Each month we introduce you to one of our partner agencies in Partner in the Spotlight. Giving you a look behind the scenes. Sharing some Dutch digital design insights. Or telling you about something that they believe the world needs to know. This time we talk with Verve (formerly known as Vruchtvlees) - recently awarded European Agency of the Year 2022. A digital branding agency where designers, developers and strategists holistically transform good brands into great ones. Based in The Hague (Den Haag) and Amsterdam. Roman Stikkelorum, managing director, chats with us about their international ambitions, the Verve culture and values, and being a Dutch Digital Design partner agency.
From Vruchtvlees to Verve
‘In the Netherlands we have a rich design history. Fifteen years ago, Vruchtvlees wanted to take Dutch design to the Internet - crossing into the digital realm.’
Roman Stikkelorum, Rindor Golverdingen - creative director - and Michael Danker - digital director - started the agency about 15 years ago whilst all studying at the Royal Academy of Art (Koninklijke Academie van Beeldende Kunsten) in The Hague. Initially as part of their studies, earning them some course credits. However, it soon developed into a serious business: Vruchtvlees - putting their graphic design and typography skills to work. The projects soon stacked up: from designing t-shirts to building websites. Fast forward seven years - their focus shifted to digital first and the cultural sector. In 2018 they reached a milestone by becoming the European Agency of the Year. It was their international breakthrough and start of their international ambition to become the best branding agency in the world - with great international clients and an ambitious, diverse workforce. Meet Verve.
‘In a world where it is accepted to work remotely, the world has become smaller and, therefore, more competitive. Consequently, brands, agencies and talent need to stand out more to differentiate themselves from competitors. We need to create experiences that are unique and distinctive in order to create an emotional connection. We look at a brand holistically - ensuring all touchpoints are connected and making it whole.’
What’s in a name
‘Considering our international ambitions, having a name like Vruchtvlees wasn’t the most practical. As part of our global strategy, we started looking at a name change. A name that would reflect our vision and aspirations, as well as our passion and way of working - without letting go of our Vruchtvlees heritage.
Verve did it all. Using the same letters as in Vruchtvlees. The iterative sound of the two Vs. Something we could re-create in the typography. But that wasn’t all. Verve translates the same in both English and Dutch: to do something with verve (NL: iets met verve doen). To tell a story, to do something with enthusiasm and passion, with skill and expertise. To be ambitious, inspired and dedicated. A perfect reflection of what we stand for here at Verve.’
‘Becoming the European Agency of the Year in 2018 gave us more visibility on an international level. We acquired more international clients. One of our first international clients was Miro - originally called RealtimeBoard - an online collaborative whiteboard platform that enables teams to work together remotely, anywhere in the world. Originally a start-up from San Francisco, now a multi-billion dollar company. We were asked to help them create a new brand identity and strategy to reflect their new name and ambitions. It helped them move from 2.5 to 30 million users worldwide.
This was truly inspiring for us, and gave us aspirations to do the same: grow internationally and be the best. Our new name, proposition and international strategy reflect this. It has become our self-fulfilling prophecy, because we believe and anticipate it will come true, even though it might start with just a dot on the horizon. It is our Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG).’
Turning ambitions into reality
‘How can we turn our international ambitions into reality? How can an agency in a small country like the Netherlands create work that is understood and loved all over the world?
I believe that we make this happen by having a multi-national, diverse team that represents different cultures and different ways of thinking. We currently have seven different nationalities within our team - with a 60% female/40% male split. Naturally, we will continue our search for talent that is representative of our culture and values. Talent that is passionate, ambitious and an expert in their field of work.
Also, we have clients in 12 different countries, including Nigeria and several Nordic countries. Our close collaboration with these clients provides us with insights into different cultures and ways of working.’
Culture and core values
‘Here at Verve we work with multi-disciplinary teams. English is our main language of communication. Each team has their own lead for each specific area. For example, a brand design lead and strategy lead. Giving each team full ownership and responsibility, and making our management style and culture less top-down.
We also organise events like ‘Killed Darlings’ where we share loved concepts and designs that didn’t make the cut and ‘inspiration presentations’ on specialist subjects like typography. All our employees have a ‘museum jaarkaart’ - an annual pass for free access to Dutch museums.
Woven within our culture are our core values: Sense, Challenge and Love.
Sense is all about being empathetic and aware of what happens in the world around us. What is relevant to us, our clients and their customers. Being curious.
Challenge each other in order to keep growing and learning.
Love for everything we do. We are all obsessed and in love with our craft.
These values are represented in everything we do, in each team - on every level. It’s our culture. As once said by a famous management guru: ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast.’ Meaning that an empowering culture is a surer route to success.’
Dutch Digital Design and Verve
‘With Dutch Digital Design we are able to move Dutch digital design to the next level - globally - together, as a community. Creating more visibility through events and thought leadership content - sharing knowledge, and inspiring and attracting talent internationally.’