, too!

Challenges in the industry: We continue to see the challenge of small companies having the time or budget to create content for social media. Often times we recommend focusing on one platform that targets the audience – then do it well. An audience might be more connected on Instagram versus Facebook. Also, take the time to make a plan for the year and schedule out the posts ahead of time (sales, event highlights, holidays). Then you can add in new posts on the fly. Whoever posts for your business, make sure they understand your brand style, tone and voice. There should be a consistency to your brand presence online.

A recent national marketing campaign that caught your eye: We like some of the engaging campaigns on social media, especially brands that inspire us. National Geographic has done an incredible job of engaging people in the new media with hashtags and Instagram contests (#wanderlustcontest). Headspace brings us tips and reminders to get off our phones and be in the moment. Like these, campaigns that connect with us at the core are always a win in our minds (and hearts).


Creative services firm founded by Karl Bastian:

New accounts in 2016: Home Builders Association of the Grand Traverse Area, Advanced Protein Solution, InTerra Nutraceuticals and 186networks

Project most proud of in the last year: The ongoing billboard campaign for Maxbauer Market. The campaign is two years old and the client continues to see the benefits of consistently engaging its audience with fresh, sometimes irreverent communications.

Trend watch: While social and digital media continue to dominate, we still see results from some traditional media, especially direct mail. You can be very effective (and creative) when your audience is highly targeted.

Challenges in the industry: Both locally and regionally, clients want more “bang” for their marketing dollars. You have to be both strategic and creative in your approach.

A recent national marketing campaign that caught your eye: Nothing really stood out this year. The media was so dominated by politics that advertising seemed to fade into the background. On one note, I did like the Bernie Sanders “America” spot, which used the song from Simon & Garfunkel. Very poignant.


Branding and graphic design firm founded by Eric Campbell:

New accounts in 2016: We completed a brand refresh for Oryana Community Co-op. Along with a minor update to the original logo to make it fresher and more modern, the project included establishing a new voice and tone for Oryana’s marketing, new brand standards and new brand hierarchy (Café, Wellness, etc.). We have also been working with Allen-Kent Photography to build a photo library of Oryana’s local producers/suppliers for use in their marketing. Implementation of the new branding will continue to take place throughout 2017. Other notable new projects/accounts include: The Shrub Soda Company, Big Dipper Cookie Dough Co., Dynamo Metrics (Detroit), Nitrology Nitrogen Ice Cream Food Truck, Northwest Carpentry, and the Torch (Lake) Conservation Center.

Project most proud of in the last year: There are three projects that stand out for different reasons:
• For campaign performance: The Center for Plastic Surgery’s “Aesthetics Unwrapped” Holiday Open House, now in its sixth year, set another record this year for sales and attendance. We attribute the success to introducing even more to the media mix, including TV, outdoor and Pandora Radio.
• For entrepreneurial spirit: We’ve been the design lead for local entrepreneur Austin Grosser’s two start-up businesses: The Big Dipper Dough Company and Nitrology Nitrogen Ice Cream Food Truck. The 21-year-old’s entrepreneurial spirit, drive and attitude are contagious.
• For community: Dynamo Metrics is a Detroit-based big data analytics company that helps quantify and predict governmental policy choices for urban blighted areas. Their tools and services are game changing for combating blight and poverty for city planners nationwide. We are proud to have helped them define, craft and launch their brand identity this year for their first major industry tradeshow presence.

Trend watch: Successful start-ups are once again realizing the importance of working with design/marketing experts to create and design well-executed brand identity and marketing programs. And the smart companies are involving designers earlier in the process, resulting in better products, services and consumer experiences. Social media continues to be popular as consumers seek a two-way conversation with the brands they champion. Digital advertising will continue its growth because it is quantifiable, enables tracking, and presents the ability to hyper-target customers based on customer demographics and psychographics. Consumers are yearning for unique, one-off, custom and collaborative product offerings. Fashion, the arts, architecture and exposure to globalization will continue to drive design trends and marketing decisions for 2017.

Challenges in the industry: Design is becoming increasingly democratic and D.I.Y. With websites like Squarespace, Tailor Brands (logo design by algorithm), and Moo, “everyone” is a designer. Too often, however, the resulting output is impersonal, homogenized and soulless. And savvy consumers can sense that. These services, however, erode at our profession and our ability to charge fairly for the value that we truly add to client success. Further, the Traverse City region is an anomaly in that the market often doesn’t bear a fair rate for the professional services provided by our industry. There’s no consensus or organization locally to offer guidance on fairly pricing projects to newcomers of our industry. As a result, bids vary wildly and the industry suffers as a whole. A $5,000 project in Traverse City might net five-to-ten times that for a similar project in a market like Grand Rapids.

A recent national marketing campaign that caught your eye: Nationally, Target advertising, in-house branding, and store environmental design continues to stay fresh, relevant and on-point. Locally, the Maxbauer outdoor boards are always entertaining and funny.


Full-service marketing firm owned by Marsha Stratton:

New accounts in 2016: Maple River Direct, Kitchen Choreography, Flood Fighters, K.A. Construction, Kopy Sales, Moeller Builders and Events North.

Project most proud of in the last year: We love working with the team at Traverse City State Bank on brand building via the BATA bus designs. It is really fun to create the concept, obtain props, art direct the photo shoot and see the finished project all over town on the BATA bus wraps.

Trend watch: We have added a larger social media component to most all of our customers’ media mix. Working on email campaigns, re-targeting campaigns or geo-targeting makes good sense for some of our clients’ initiatives. Adding video to websites is another trend we see that helps with SEO along with the means in which many people prefer to get their information. All sites and outbound pushes are being built mobile -riendly and that will continue to be the trend.

Challenges in the industry: I think all businesses strive to have increased focus on customer experience. Customer experience is the heart of marketing for all businesses. Today’s businesses (at least the successful ones) have embraced customer-centric philosophies that are measurable. I think we can expect business objectives to tie back profit, revenue, customer retention, and satisfaction to their marketing initiatives.

A recent national marketing campaign that caught your eye: The recent TV campaign by the group of merchants TJ Maxx, Marshalls and Home Goods,“Not Open On Thanksgiving.” I thought their messaging was unique, focusing on the holiday (not shopping) and that staff should be with their families during the holidays … and that they always have low prices so there is no need to stand in long lines on Thanksgiving Day.

Full-service advertising and design agency led by Kevin Gillespie:

New accounts in 2016: American Home Technology, Cadillac/Wexford Transit Authority, Red Ginger and The Little Collaborative.

Project most proud of in the last year:  Several highlights include the rebranding and launch of a new website and video series for WOMP (Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula), a new website/e-store for the Alpine Chocolat Haus set to go live early next year, a social media campaign for Red Ginger called, “In The Raw,” that captures a behind-the-scenes look at the artisans and unique ingredients that make Red Ginger so special, the rebranding of The Little Collaborative, a local nonprofit that will launch in early 2017, and a marketing campaign that will support the 100th anniversary of Honor Bank in 2017.

Trend watch:  It’s all about the user. Right now, we have an incredibly wide spectrum of ages using digital platforms, so we’ll continue to see simplicity in message and design in an effort to appeal to all. Niche and/or smart marketers who have identified their “sweet” segments will look to personalize the experience in order to connect and build a unique relationship with their target.

Challenges in the industry:  Bland, unimaginative creative. Whatever happened to the “big” idea? Clever, thought-provoking, memorable ideas. Sound strategy and inspired creative have been cast aside in much of the digital world today. Stuff exists just for the sake of existing…making for a tremendous amount of clutter. Very little breaks through and resonates. At Greenlight, we love breaking through the clutter. We love work that excites, tugs at the heartstrings, engages, motivates and activates the audience.

A recent national marketing campaign that caught your eye:  While we really enjoyed the Kobe Bryant retirement/tribute commercial called “The Conductor” from Nike, the campaign that caught our eye in 2016 is for the mobile marketplace letgo. This series of humorous commercials features individuals who are having trouble letting go of things they no longer use. Fortunately, friends and family members intervene and show them just how easy it is to snap, post, chat and sell their treasured items locally. Anyone need a slightly used sewing machine?