Marketers and other creative professionals need to come up with new ideas all the time. Although most of them are artistically inclined, nobody can produce deep or high-quality insights and pieces out of nowhere. Sometimes, the creative well runs dry for them too.
For some people, running out of ideas is no big deal. It is because they have a swipe file that they turn to when they need fresh inspiration. Why do you need one, though, and how can it help?
Swipe files are collections of landing pages, banner ads, PPC ads, blog posts, headlines—basically, anything that inspires your writing. The swipe file originated in advertising; copywriters used them to collect physical clippings of sales letters, headlines, and ads. When they make new advertisements, they will look at swipe files for inspiration. Anyone can use a swipe file—from creative writers to brand advertisers and digital marketers. It is a helpful tool that can kick-start the creative process.
Swiping and plagiarism are different things, although if you're not careful, you might end up doing the latter when you refer to a swipe file for your projects. It's always wrong to take another person's words and pass them off as your own. That's someone else's intellectual property. Besides, if you're plagiarizing, you're not using your swipe file properly.
Instead of copying and pasting, you analyze what makes a piece suitable. You try to reverse engineer a winning email, headline, or post from your files. By distilling what makes a piece great, you save yourself time and create better content.
Creating something from scratch is also an option, but few marketers have the luxury of time to dream up something engaging and completely original. A swipe file cuts down the time you need to produce output.
Swipe files let you do one thing that is guaranteed to make you a better marketer: practice. Practice always makes you better, whether you're an athlete going through drills or a creative professional drafting a digital asset. Since marketers are holding down full-time jobs, they don't have countless hours to devote to perfecting the craft, so having a compilation of "best hits" will make them progress through their learning much easier.
With a reference file, you become more conscious of your brand and how it stacks up against others in the niche. It also makes advertising and writing theories concrete—you can read all the books you want, but studying content that's worked in an actual campaign lets you see how the techniques work.
Inspiration files let you examine why the ad works. Is it the construction of the sentences, the choice of words, or the images it evokes? Does it call out the reader or invite them to think deeply about things?
Do you need to understand the time and place the ad aired, or is its appeal universal? When you answer these questions, you can apply the tools this ad uses in your work. Analyze enough ads, and you'll have a bank of favorite techniques for future projects.
Physical swipe files aren't practical today, especially for digital marketers. You need to have your vault of best works online to access it on your devices. Here are tools that other marketers use to collect inspiration for their campaigns:
This hybrid search engine and social network isn't just for collecting outfit pegs, workout routines, and images of stunning architecture. It can also help you collect articles, blog posts, videos, and more. Pinterest allows you to create boards, which you can use to organize your files. You can have one board for headlines, another for article structure, and so on.
If you've collaborated on a project with other teams, you're probably familiar with Trello. This tool uses Agile/Scrum features to make task management easier for individuals and groups alike. Trello is flexible—it's more than project management software. You can treat it like a virtual corkboard where you pin lists—each list has screenshots, attachments, and photos sourced from different places. Trello is free for individual users, but there are business plans if you want to maximize it.
Notion lets you create databases, folders, calendars, Kanban boards—anything you need to organize information. It's one of the most widely-used aids for project management for a reason. Users can completely customize how their Notion workspace looks and create a system that suits their needs. Like Trello, the personal plan is free. Meanwhile, the premium plan starts at $4/month.
If you like working offline, Pocket will be a good companion for you. It allows you to save articles, images, and more, making them available offline. Pocket lets you use tags as well for organizing content into categories. The free account is enough to start, but you can upgrade to the paid $4.99 per month version for more features.
Finally, you can organize your swipe file through Gmail. Create a separate account and use it to save marketing emails, newsletters, and other similar resources. Having a separate Gmail account lets you keep your inbox organized while ensuring that your email swipe file is in one place.
Depending on your needs or the projects you work on, you can use any combination of these tools. You could also search for public swipe files online like Swipe File, Swiped.co, and more.
If it inspires your work, you can put it in your file! Anything goes. If you don't know where to start, here are some ideas:
1. Introductions, last paragraphs, and subheads
2. Content that shows good use of sensory or power words
3. Articles that show how to use transitions or bullet points
4. Quotes to use in future articles
5. Statistics and research to refer to
6. Copy on Facebook ads, sales pages, and the like
Keep in mind that a swipe file is supposed to guide you as you make your content. When saving an article, write yourself a note reminding you why this piece is in your file—tag it "Quotes," for example, or "Introduction."
Many people believe that creative folk are the way they are because their muse visits them often. In truth, creativity is about having good habits. It involves studying good writing, practicing how to recreate these, and editing your work ruthlessly. A swipe file helps you activate your creativity and tap into tropes and themes that have worked for other brands; building one as soon as possible will make you a better writer!
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