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The remarkable influence of Post-it notes

Campbell Such | July 13, 2016
…and how to use them to double response rates to your requests, in this age of digital tools

Imagine you're driving and suddenly there's fog up to your windows. You can see for miles - you just can't see the road. Well, that's the situation a colleague of mine found himself in.

It's what a thick ground fog (called Tule fog - pronouncedtoo-lee), in California's Central Valley north of LA, can do to you. Tule fog normally forms in a layer five to 10 metres deep, which makes for very dangerous driving because it severely restricts visibility - in this extraordinary case it was only up to the windows. Tule fog is particularly prevalent in winter when the freezing cold ground condenses the moist air above it after it has rained.

And like the Tule fog has a big influence on the ability of motorists to get to their destination, a sticky note can have a big influence on the responses you get to a request to do something. And on top of that, just like the Tule fog obscures the road from the motorists; the influence of the sticky note is unnoticed by the recipients

So what's the best way to use a sticky note to improve the response rate you get to your requests?

A personalised Post-It note with a few handwritten words, asking someone to do something such as completing a task. Research performed by Randy Garner, a professor of behavioural science at Sam Houston State University, showed this can double the chances they will do what you've asked. The surprising finding was reported by Dr Kevin Hogan on the Harvard Business Review website in 2015.

That's a big increase, how did they find that out?

Garner's research covered five different experiments. The objective was to try to get other professors at the university to fill out a survey. In each experiment, there were 150 recipients divided into three groups of 50. Here's what the experiments looked like:

Experiment 1

  • Group 1 - He sent each recipient a survey with a hand written sticky note attached, asking them to fill out the survey and it send back.


  • Group 2 - He sent each recipient the same survey, except this time there was no sticky note and the message was handwritten on the cover letter


  • Group 3 - He sent each recipient the same survey, except this one had a cover letter with no sticky note and no handwritten message.


The result was that more than double the number of professors from Group 1 (with the sticky note) returned the survey over the group with just the standard cover letter. Here's what the results looked like:


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