I have a secret marketing weapon I've been cultivating for a while — saving everything I do or get inspired by in a swipe file.
This is my personal search engine for work-related inspiration.
In this post, I want to share how I built it, and what were the challenges on the way.
One of the biggest hurdles was going from regular working mode, to working mode while at the same time saving great ideas you come across. We previously wrote about note taking, and this article is the natural progression from the first step of taking notes.
Creating a robust swipe file will not only help you brainstorm on your own, but will also make you the person who always has great ideas at meetings and is eager to share it.
What is a swipe file?
Let me introduce you to what will undoubtedly become your new best friend at work: meet the swipe file.
A swipe file is a collection of marketing examples you can use and reference any time you need inspiration or direction (or need to remember what not to do). You can add anything to your swipe file: landing pages, emails, social media and search ad copy, blogs, newsletters, gifs, promo and walk-through videos, onboarding materials, billboards, old-school mailers... you get the point.
If this sounds like copying, it's not. It's standing on the shoulders of those who have come before you, drawing on their knowledge, skill, and tried-and-tested best practices. There's no need to reinvent the wheel. You're a marketer, not an inventor. Maybe one day you'll invent something, but not today. Today you need to start working on that landing page.
If the idea of using other people's experiences has raised your eyebrow, consider this infamous quote sometimes attributed to Pablo Picasso but often rephrased and reused by the likes of William Faulkner, Steve Jobs, and Banksy: Good artists copy, great artists steal. (Just look at the list of greats who stole that quote!)
In the case of marketing, stealing doesn't mean plagiarizing; it's about finding inspiration, using it as a starting point, and remixing it with your own creative ideas.
You might study LeBron James' moves to get better at basketball. Want to learn to paint? Watch a Bob Ross video. Ready to be a better, faster marketer? Create a swipe file.
Now is the time to stand on my shoulders, new swiper. I've been through the experience of building my own swipe file and I invite you to steal my methods.
1. Swipe the real world and digital world
We often walk, drive or travel through the real world with a destination in mind. We zone out on our way there, getting lost in music or thoughts, tuning into a podcast, reading the news, or answering emails. Instead, be present, taking in your surroundings and acknowledging what's around you with intent. You'll start to notice that inspiration is all around you, often in the simplest of things. It could be a restaurant logo, a concert poster, a sticker lazily slapped onto a light post.
The key is to remind yourself to pay attention and have an open eye for anything you encounter. It takes a bit of self-awareness at first to notice your mind actually saying, 'oh, that's interesting.' However, it becomes more natural once you start developing the habit.
One night I was picking up dinner and saw a billboard for Lego Duplo. My senses took in the atmosphere, but because that billboard caught my attention, I snapped a picture and saved it to my swipe file.
It's the same for anything I see on the internet - ads, sales pages, emails. Keep an eye out for what strikes you, what you're drawn to, anything that catches your attention or makes you want to click a CTA to actually 'Learn More.' When you notice that you're halfway down a landing page, reading about some random product you found through an ad, retrace the funnel and sort through the emotions that triggered your engagement. Ask yourself why the ad worked for you. Save it and the landing page so you can think about it more.
2. Tap into pre-curated resources
Getting started can feel daunting – like that blank page we've all faced. But, just as you don't need to start with a blank page, you don't need to start with an empty swipe file. There are a million and one resources you can browse through on the internet that you can browse through.
One unintimidating way to kick things off is to check out SwipeWell's marketing examples library, where we've organized hundreds of swipes by category, industry, brand, and more. I also highly recommend opening Facebook Ads Library and searching for a brand whose marketing you like.
Then, filter the ads and dig into the ones that have been running for a month or two, as those are the ones that are producing results and driving conversions for demand generation marketers.
Here's a list of resources I recommend to get you going:
3. Swipe others' swipe file
Swipe files aren't new. Before the digital age descended on us, old-school marketers used to keep binders filled with their swipes. There's a high chance that the other marketers you know already have a swipe file, so ask them if you can look through it. Swipe the swipes that trigger emotion for you and ask the owner what made them swipe specific files.
Again, no one is reinventing the wheel here, so you're not stealing anything. Most people will be flattered that you respect their opinion. They'll likely be open to discussing why they swiped different materials.
4. Turn off your ad blocker
While ad blockers reduce noise for the average consumer, for you, they are shutting off a valuable source of information. The ads you see don't appear by accident. Either you searched something, landed on a site and were retargeted, or fit an advertiser's profile.
It can be eye-opening to tune into that and ask yourself why you're getting an ad and what about you makes you part of the target audience. If you want to dig in further, you can, as most ad platforms allow you to personalize your ad preferences. Head to Twitter and see which filters and keywords someone would use to target you in the ads manager. As an exercise, think about how you would target yourself, which ads worked on you, and which didn't even register.
5. Don't put yourself in a box
You may be an e-commerce Facebook ad copywriter, but you should swipe anything that strikes you rather than just Facebook ads. You might want to look to Google or LinkedIn ads to see what companies are doing on those platforms, how they structure ads, and what's working. That will broaden your view, but to get out of an echo chamber, look beyond ads altogether. You might find a great CTA from D2C or a robotics manufacturing company.
If Facebook ad managers only looked at Facebook ads, there'd be nothing new, exciting or creative; people would just be remixing the same things. You need outside inspiration from unrelated industries and unrelated resources to actually push the needle forward.
6. Swipes don't have to be singular
Marketing isn't done through a single pane – a multi-touch funnel leads from awareness to sale. Keep that in mind when you are swiping. Work your way through a brand's funnel and piece together swipes to get a zoomed-out view and a step-by-step one. It could start with an ad and include sign-up or upsell landing pages, checkout pages, order confirmation, shipping and thank you emails, and more.
This can be particularly useful for strategic marketers or consultants. Once you've stitched the funnel together, you have a start-to-finish roadmap. Use it for yourself or during client and team meetings to show how an ad leads to a sale and why each touchpoint is essential and unique. Showing is always better than telling, and this type of swipe will enable you to do that.
Make your swipe file work for you
Swipe files are only useful when you can use them. That means they need to be organized in a way that makes sense to you and annotated with your thoughts and impressions.
Organize with care
How you organize your swipe file is up to you, but you need to put a system in place. I can tell you from personal experience that having sources on my phone, in a desktop folder, in my bookmarks bar, and just about everywhere else isn't practical. You'll forget about swipes or waste precious time trying to find one.
That was one of the things that drove me to create our SwipeWell App. I found myself trying to organize my swipes in different ways, but each felt limited. I had to save the same swipe to multiple folders because it was a SaaS landing page, but I also liked the graphics and About Us section. It needed to go into three folders. It was difficult to develop a naming convention because I needed to include a handful of keywords in the file name so I could search for it. The process was cumbersome.
That or a color-coding process might work for some people, but it didn't work for me. With the SwipeWell App, we use tagging and keywords to streamline organization. You can add multiple tags to a swipe rather than adding a swipe to multiple files. You can use the chrome extension to quickly capture all or parts of a page. I share this with you not because it's my app but because it's really helpful, solves the challenges I faced, and it's free!)
Annotate, annotate, annotate
When you consult your swipe file, one of the biggest issues is remembering why you swiped something in the first place. You need to annotate each swipe in the moment so you can remember your initial reaction. Days or months later, you won't (although you might notice new elements). Were you drawn to a particular section on a landing page, the design, a headline?
Notes take your swipes from 'here's something I liked' to 'here's my analysis of WHY I liked it.' When you return to your notes later, your future self will thank your past self, ultimately speeding up your work.
Swiping is a way of life
The more you incorporate swiping into your everyday activities, the easier it will become. Make it a habit, and it will turn you into a better, faster marketer.
Whenever I start something new, swiping is just part of my workflow. I begin by finding new examples from the specific industry and beyond, plus various material sources, swiping and annotating as I go. Then I open my swipe file and see what had previously drawn my attention. I analyze everything, identifying patterns and selecting elements. That turns into my template, and before I know it, my creative gears are turning, and ideas are flowing - no more blank page.
This article was co-written with Wordtune. Wordtune didn’t write the whole piece. Instead, it contributed ideas, suggested rephrasing alternatives, maintained consistency in tone, and of course - made the process much more fun for the writer.