Rebranding The Reference: how we shaped our new brand

August 5, 2021 | Lazlo Cootmans

The Reference has a new look. A new brand image that’s a bit more essentialist, looks current, and reflects how we see ourselves as an agency. Are the looks all that have changed? Let’s ask Isabel Donvil, our managing director, and John De Wever, director of marketing and communications.

It’s the first time since long that The Reference sheds her skin and emerges in a new branding. Why did you decide it needed a rebranding?

Isabel Donvil: “Since The Reference was founded in the early nineties, many things have changed. From the technology we work with, to the challenges our clients face, and the expertise we leverage to make an impact. As we evolved, we have adopted our own way of working. We noticed that our branding wasn’t really aligned anymore with who we have become over the years. That’s why we decided It was time for something new.”

John De Wever: “We also saw this as an opportunity to streamline the way we present our service offering. We noticed that people often knew us as a strong technology partner, but weren’t aware of the other expertise we have in-house. Our new branding equally shines a light on our strategy, product, and marketing capabilities. We firmly believe we are at our best when we work together on these three levels.”

Jumping person with The Reference logo

How does the new branding reflect your way of working?

John De Wever: “The new branding shows a bit more the warmth and authenticity we identify ourselves with. You can see this from the way we present the images to the color palate we chose. It’s even something we reflect in the way we write our name without capitals in the logo. We always aim to be a partner to our clients and like to put ourselves on the same level as they are. That’s what this new branding emphasizes.”

Isabel Donvil: “It’s actually a funny contrast with one of the biggest misconceptions people have of our brand. Some people think we consider ourselves ‘the reference’ for all things digital because we’ve literally named ourselves ‘The Reference’. Our name actually originates from the practice of referencing information and data, which was one of the things our founders set out to do as an internet company back in the nineties. However, even though people don’t talk about referencing data anymore when it comes to digital agencies, the name stuck and actually became a staple in our sector.”

Isabel Donvil

Is The Reference a different kind of agency now after the rebranding?

Isabel Donvil: “Not at all. If anything, it reflects who we are more than it did before. Organizations have been becoming more mature when it comes to digital. This means that their needs have changed. This rebranding clearly defines which role we play in this changed landscape and sets us up to take on anything the future throws at us.”

So, other than your approach to working with clients, what does the new branding stand for?

John De Wever: “It’s based on the three areas in which we know we can make a difference. First of all we have a collaborative culture, both internally across the various digital disciplines we’re proficient at, as well as with our clients. Next to that, everything we do is driven by knowledge. Our clients come to us for our expertise, so we strive to be as informed and prepared to help them take on their digital challenges. Ultimately, we’re creative thinkers in everything we do. It’s that creative craftsmanship that binds it all together.”

John De Wever at wall

What’s the difference between a branding project for an agency, compared to a similar project for one of your clients?

John De Wever: “Simple: there isn’t any. From the start, we as a marketing team made it very clear we wanted to be treated like any other client. In return, we could be just as critical for the branding work as an external team would be and challenged our colleagues accordingly. If there’s any difference, it’s probably the sharp deadline we had set out for ourselves. In the end, it only affirms the tremendous strength and expertise of our internal teams, as they all managed to pull off this ambitious project in such a short period of time.”

Now that the new branding is here, what have you learned from this project?

Isabel Donvil: “It was a valuable exercise to look at your own organization and confirm the feelings you’ve been having for a while. It also requires you to look for the things that set you apart from your competitors. It’s great to have all of these things in focus once again.”

John De Wever: “I really loved the constructive internal discussions that we had about our agency. It helped us to get a clear view over the context in which we are working now. We’re all reminded of why we do what we do, and why we’re so passionate about it.”

Organizations have been becoming more mature when it comes to digital. This means that their needs have changed, and so have we.

So ultimately, if someone who isn’t familiar with The Reference comes across your agency, how do you want them to see you?

Isabel Donvil: “They should see a multifaceted agency with a strong focus on digital. We operate on the intersection between business, creativity, and technology, and make an impact with creative digital solutions. Based on this skillset, we have built a service portfolio in which we help clients determine their course through the right strategy, build beautiful and robust digital products, and reach their customers through effective marketing. In this, we work with our clients as a partner that works closely together with them and adds value through knowledge and creativity.”

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