Do You Keep a Marketing Swipe File?

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If you’ve not spent a lot of time around your creative services team members, you may have never heard the term swipe file before. A swipe file is a collection, a scrapbook of materials that have worked, arranged in such a way to inspire you and give you future ideas. Done properly, it can be one of the most valuable assets you can have to jumpstart your creativity.

Gmail - Hello from Realmac Software -
Example email in my swipe file

So, how do we start creating a marketing swipe file? We need a container, a place to store and organize content we like. I enjoy using note-keeping software like Google Keep, Microsoft OneNote, or Evernote, but use whatever you’re most comfortable with. The only requirements are that the software:

  • permit you to tag or categorize the content you put into it
  • search for it later
  • collect and tag with a mobile device that syncs to the desktop

Start by creating a simple organizational system designed around your creative blocks. Most folks working with swipe files tend to organize badly (if at all) and create a system that doesn’t solve the root problem of a writer’s/creator’s block.

Create a set of folders, notebooks, etc. labeled by your specific blocks. For example:

  • Writer’s block
  • Ad copy block
  • Ad photo block
  • Magazine headline block
  • Email call to action block
  • Ad layout block
  • Blog post block
  • Facebook Fan Page art block
  • High contrast photo block

This way, whenever we’re working on a project and we can identify what kind of block we’re facing, we can very quickly look to our swipe file for solutions. This is why most swipe files fail – they don’t address the actual problem we’re trying to solve, and thus we never learn to rely on it.

For example, suppose we’re meant to be writing a blog post about Google Analytics. If we just stare at the application, we’re unlikely to write anything compelling. However, if we’re in the habit of using our swipe file, we might store a great post by someone else in our file for inspiration. We might screenshot a peculiar feature or trend we see in the application in our swipe file as we use it in our daily work. We might spot a discussion forum question that piques our curiosity, and put that in our file.

Once you’ve got the swipe file set up, start collecting materials. Set aside 5-10 minutes each day to pull stuff you’ve seen from the day (or previous day) into relevant folders or tags. Saw a great ad on the side of a bus that you snapped in your phone’s camera? Put it in the appropriate folder or tag. Got an email that compelled you to buy something? Put it in the appropriate folder or tag.

The key to a great swipe file is its contents – any time you see something that just makes you stop in your tracks, get it into your swipe file. That’s why I use services with a strong mobile component – the phone app means that if I see a great ad while I’m out and about, I can capture it quickly and get it into the file.

Set up and use a swipe file for a month to see how it can help you smash those blocks and keep your advertising and marketing efforts moving forward!

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9 responses to “Do You Keep a Marketing Swipe File?”

  1. […] chance to find new inspiration and new goals.  Perhaps it is a chance to start a “swipe file.” Christopher Penn explains on his blog, “Awaken your Superhero,”  how creating a swipe file is a great way to charge up your […]

  2. Leonardo urged his students to ALWAYS carry a notebook. Write it down or it’s gone forever.

  3. I use Skitch all the time for “Swipe File” stuff. Often upload to Flickr too and add tag. Easy to search if you label stuff correctly.

    I also have a label in Gmail called “Blog-worthy.” If I get an email that I think I may want to blog about at some point, BAM!

    Great tips, as always, Mr. Penn.

  4. I love the idea of a swipe file. I hadn’t heard it called as such before, but I use the Springpad app for Android for blogging ideas.

  5. I’ve used them before. I didn’t realize that I have ditch the simple productivity tool for something inferior.

  6. […] last year were especially unkind to the content, even though I was creating it. I was writing about whether or not you had a swipe file among other things, but I think a lot of people went on vacation that week – it was Memorial […]

  7. Awesome. One of the reasons I have a LiveScribe smartpen and notebook as well as Evernote, SharePoint, one of those portable “Magic Wand” photo scanners, etc.

  8. […] an innovative and useful way to use Pinterest: as a swipe file. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a swipe file, it’s a repository of other […]

  9. Bill Hibbler Avatar
    Bill Hibbler

    I started building a swipe file of ad copy back in the 90’s at Dan Kennedy’s suggestion broken down into headlines, P.S.’s, Guarantees, etc. Love your suggestions for doing the same for social.

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