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City of Muskegon Brand Created by the Community for the Community.

MUSKEGON, MI – July 10, 2024 – When the Kindred Marketing team took on the rebranding of the City of Muskegon, it became a local kid telling his hometown story.

Kindred owner and founder Don Kalisz – born and raised in the community and with a home and business in the city – led the creation of a new brand for Muskegon for a new chapter in the 155-year-old city’s history. The city’s logo was decades old.

The nearly year-long intensive engagement and creative effort demonstrated how the Kindred branding process is well-matched for branding – especially municipal governments. Don says a “brand” simply tells the client’s story with written and visual elements. Done right, it truly relates to internal teams and external audiences and becomes a source of pride. 

Specifically, the Shoreline City rebranding project allowed the Kindred team to showcase its unique inclusive process of client and community engagement, its skills in story writing and creative development of a brand logo and visuals for print, web, online ads, billboards and video with more to come. Now the Kindred team will assist the city in its launch of the “brand kit” and rollout of the new City of Muskegon brand.

“It doesn’t matter what the industry; our process is much the same from a college to a manufacturer or in this case, a city,” Don said. But the community engagement and leadership being open to authentic new ideas is so critical for a local government client such as Muskegon.

For the city with a population of just under 40,000, the Kindred team worked with city staff to interview elected officials, city managers, department heads inside City Hall and large focus groups of residents and businesses owners and Muskegon Public School students along with general residents. In addition, city staff conducted informal on-the-street interviews to find what people thought the city’s story was in 2024 and how it should be communicated visually. 

“We required an intensive engagement process that fit in perfectly with Kindred’s process and resulted in a beautiful brand and logo that the city’s diverse population can connect to. Kindred worked alongside us every step of the way, going above and beyond, offering guidance, being flexible, and helping us bring the community’s vision to life. Their creativity and analysis skills helped make thoughtful decisions, and honestly, they’re just a pleasure to be around.” Said City of Muskegon’s Community Engagement Manager, Deborah Sweet

Finally, after more than 70 hours of focused conversations, Kindred created English and Spanish surveys to validate what it learned that was completed by 1,050 residents online and through a mailed version delivered to every city household in a city newsletter. 

The overall engagement of more than 1,200 people gave Kindred, elected officials and city staff high confidence that the brand perfectly reflects the unique vibe of a city that has experienced incredible growth and development after years of setbacks and challenges.  

“When it comes to branding and marketing – almost any agency can technically do the work – so why us? We feel we are in the people business,” Don said. “We ask ‘who do you want to be around for the next several months or years? Who do you feel gets you?’ We like to have fun with our work. Our process and our people are great for helping us to relate to our clients’ pain points, their target audiences’ needs, and for delivering some great results.” 

Don has been having fun creating brands, telling client stories and formulating strategies that work for clients since 1999. By 2005, Don branched out on his own with his first agency, Relevant Marketing located in Downtown Muskegon. He merged Relevant with another marketing firm to create Revel and worked his branding magic for over 10 years until deciding to create Kindred Marketing in 2020.

“I wanted to create an agency that’s outside of the normal marketing firm,” Don said of Kindred. “I wanted to streamline the process, add a few new services, and be personally involved with our work and client relationships. Kindred – as in ‘kindred spirits’ – is about being on the same page and having strong relationships with people be they clients or our Kindred team members.”

Kindred quickly grew through the COVID pandemic to become a team of 18 marketers using a hybrid of virtual and in-office work from its headquarters at 380 W. Western Avenue Suite 300 in Muskegon’s Hines Building just above the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce offices. 

The Kindred team has local members with expertise and years of experience in market research, brand story writing, marketing strategy and campaigns, branding, marketing plans and media buys, social media management, print, digital ads, online analytics, and has worked for B2B and B2C clients in the tourism, industrial, higher education, non-profit, business and professional services and financial sectors.

For the City of Muskegon, Kindred’s work has and will improve the city’s image, stimulate economic development, unite the community through an inclusive process, create a comprehensive brand strategy and rollout, launch a dynamic brand identity and demonstrate Muskegon’s connection and community pride. 

The “brand kit” including brand story and logo was adopted by the Muskegon City Commission at its July 9, 2024 regular meeting. 

The brand story is an inspirational narrative that succinctly outlines the current historic transformation of a diverse shoreline community, reclaiming its Muskegon Lake waterfront from a past industrial era and revitalizing its urban core neighborhoods. The story involves the emotion of the hard work and demonstrated city success.

“Our city is a mosaic of people with different passions, lifestyles, ideas, and backgrounds. We know a brand can’t please everyone, so we used the data and the brand story to inspire an inclusive mark,” said Don.

The new Muskegon logo uses tiles in a mosaic “M” having each tile represent the four city commission wards, history, arts, culture, nature, recreation, architecture and seasonality of the community. The brand logo is adaptive but consistent as different colors and versions will represent the overall city government and specific departments from public works and parks to police and fire. View the full case study here.

Mayor Ken Johnson reflects, “This fresh, dynamic brand represents our city’s spirit and resilience. As we continue to evolve, our brand will remain a reflection of all our community members, celebrating the unique and diverse elements that make Muskegon the magnificent place it is.” Mayor Johnson is commenting on how the tile design builds the letter “M” that makes up the new logo.

The City of Muskegon’s Community Engagement Manager, Deborah Sweet shared “I want to extend heartfelt gratitude to all who participated in this rebranding journey. Together, we have created a brand that honors our past, celebrates our present, and inspires our future.”

The new City of Muskegon brand does not replace nor compete with the wildly successful community brand of Watch Muskegon, which Don’s former agency created with the current campaign and management now being handled by Kindred for the city and the Muskegon Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce. “The new Shoreline City brand complements Watch Muskegon and will live alongside it,” Don said.

For Don, the Kindred work with city government and its residents was personal.

“Our clients want to tell their own story and not have others define them,” Don said of the branding process. “I know how great this city is, but for generations others in the region had a narrative that was opposite that. If you don’t tell your own story, others will make it up for you. We aren’t the same city we used to be, so it’s time we tell our own story.”

At the same time as the Muskegon rebranding was ongoing, the Kindred team is also going through a similar process with the Muskegon Area District Library, as it sought to create a new and vibrant identity. For public institutions, community engagement with citizens and patrons is the foundation of Kindred’s branding work.

For more information or to discuss a project, please contact us.

To read more, see city of Muskegon branding work samples, view the full case study here.

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