Why You Need a Digital Swipe File

One of my favorite “happy accidents” of my career is the fact that I came up in a direct marketing environment. Specifically it was a direct mail job with an educational publishing company. I’ve often noted the connections one can make between direct-mail principles and email marketing but there’s another direct-mail tactic that belongs in your digital toolbox.

In addition to great lessons like “Keep It Simple Stupid” (or “Silly if you’re feeling less self deprecating), my direct mail background taught me the benefits of keeping a swipe file. For those unfamiliar with this concept, a swipe file is simply a physical file (those manilla things) that you can keep of interesting and engaging direct-mail packages that you like and would like to swipe an idea or two from. Sometimes you might admire the creative while other times you might like the call to action (CTA) or the response mechanism.

That’s why many steeped in direct mail experience can usually produce — if asked — a folder or two bursting at the seams, full of mailers. To be clear, this isn’t a license to completely copy these pieces. Rather, it’s an idea file that you can pull various ingredients from for one of your campaigns down the road.

The Digital Swipe File

If you like the swipe file concept but aren’t sending a whole lot of direct mail these days, don’t worry. This is a concept you can employ digitally as well. For starters, when it comes to email marketing you can crib this concept directly by keeping a digital swipe file as a folder on your inbox in your email client or as a label in Gmail. With a receptacle to store these ideas, you can redirect emails you like from your own inbox or those others forward to you.

Your swiping fun doesn’t have to stop at your email inbox. You can do the same thing with social media, pay-per-click (PPC ads), display creative, videos, and more. You might find a transparent video overview of a product or service that you love like the one for Dollar Shave Club. Or you might find yourself scanning your Facebook newsfeed over breakfast where you become enamored with the fun voice and engagement of a brand like Old Spice. For social, PPC, and display, a simple screenshot can be a quick-and-easy way to swipe. For videos and other forms of content, copying a link is an effective means of leaving yourself a trail back to the idea you like.

Storing Swiped Ideas for Future Use

With the digital “swiping” covered, let’s focus on how we “file” these ideas. A collection of screenshots and links is only as good as your mechanism for storing and organizing these ideas for future use. While a digital file on your desktop is a start, this has the same organizational challenges of the manilla folder in the physical world, quickly becoming overrun with samples haphazardly added.

One way around this, is starting a Google Doc where you can embed the images and add headings to sort screenshots and links by type — great content, fun Facebook engagement, good AdWords copy. This Google Doc also has the added benefit of being shareable with other team members. Google’s Drive app adds enhanced mobile capability to your swipe file as well.

Another digital swipe file system you might like is using Evernote. In addition to the capabilities noted above you also have an added hierarchical level of creating notebooks for various channels — Facebook ideas, Twitter ideas, email ideas, and so forth — with individual notes inside these notebooks detailing Facebook ad ideas, Facebook cover art ideas, Facebook fan engagement ideas, and more.

As a speaker and educator, my presentations often become swipe files of ideas that I share with others. One could argue that Slideshare has become a useful mechanism for storing and sharing examples of cool ideas with other marketers.

To Swipe or Not to Swipe

For many marketers that is the question. While the channels we use today to build brands are dramatically different from those of the past, there are still many strategies and tactics from traditional channels such as direct mail that can help us achieve success.

What do you think? Are you keeping a swipe file of digital ideas that you like?

Photo via Flickr user Tristan Bowersox