Gage Marine Family Business

Gage: Lake Geneva Cruise Line scenic boat tour billboard.


The Gage family has provided scenic boat tours and other Lake Geneva attractions since the 1800’s. When the need arose to standardize the brands and develop a cohesive marketing strategy for three iconic businesses, Gage Marine called Signalfire.

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Gage Marine Family of Businesses

Gage flags waving in the wind.
Gage’s distinctive burgee flag became the anchor of the brand.

Gage Marine Corporation is a family-owned enterprise that encompasses three iconic businesses that operate in and around Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The Gage businesses can trace their Geneva Lake operations back to the mid-1800’s. Today, the Gage Marine Corporation family of businesses includes three key businesses: Lake Geneva Cruise LineGage Marine, and PIER 290.

Lake Geneva Cruise Line is a leading tourism attraction and event venue that operates on eight beautiful boats inspired by the iconic Geneva Lake. Daily tours and events depart from Lake Geneva’s famous Riviera and features one of the only waterborne US Post Office delivery routes.

Gage Marine provides comprehensive boating experiences as a leading seller of exclusive brands like Chris Craft, Mastercraft, and other personal watercraft. Gage Marine also operates a full service marina offering pier services, valet in/out services, climate controlled storage, and boat maintenance.

PIER 290 is Lake Geneva’s only lakeside restaurant offering an iconic view of Williams Bay and a memorable “Lake Life” atmosphere. With a mix of indoor and outdoor seating, this venue is unlike any experience in the Lake Geneva region.

Gage Marine’s branding, voice and marketing execution lacked cohesiveness before Signalfire walked them through a Brand MAP and executed a content and social media marketing plan.


One key to creating a marketing plan for your business is to understand what you’re doing currently. Signalfire offers our clients an outsider’s view through our Brand MAP (Marketing Assessment and Plan) process. During this deep dive, we look at the what, where, when, why and how of a business’ current marketing efforts and provide feedback and insight on areas of success and opportunities for improvement.

For Gage Marine Corporation, we expanded this effort to include all three of their major business units; Gage Marine, Lake Geneva Cruise Line, and PIER 290.

During the detailed Brand MAP process, we look at key components of a business’s marketing and customer facing materials.

  • Overall brand messaging
  • Website (including search engine optimization (SEO) effectiveness and user experience quality)
  • Social media
  • Print collateral
  • Content marketing

Website and SEO

With the Gage family of businesses, we quickly recognized the need for improved user experience design across all of their websites. The “Book Now” and “Make a Reservation” options were key components to the websites that needed to be enhanced and showcased in order to increase visibility to website visitors.

From a technical SEO standpoint, the sites were old, and using out-of-date techniques that were doing more harm than good for their Google rankings. Maintaining quality SEO components on a website are easy ways to make sure your site is visible to those that may not even know they are looking for you.

Social Media

Controlling access to your accounts is key to maintaining a strong and consistent brand voice in the social world. Siganlfire determined, through our Brand MAP process, that Gage businesses struggled with consistency of voice, pace of postings, and in some instances, who controlled various account access.

By limiting administrative rights to a select number of users, the Gage social presence could be tightened up, and allow for a more enjoyable, engaged experience. When it comes to managing social media, you want to make sure your business doesn’t get shut out of your own accounts if one person leaves, but you also don’t want to have so many with access that posting becomes cluttered, random and disjointed.

Print and Graphic Design

Gage provided us the resources needed to evaluate their print and graphic design work over the past few seasons. Being able to go through all the various materials proved that a need for consistency in messaging was critical.

Cross promoting business units helps to promote the breadth of services Gage offers. But in order to pull this off, ads need to be created effectively and with corresponding imagery. In our auditing process, we determined and recommended the need for professional photography to bring Gage brands to life.

Content Marketing

A key component to generating organic SEO is through content based marketing. Being able to create a blog post or a piece of content to be displayed on your website is critical to Google’s ability to find information that connects people to your website.

In our audit of the Gage businesses, we determined little to no organic content was being added to the websites. Signalfire stressed the importance of putting out content to their customers that would be helpful, insightful and allow for a deeper appreciation for the various brands.


logo design and branding

Once Signalfire laid out a plan for Gage’s marketing, our team met with the three businesses to set up plans to move forward – including weekly meetings with the leaders of each business to establish open communication and consistent progress forward. Just like in the Brand MAP process, the new marketing plan had the same areas of focus.

Gage color scheme: navy blue, roaring red, soft gray, solid gray.
Gage's Restaurant: Pier 290 growler and carryout bag.
Gage business cards
Team Gage Cruise Line T-shirts.

Web Design and SEO

Mobile view of Gage: Lake Geneva Cruise Line

Website development is an intriguing process, especially when it comes to the different business units and target audiences that interact with the Gage family of businesses. Typically, the audience visiting the PIER 290 website is different than those going to the Lake Geneva Cruise Line site.

When Signalfire began creating the sites, we wanted to make sure that people who would go to the various business websites were aware that they were going to receive the same Gage experience. Signalfire needed to make sure there were some common design elements that would transfer from site to site, giving users the same feel.

Through an extensive collaborative process, Signalfire worked with Gage to create websites that were both visually appealing, as well as technically functional.

In order to appear on search results with various platforms, we made sure that the technical SEO of the websites was locked into the brands and what people would be looking for. Making sure that meta titles, descriptions and alt text were in place and fit the needs of each brand were critical in making the websites more reachable and effective for search engine crawling.

Gage Marine Desktop site.
mobile responsive website design
mobile response of Pier 290

Social Media Management and Strategy

Lake Geneva Cruise Line Facebook page

Creating and maintaining three separate voices for Gage Marine, Lake Geneva Cruise Line and PIER 290 while also connecting them with the company’s corporate brand and personality was our main focus when working with Gage. On social media we focused on Facebook and Instagram accounts to connect with a large audience in southern Wisconsin and northern Illinois to Chicago.

For Gage Marine and Lake Geneva Cruise Line we created LinkedIn accounts to engage with corporate audiences and wedding planners to promote their event and wedding services. For Gage’s lakeside restaurant PIER 290, we created a Pinterest account and curated content perfect for people looking for ways to enjoy the Lake Life. The Signalfire team also curated Pinterest content for Lake Geneva Cruise Line’s wedding and event customers.

To promote all three brands to a larger community that lives the Lake Life on Lake Geneva, Signalfire created a Facebook group called Lake Geneva Lake Life. The group grew to more than 1,200 users in less than four months and was used to promote local events, images and businesses. Signalfire used the group to cultivate an engaged community, and posted Gage content organically to a very receptive and active community. Today, the group consists of over 7,000 members.

Advertising Design and Print Collateral

magazine advertising design

After reviewing the previously produced ads for the Gage businesses, it was determined there were a number of key elements that needed to be standardized. Signalfire recommended and implemented a brand standard of ads. The concept behind this is that viewers should be able, over time to quickly recognize a Gage ad so that they can focus on the message as opposed to spending time figuring out who the ad is for.

By designing standardized ads, the Gage brands were able to begin visually telling the story of who they are and what they offer in the different publications they were being printed in. Ads that were created for Lake & Country Magazine, a local Lake Geneva lifestyle magazine, provided sales and service offerings that were much more evergreen in nature compared to an ad that would run in a weekly newspaper.

For those ads, Signalfire recommended focusing on the restaurant side of the business. Signalfire put together a series of ads throughout the year that would highlight specials and events that would be hosted at PIER 290. To run such ads in a quarterly magazine becomes extremely ineffective. That is the space that should be reserved for evergreen materials such as the marinas in and out valet service or winter storage opportunities. Standardizing these expectations across all of their print ads made them more consistent and effective.

Lake Geneva Cruise Line Brochure
Gage: Lake Geneva Cruise Line scenic boat tour billboard mock-up

Content Marketing

Another main point of our work with Gage was monthly blogs that the Signalfire team researched, wrote, emailed out to customer lists and published online. Publishing helpful and searchable content not only made the Gage brands more visible online, but it also gives something to prospective customers before they even make a purpose.

Successful examples involved having content about where to park in downtown Lake Geneva or what type of boat is best for your family or secret spots the locals like to visit in the area gave the brands authority and credibility in the local Lake Geneva community.

The parking blog Signalfire wrote for Lake Geneva Cruise Line was the featured snippet on Google during the summer of 2019 when visitors searched for free parking in Lake Geneva. That article not only gave visitors valuable information they were looking for, but it then led them to Cruise Line’s website to see the types of public cruises they offered daily.


Signalfire was hired for a 12-month engagement to standardize the brand and marketing for the Gage Marine family of businesses. During that time many successful milestones were reached.

  • Creation, documentation, and application of brand style guides for each business unit
  • Visual design standardization and redesign of marketing collateral
  • Successful research, construction, and implementation of quarterly marketing / content calendars
  • A 15% to 30% growth in social media communities with significant increases in both reach and engagement across multiple platforms
  • Two W3 national web development awards were won for Lake Geneva Cruise Line and PIER 290 websites
  • Dramatic increases in email marketing performance with average open rates as high as 40%

For 2020, Gage Marine had built internal team to take over the playbook and systems built by Signalfire.

Signalfire Works from Brand Evaluation through Marketing Execution

At Signalfire, we know each brand is different and has its own successes and challenges. Our team focuses on highlighting a brands success and making changes or updates to fix the challenges. Signalfire works with your team to make sure we fully understand your needs and your brand so we can fully develop and execute a marketing plan that will help you accomplish your business goals.

If you have any questions about how we can help you with one big project like Gage’s or any of the individual steps in between, contact us or give us a call at 262-725-4500.