Since appointing Anja Cappelle as Managing Director in 2007, The Reference has enjoyed remarkable growth. This can be seen not only from the outstanding results and figures, but also from the team which has grown at a breakneck speed from 30 to 170 employees, and from the impressive list of market leaders which it counts as customers. In addition to its offices in Belgium, under Cappelle’s leadership The Reference has also established a foothold in the US, with an office in New York.
Customers are central
The Reference chiefly owes its growth and results to its clear strategy, which it has always followed consistently. When asked what makes The Reference different, Cappelle’s answer is crystal clear: “In everything we do, our customers, and by extension our customer’s customers, are central.”
Cappelle cites the agency’s focus on customer intimacy and customer-centricity. “Many organisations approach the market from an inside-out perspective, but we do it the other way around”, she explains. “Our primary interest is not to do more of the same for an even bigger audience. Where we make the difference is by thinking together with our customers, outside-in. We challenge their business models and together we formulate alternatives and solutions before their competitors do. Everything we do is tailor-made. For our customers we are partners, not suppliers. The solutions that we formulate often sit somewhere at the interface between marketing and technology. This is our strong point – it is where our added value lies.”
Of course, this kind of strategy and approach requires an agile organisation. “This is also something in which we have invested significantly in recent years”, says Isabel Donvil. “An agency which assumes that its employees will always go beyond the status quo, for both ourselves and our customers, must create a clear context for this to happen, in which the ability to take initiative and have an impact are essential elements.”
Looking to the futureCappelle and Donvil are in full agreement about the future: “It is exceptionally challenging, and the same is true for everyone in our sector. That makes it particularly exciting for us, because our strategy and approach give us excellent platforms upon which we can base a successful future.”
When asked about the reasoning behind having two Co-Managing Directors, Anja Cappelle replies: “At The Reference we have evolved from 30 to 170 employees thanks to an unrelenting focus. At a certain point you notice that – due to this increase in scale – there is simply not enough time to carry on working with the same focus in all areas. This is why I have asked Isabel to share the tasks and to become my Co-Managing Director.”