Keeping a swipe file has been a game-changer for DG. It helps him come up with ideas and find patterns between ideas. If you don’t have a swipe file, you should definitely consider it. It’s so important, we named our show after the concept 😉
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Dave Gerhardt: Hey, it’s DG and on this episode of the Swipe File, this is a super-meta thing, I’m going to talk about why every marketer needs a swipe file, which is actually how I got the name for this podcast, but I’ve been keeping a swipe file since I read that the old, great copywriters used to do it a couple years ago, and it’s completely changed the way I do marketing. It helped me come up with more ideas, get more inspiration, and just write better copy and come up with greater concepts, so I thought we’d do an episode just talking about the value of a swipe file, and hey, little fun fact, that’s how we got the name for this thing. So here we go, this is why every marketer needs a swipe file.
The thing I want to talk about today, speaking of ideas, I want to talk about keeping a swipe file, because for me, keeping a swipe file has been an absolute game changer for coming up with ideas, looking at patterns for common and familiar ideas. What made me think of this is I’m reading this book right now called Hey Whipple, Squeeze This, by Luke Sullivan, and was an ad agency guy for 30 years. The book is about a bunch of different advertising and copywriting things, but he talks mainly about this guy, William Bernbach. Bernbach was the guy who, if you’ve ever seen the legendary, the black and white, because it’s old, right, VW ads, one of them is Lemon, and the other one is Think Small. Bernbach did all those. I think he actually did also the Avis ad which is, I’ve talked about this a bunch, but if this is the first time listening, there was this amazing Avis ad. Avis was second in the rental market next to Hertz. So they had to come up with some different positioning, and so their positioning was ‘Hey, why should you go with us?’ ‘Well, we’re only number two so we have to try harder, there’s shorter lines, our cars are cleaner,’ blah, blah, blah.
So anyway, he’s talking about Bernbach in the book, and tells a story about how in the early days of his agency, this guy Luke Sullivan, his manager told him, he said, “Look, this is your first month, whatever, year on the job, I want you to copy ideas until you have your own that are great, right, unless what you come up with is better, I want you to copy other people’s ideas and innovate on them,” and that is everything. We talked about this so much on Seeking Wisdom, which is innovate, don’t invent, and I still think I see this mistake happen so many times where everybody wants to create something brand new, where you can get just as far if you can copy something that already exists, and I’m not saying plagiarize, right, but go back and look. Steve Jobs said it, “Good artists copy, great artists steal”, right, or the other way around. Whatever way that makes that quote best and makes the most sense, that’s the example.
So that to me, that’s why I keep a swipe file. There are so many ideas out there and so many good examples of stuff that you have to be able to go and pull from that. Like every time you have to go create a webinar, or a landing page, or write a press release, or create ad copy. You can’t sit there and just go and invent that from scratch every single time, and so for me, I keep a swipe file. It’s in Evernote, and Evernote’s amazing for this because they have a system where you can just tag stuff. So I have one big notebook in Evernote called ‘swipe file,’ and then everything that I add there I can add little tags. So the tags make it sortable, and so for Drift for example, there’s stuff that relates to Drift’s messaging and positioning. So, I put all those in a file that I call like ‘Drift’s story,’ right? So then when I need to find something that’s related to Drift’s messaging and positioning, or things I want to use later, I can just go sort ‘Drift’s story.’
Another example is like pricing page copy, right? Pricing pages are notoriously hard to write, and so I just keep a stash of great copy from pricing pages and then those are all in my swipe file under the tag ‘pricing page,” and I do this for everything now. I do this for blog posts ideas I think are good, podcast ideas, ad copy, I put everything in that swipe file, and then the crazy part about having a swipe file, is that often times I don’t even reference it. It’s the act of just like saving stuff there, that forces me to remember it, ’cause something happens in my brain, like when I actually saved it there, something happens it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I do have a good example of that, that I can lean on.’ Then occasionally I can just go and search for it and find good examples.
So, I can’t talk enough about a swipe file, and this is something that again, like not to make this whole podcast about, and not to make my marketing podcast all about lessons from the copywriting old school days, but they all did this. They had a drawer, like literally a drawer, my wife kills me because she says I say ‘drawer’ like I’m drawing a hand drawing, but that’s what it is to me, it’s a drawer. They would keep a drawer full of, literally a cabinet, where they would pull out ideas. They would pull something, files from the drawer, and they would say, “Hey look, here’s an example of X, Y, and Z.” Before they ever wrote anything, they would pull from those examples to then go out and create it.
So, if you don’t have a swipe file already, that’s the tip I want to leave you with today. Start keeping one, right? The next time that people start sending you ideas, like I don’t know if you have a company where my CEO, David, he sends us a million ideas, people on the team, I just save everything, right, I save the things that I would like and think are good, and I have them for later. So my push for you is to keep a swipe file, whether you’re in marketing, sales, like I would definitely do this in sales, to keep a list of emails that worked, right, messages that worked, I’d always keep that. Even in product, right, designs, common patterns that we want to use, great examples of moguls inside of an app or something like that. I would always keep a swipe file.
I don’t see enough people doing it, and so I think, the reason I wanted to do this podcast is because whenever I tell people that I have a swipe file, they’re like, “Whoa, oh, that’s so cool, what’s in it, and how do you use it, and I heard like the copywriters used to do that but I don’t have one.” Just do it, it’s in Evernote, right, it’s so easy, just start clipping there. You can also get the Evernote web clipper, and so in Chrome, just add the web clipper, and so every article that I’m on online, within one click, I can just save it to my swipe file for later.
So, ultimately the lesson is keep a swipe file. The bigger lesson here is to copy until you make yours better. It’s crazy to sit around and have a blank slate and be stuck all the time. Use the swipe file to come up with ideas, to draw from inspiration, and it’s so much easier to copy and existing framework and then make your version of it, than it is to start from scratch. That’s not just easier on you, that’s going to be easier on the people that are going to be interacting with your stuff, because you have to lean on common patterns and familiar patterns. If you’re going to introduce something brand new to somebody they’ve never seen before, the learning curve there is going to be a little bit higher. So I always try to take something that’s common and existing, and then make my version of it.
So that’s what I got for you today. I hope everybody is having an amazing week.
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