Why Every Marketer Should Have a Swipe File

Keeping a swipe file has been a game-changer for me.

It helps me come up with ideas and find patterns between those ideas. If you don’t have a swipe file, you should definitely consider it.

Here’s why.

Why Marketers Should Take a Page Out of Old Ad Agency Books

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I recent read a book called Hey, Whipple, Squeeze This by Edward Boches and Luke Sullivan. Sullivan was an ad agency guy for 30 or so years, and some of his ideas were fascinating to me.

In the book, Sullivan tells a story about how in the early days of his agency, his manager told him to copy ideas until he had ideas of his own that were great. Unless he could come up with better ideas (unlikely at the time), he should copy ideas, then innovate on them.

Innovate, don’t invent.

Sullivan talks a lot about walking in the shoes of William Bernbach, the ad creative director responsible for some legendary black-and-white Volkswagen ads, including the Think Small campaign.

Everybody wants to create something brand new, but you can get just as far copying something that already exists. No, I’m not telling you to plagiarize, only to put your own spin on already great ideas.

That’s why I keep a swipe file. There are so many good ideas out there, so many good examples of brilliance that you can pull from.

When you need to write a webinar or press release, or create ad copy or a landing page, I can’t go and invent what I need every time. So I keep a swipe file in Evernote for this. It’s amazing because they have an option to tag things.

I have one big notebook in Evernote called “Swipe File,” and for everything I add, I can add tags, which make them sortable.

For example, I add a tag called “Drift story” to anything related to Drift’s messaging and positioning. Then I can sort “Drift story” at any point if I need to find something relevant.

Another example is copy for pricing pages, which are notoriously hard to write. I keep a copy of pricing pages in my swipe file under the tag “pricing page.”

I do this for everything now. Blog posts, podcast ideas, ad copy. Everything.

The crazy part is that a lot of times I don’t even reference it the swipe file. It’s the act of saving a link or idea that forces me to remember it.

Something happens in my brain when I save something. It’s like the idea clicks, and it gets locked in place.

Two Main Takeaways About Swipe Files

If you don’t have a swipe file already, the first tip I want to leave you with is simply this: start keeping one.

Not to make this marketing post all about lessons from the copywriting days, but . . . old advertisers used to keep a drawer full of files with ideas and great copy practices. Before they would write anything, they would pull from those ideas to create the copy.

If you have a company where your CEO sends you a million ideas, save everything you like in your swipe file. Swipe files can help whether you’re in marketing or sales.

Definitely in sales, actually. If you’re in sales, you should keep a list of emails or messages that worked and reference it. Swipe files even work for those in Product. You can keep designs and common patterns you want to use.

No matter where you work, I would keep a swipe file.

I don’t see enough people doing it. When I tell people I have one, people always tell me it’s so cool. But you can do it, too.

How? Just do it. Start with Evernote, and go. It’s easy.

But the bigger lesson in all this is to copy until you make yours better. Don’t sit down and face a blank slate all the time. Use a swipe file to spark your creativity, to be inspired.

It’s so much easier to copy an existing framework than it is to start from scratch.

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It’s not just easier on you, either. It’ll be easier on the people reading your stuff. You have to lean on familiar patterns. If you’re going to do something brand new, the learning curve will be steep.

Take something common, and make your version of it.

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