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June 10, 2015

Study: Sticky notes can be surprisingly persuasive

A recent set of experiments has shown that a simple sticky note can be a surprisingly useful tool in persuasion, Harvard Business Review reports.

Randy Garner at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, found that attaching a sticky note when asking someone to do something adds a personal touch, making them more inclined to comply.

In the first experiment, Garner tested the influence of attaching a Post-it note on the likelihood of people completing a survey. 

Three separate groups of 50 professors received surveys with the same request. One group received surveys with a sticky note attached asking for the return of the completed surveys. The second group received the same message handwritten on the cover letter, rather than on a sticky note. The final group received only a cover letter with no handwritten message. 

The results showed that those who received a sticky note, or at least a handwritten message, were more likely to complete and return surveys and to do so in a more thorough and timely manner. More than 75 percent of the professors who received sticky notes returned the survey, while 48 percent of those with handwritten messages and 36 percent of those with no message returned the survey.

In a follow-up study, Garner introduced a blank sticky note to the mix. The results for the groups with a personalized sticky note and no sticky note were similar to the first study, while 43 percent returned the survey with the blank sticky note.

The real magic, it seems, is not the sticky note itself, but the sense of connection, meaning, and identity that the sticky note represents. The person sending the survey is personally asking me in a special way (not just writing it on the survey) to help him or her out.

Further experiments revealed that more involved requests benefited from a more highly personalized sticky note.

Read more from Harvard Business Review.