WeTransfer’s Rob Alderson on creativity in a data-driven age

What’s the place of inspiration and creativity in today’s data-driven marketing world? That’s the question that WeTransfer’s VP of Content, Rob Alderson, will ask in his closing keynote at SCALE17. Below, he gives us a behind-the-scenes look at his creative work at one of Europe’s top digital businesses. Don’t miss this talk at SCALE17 on October 26.

First up, can you tell us a bit about what your day-to-day job involves?

I run the Content and Programming part of our Marketing team, which oversees anything that goes out into the world on our own channels. So the role is pretty varied – our team curates the artists you see on the WeTransfer.com backgrounds, shapes and creates the stories we want to tell on our This Works platform and produces all social media.

We’re responsible for all copy, from UI and customer emails to blog posts and print ads. And we work closely with our colleagues in Marketing Activation on brand campaigns, press, partnerships etc.

How does your background as a journalist inform your work?

It affects almost everything. Hunter S. Thompson once said, “ I am a journalist, and I’ve never met, as a group, any tribe I’d rather be part of or that are more fun to be with.” Even though I don’t really work as a journalist anymore, I still feel part of the tribe.

I think there are values you get from working on editorial platforms that help you build really good relationships with users. You value their time and attention and you work hard to make them trust you. You are strict about protecting the purity of that relationship because you know how fragile it can be. I hope that informs a lot of the work I do here.

What have been some highlights from your time at WeTransfer?

The great joy has been being able to work on projects that we have helped make happen – that wouldn’t have existed in the world without us. I think that is where brands doing content gets really exciting, when you can start to empower artists to create work that is really meaningful.

The FKA twigs film is one of my highlights – it’s about a dance workshop in Baltimore but it’s also about race and identity and creative energy and how cities see themselves. That intro still makes the hairs on my neck stand up. I really liked the audio/photography project we did with Nadia Lee Cohen. And then there are some nice unexpected stories we get to tell – about the Amsterdam zoo or an eclipse-themed art show.

FKA Twigs in the Baltimore Dance Project from WeTransfer Studios

I also enjoy the challenge of good copywriting. When we launched the new WeTransfer in 2016, there were some very small lines we had to get right. I really like “Ready when you are” which appears when you have received some files. That’s easily the thing I’ve written which most people have seen!

The wallpaper project has been very successful. How did you hit on this idea? How effective has this been as a marketing tool?

Right from the start, the founders Bas and Nalden committed to giving 30% of that inventory to showcase great creative work. It wasn’t a marketing strategy or anything like that – it was just something they wanted to do, to give back to the creative world. When we were small, that was a nice gesture but we have stayed true to it as we grew to 40 million MAU. So now we give away about five billion page impressions a year to promote art, design, music and more.

I think from an aesthetic point of view people obviously like being able to discover amazing creatives while they are on the site. And from a marketing standpoint, I think it says something pretty powerful about the kind of brand we want to be.

Dutch collective We Make Carpets’ contribution to the wallpaper project

Tell us a bit about your talk at SCALE17. What can we expect from your closing keynote?

I want to bang the drum a little for risk-taking. In our very data-driven world, brands can minimise the leaps of faith they might be tempted to take. But in doing so, I think we minimise the magic we can create too.

From your experience, is it possible to marry data and creativity in modern marketing?

Yes, and marry is exactly the right word. A good modern marketing strategy has both, and the key, like in marriage, is total respect for each other and the willingness to compromise.

Touching on the topic of your talk, what role does instinct play here?

I think it’s a great starting point. Obviously you can test the validity of your instincts using data, but there is definitely a place for clever, creative work that, as the designer Dean Poole puts it, “gives the world a bit of a wobble.”

Lastly, what’s the most creative marketing campaign you’ve seen (so far) this year?

It’s top of my mind because it’s so recent but I really liked this. I always think the best stuff makes you jealous, and this really did.

For tickets and full program details, visit www.scale17.co 

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