Need To Persuade Someone? Use a Sticky Note

Post-it Marilyn

New research suggests that sticky notes are a powerful form of persuasion.

They work because they are a) personalized, and b) targeted, meaning the recipient feels like you specifically asked them for a favor.


The Study

The researcher, Randy Garner, sent 150 surveys to be completed by professors at his university. Fifty researchers were each put into 1 of 3 conditions:

Group 1 received a survey with a sticky note on top. The note asked the recipient to return a completed survey.

Group 2 received a similar message, but it was hand-written on the cover letter rather than on a sticky.

Group 3 received a survey with a cover letter, but no hand-written message.

The results?

  • 36% of those in Group 3 returned the survey.
  • 48% of those in Group 2 returned the survey.
  • 76% of those in Group 1 returned the survey.


Why Does It Work?

You can easily apply this principle in other contexts, as long as you understand the underlying psychology.

  • The sticky note is colorful and covers up the underlying document. It demands attention.
  • The message is personalized because it’s written by hand.
  • Therefore, it represents a 1-to-1 communication; it’s one person respectfully asking another for a favor.


The Power of Personalization

Garner studied this phenomenon further in a subsequent study. He tried attaching blank stickies to surveys and measured the results.

  • 34% returned the survey with no sticky note.
  • 43% returned the survey with a blank sticky note.
  • 69% returned the survey with a personalized sticky note.

Note that these numbers are fairly consistent with the first study. It suggests that the power isn’t in the note itself, but the message on it. Fairly obvious — but an important distinction nonetheless.

In a 3rd study, Garner wanted to measure the speed and quality of responses. This time, participants had to complete a follow-up survey by snail mail.

You can guess by now what happened…

The group that had a personalized sticky note turned in the survey 1.5 days sooner than those who did not.

They also provided more detailed answers to open-ended questions on the survey.


The Takeaway

A personalized sticky note makes people much more likely to comply with your requests.

For best results, address the recipient by name at the top of the note, and then sign the note with your first name or your initials.


Image by Peter Hellberg / Creative Commons

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