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.
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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