A swipe file is a term marketers like to throw around which represents their notes and data collected on competitors. The file may contain any number of media items whether it’s screenshots of landing pages they found to be interesting or copies of emails they felt were spectacular in their purpose.

A swipe file is:

  • There to help you understand the competition
  • A collection to generate ideas for campaigns
  • A set of references and resources

A swipe file is not:

  • An open invitation to copy a competitor
  • A reason to get lazy in your work
  • Something you rarely update and forget

Creating a swipe file is essentially like taking notes on a topic but with one major difference …

Items you have collected have already been tested.

This means the research and development has been done for you. The use of s swipe file allows you to bypass this grueling stage of development. It also presents an opportunity to gain a leg up on the competition if you are willing to see their pitfalls and mistakes.

Leveraging their work as a base and developing a new campaign from insights gained from the swipe will greatly aid in the rapid deployment of new marketing campaigns and online projects.

Creating a Swipe File: The Three Steps

Here’s the short version:

1. Create a folder called “Swipe File”

2. Grab screenshots, downloads, and copies of competitors’ marketing efforts

3. Take notes on each item collected

That’s a very basic, simplified version but it does give you the necessary understanding of what’s needed to create this file. However … there’s more to gain if you’re willing to make the additional effort.

Here’s the long version:

1. Creating the File

Go to an area on your computer you frequently work from (I have an “Online Project” folder).

From in here create a new Folder and call this Swipe File.

I would then advise to set this folder as a regular backup on a service like Box or Dropbox just in case something messes up and you lose the data.

You may also want to, at a later point, upload this information to a location like Google Drive or SkyDrive to make edits online.

2. Organize the Information

Once you have the main Swipe File folder created I would recommend creating a folder for each competitor or one based on a main category.

Option A: [Competitor] -> Emails, Blog Posts, Graphics, Social Updates, Advertising

Option B: Emails, Blog Posts, Graphics, Social Updates, Advertising

Here’s how it would look (basically):

Overall – the folders are in place to help keep things well organized so you don’t end up with a single folder with hundreds of files. You’re not limited to just these categories, obviously, and I’d encourage you to expand on what areas of the competition you track.

3. Utilize the Information

I would recommend creating a Word document which works as a main set of notes per category.

These notes will be related to each of your entries so you may use those as a building block to begin generating ideas.

For example: You may create a one paragraph summary of the swipe. Below that is a list of five to ten ideas generated after examining the piece. A final section may be placed to include one or two actionable items which go above and beyond what the competitor has to offer.

Putting the Swipe File to Good Use

I am choosing to leave this area sparse.

Why?

Because the swipe file isn’t meant to be an excuse to copy and paste competitor campaigns.

A swipe file is created as a method to draw inspiration.

Yes, the data you uncover will help you target your efforts but it’s still absolutely necessary that you tweak your campaigns to match what you are trying to offer. The new campaign, having gained from the swipe, needs to cater to your business and aimed at your community.

Do this: Create the swipe file, leverage its data, use it for inspiration, and create something fresh.

A quick copy and paste will merely have you playing catch up with the competition. They will always be the authorities because they hit the market first while you (and others) lag because of a heavy reliance on waiting for them to act.

Wrap Up and Resources

I wanted to make this post quick and to the point because, in all honesty, a swipe file is extremely easy to understand and get going … but it just so happens to be one of those items many marketers forgo because it’s easy to overlook.

For additional information I would like to point you to:

Your next action is to get started. Spend an hour of your free time collecting notes and data on the competition. Begin archiving those emails. Screenshotting great pages. Go as far as talking to their customers to hear what they have to say about the business.

Get inside their heads and figure out what makes them tick.

Then … create something amazing and stomp the competition at their own game.