How stealing is the key to success

Coming up with ideas for website and marketing content can be tricky, especially with a deadline looming. So if you find inspiration hard to come by – pinch it!

Pablo Piccasso once said: “Good artists copy, great artists steal”. And marketing legend David Ogilvy believed that “originality is the most dangerous word in the advertiser’s lexicon.”

While I’m not advocating wholesale plagiarism, you should start keeping a ‘swipe file’. Swipe files originate from advertising copywriters who kept a file of successful adverts they had seen. When short on ideas, they would browse the file for ideas they could re-use.

They wouldn’t copy adverts verbatim but took elements from them and put their spin on them. And you should be doing something similar if you want to write good web content or run successful online marketing campaigns.

First, decide what format your swipe file will take. I use a note taking app called Evernote which is great for making quick notes or adding web pages to. You could use a Word document or even a physical scrap book or folder. It doesn’t matter as long as you can easily add ideas and find them when you need them.

Once you have your swipe file, you need to become open to the ideas which are all around you. A good place to start is the marketing emails you receive. If one takes your interest, think about why – was the subject line intriguing, was it well written or perhaps it had an eye-catching design. Whatever it is, add it to your swipe file. You should also add a brief note saying what you liked about it.

Other sources of marketing inspiration are websites, blogs, television, radio or even billboards. And don’t limit yourself to marketing campaigns – you can also find great ideas in newspapers (headlines especially), books even movies.

What are you are looking for is ideas you can easily repeat on your own website or marketing. Here are a few examples I found which you could use for your own website or emails:

Basically, anything that you think would work on your own website or in your marketing.

Pretty soon, you should have plenty of source material in your swipe file. So what to do with it?

I’m going to take an unlikely example and show how it could be used by an accountant. My source material is Barack Obama’s email marketing campaign from the 2012 presidential election campaigns. Here’s an article showing details of the emails and how effective they were:

These emails raised a massive $690 million so it’s safe to say they were a resounding success. So when I read this article, I filed it away in my swipe file for future reference.

One email in particular from the campaign caught my eye. It had the subject line: Some scary numbers. I don’t even know what the contents of the email were – it doesn’t matter. It just struck me that if my accountant sent me an email with that subject I would definitely open it.

It has a shock element, especially if sent by an accountant. And there is intrigue – what are the scary numbers and why are they scary – which makes me want to find out more.

So what to write about? You don’t want to frighten your client – in general negativity in marketing rarely works. So the key it to use the shock of the headline to get them to open the email, then deliver a positive message.

So perhaps the ‘scary numbers’ could be the amount of people who miss out on a simple tax break. One that you could help them with. Other ‘scary numbers’ could be the number of hours wasted by businesses using out-of-date accounting software. A nice lead in to educating your client about the power of cloud software which you can help them with.

The example shows that you can and should be looking outside of the accounting profession for swipe file ideas. Some of the best marketing ideas have come when one industry borrowed from another.

So start a swipe file today and soon you’ll find writing for your website and marketing a lot easier and more effective.

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