A blank page is the bane of any creative professional’s existence.
It’s incredibly difficult to create something out of nothing. Artists often use real-life sources as inspiration for their masterpieces. Writers interview people and read other writing to get information for the basis of their article. Even entrepreneurs tend to create new businesses based on existing business models they can see are succeeding!
As a business owner and a marketer, you can do the same thing. Think about it: The next time you’re sitting in front of the computer, scratching your head in pursuit of a great marketing campaign, wouldn’t it be handy to have a list of great ideas to draw from?
Enter the swipe file.
What is a Swipe File?
You’ve probably encountered a swipe file before, and you might even have one or two of your own on hand — but for the uninitiated, a swipe file is a physical or digital folder where you keep great marketing ideas you’ve come across or created. The reason it’s called a “swipe file” is because you literally swipe these ideas wholesale from other people. Then, later on, you can use them for inspiration.
Here’s an example of a really valuable “swipe” we did here at The Newsletter Pro. Like any company, we get a lot of unsolicited mail, and like most busy people, we’re pretty quick to discard it. But one day, as we were going through the pile, a bright orange envelope caught our eye.
This orange mailer was from a gym called Iron Tribe (which also happens to be a client of ours). Because the orange envelope stood out so starkly from anything we’d seen before, our CEO, Shaun Buck, called them to find out where they got their envelopes. They happily told us, and soon we were sending out our own “shock and awe” packages using bright orange bubble envelopes. With this one simple change, our phones started ringing off the hook.
And that huge marketing win was possible because we swiped a great idea.
Why Bother With a Swipe File?
After we swiped the idea of an orange envelope, we deployed it almost immediately. That’s because it was clearly such a game-changer for the “shock and awe” packages we were already sending out. But normally, you’re not able to implement every intriguing idea you come across right away.
That’s why you have a swipe file — it allows you to keep those brilliant gems tucked away for the future. When you do have time or you need a new idea, you won’t be able to claim writer’s (or marketer’s) block — you’ll have a wide array of inspirational ideas at your fingertips to get you going.
Physical swipe files are the ones you use if you like to hold things in your hand, and they’re especially valuable if you do a lot of marketing in print: books, sales letters, postcards, lumpy mail, and so on. That makes it easy to keep track of great print collateral that you find in the mail, in magazines, or in books.
It’s also a good idea to have an online swipe file. Fortunately, it’s easy to keep an ongoing record of ideas and images in a digital folder. You can use a cloud service like Google Drive, Dropbox, or Evernote to stay on top of your digital swipe file’s contents, even when you’re on the go.
Whether you opt for a physical or digital swipe file (we recommend both), divide the file into different categories for easy reference. If it’s a digital folder, you might have one file for emails, one for scanned postcards, one for banner ads, and so on.
We’ve talked about what swipe files are, but we should clarify that inspiration and plagiarism are two different things. Stealing other people’s designs, words, or images is absolutely wrong. It’s also more than likely to be ineffective because when you’re a different business, with a different target audience, in a different industry, what works for you is going to be — you guessed it — different!
To engage in ethical swiping, you should focus on the core components of the images or phrases that have caught your eye. If you know that something similar would appeal to your demographic, think about how you could tweak the ad you like to fit your marketing strategy. For example, if you’re scrolling through your dozens of daily emails and see a subject line that actually gets you to click, add it to your swipe file.
Then, the next time you want to send a marketing message to your audience, see if you can reverse engineer what was so effective about the subject line you swiped, and adapt it to fit your target audience, your message, and the medium you’re using.
Other Swipe File Ideas in Action
Sticking an item in your swipe file that came to you — including lead magnets from other companies — is one strategy, but there are plenty of other things you can do to make your swipe file a fantastic resource.
If you work better with visuals, take photos of the designs or design elements that catch your eye when you’re out and about. Alternatively, write down the great headlines you see in a notebook or virtual notepad on your phone. Both make for a better swipe file.
Most importantly, you should always record the great ideas you encounter, even if there’s no media to go along with them. For example, when our marketing team was attending a conference one time, they noticed a booth that was totally surrounded by a crowd for the entire day. Lo and behold, the company’s booth had a giant popcorn machine in it. Yes, it was eye catching, but the scent of popcorn is what drew people in like nothing else our team had ever seen.
It’s a great idea … and we actually used it ourselves at a show in 2014 to great success. Write it down and keep it in your swipe file too. The next time you’re preparing for a conference, you may come across that idea you tucked away and decide it’s worth deploying.
If you’re going along and a good idea hits you, write it down. You can even include other campaigns you’ve already deployed in the swipe file. If they got good results before, they may very well be a better starting point than square one! A “Great Ideas” notebook is a fantastic complement to any swipe file. Our CEO, Shaun Buck, has used them for years.
Lastly, I want to leave you with this little secret: We didn’t always know about swipe files. In reality, we swiped the entire concept of “swipe and deploy” from a GKIC bootcamp! Their whole lesson was to collect everything your demographic is responding to so you can always have a strong starting point when you’re ready to come up with a new marketing campaign.
So, what great ideas should you swipe from this blog post? Ultimately, the swipe file should be a compilation of what works best for you. The goal is to have a place you can turn to when you feel like your creative well has run dry — a source of ideas that energize and inspire you.
If you’re finding it difficult to find material for your swipe file, don’t hesitate to actively look for good ideas. Subscribe to the blogs or newsletters of marketers you admire, and consider visiting online collections of ideas and case studies as well, such as swiped.co.
The most important point to take away from this blog post, though, is to do something! If you don’t have a swipe file yet, get a manila folder or a shoebox, and find just one thing to put in there. Or start a new folder in your inbox and start saving emails that have great copy so you always have an easy place to reference for email marketing inspiration.