Visual and written communications businesses need to ensure that they stay abreast of all changes - whether they be major developments, such as the initial advent of social media, or smaller nuances, such as the more recent development whereby social media is no longer seen as a separate channel, but rather completely integrated into virtually every communications element in a campaign.
This is according to Carmen Lerm, the CEO of FusionDesign, a full service integrated brand agency which has been in existence for 15 years and continues to thrive in this fast-paced, evolving industry.
"When FusionDesign started you had below-the-line agencies, above-the-line agencies and digital agencies - and that was the norm - whilst these days you will find more of an integrated marketing and communications approach. Some agencies fit everything under one umbrella - like us - and others will have separate departments within their corporate structure - for instance mobile communications versus another department for above-the-line communications and so on."
According to Leilahn Albertyn, Integrated Communications Manager, an integrated plan combines traditional and non-traditional marketing disciplines to achieve brand objectives. This means that in optimising any campaign, one must fuse traditional marketing with social media, mobile and digital marketing.
Lerm reminisces on some of the developments that she and the team at FusionDesign have seen in the past decade and a half:
"FusionDesign's road has been shaped by the projects we received from the word go. We started as a below-the-line agency offering packaging design, annual reports and corporate identities - the printed kind with grid lines. I remember that a priority in staff training was showing them how to operate the fax machine as this was one of our most important tools for back and forth communications with clients!
"Being small and eager, we were open to try anything new and different and embraced making new technology work for us," says Lerm. "In 1999 we started receiving our first emails - this was a huge and exciting development and an email coming into your inbox was like 'big news'. We were one of the very first studios to put together an email newsletter - called an ezine - which was done for Gallo Images. From there we had more amazing firsts: the intranet for City of Cape Town which was our stepping stone into web development; followed by our first Investors in People project for Metropolitan which was an integrated project including a yearbook, advertising, internal and external campaign. This was followed by our first mobi-site for Viadata and then putting an interactive stand together for Broll, complete with augmented reality aspect.
"And our ability to reinvent ourselves was never more important and clear than with the rise and rise of social media and e-commerce, which became a reality in the work we started to do, and still continue to do, for City Sightseeing and Buccaneer School Shoes.
"FusionDesign's formula for survival can be attributed to our ability to adapt quickly, keeping our client's brand experience consistent, keeping the team small and specialised, being the best at creating and managing brands and keeping our ear to the ground. One has to always ask: what is now going to happen in social media, what's the next big thing?" says Lerm. "Our approach is personalised - we believe that our client is everything - from the word go it has always been all about the client. FusionDesign can best state our position as 'two degrees removed from our clients'."
As Lerm puts it, "One: we work silo-free; and Two: we are guided by our name 'fusion' which means we fuse research, strategy, facts and logic with the magic of creativity, innovationand uniqueness."
Lerm's advice for other businesses within the industry who wish to ensure their long-term survival is to keep updated with the latest technology and insights within the industry. "By keeping ahead of the pack, you can offer your clients a competitive edge. Also, very importantly, you have to be agile - you need to easily adapt to your clients' needs. The days of a three-year marketing plan are over. The marketing landscape is influenced by many factors and can literally change overnight - so your approach needs to align as well.
"One of the biggest challenges for any business is to do the job right the first time - and that really requires working with the right specialists within your team," concludes Lerm. "We anticipate that marketing, advertising and design businesses will not be able to survive on their own if they do not adapt to industry changes and adopt an integrated approach."