700,000 Great Reasons To Use Yellow Sticky Notes

Allow me to give you 700,000 great reasons to use sticky notes.  I work at State Auto Insurance which gives me a proving ground to see how influence and persuasion training works in “the real world.” After all, it’s one thing to read about psychological studies but it’s quite another to translate the findings into business practices that help the bottom line.

In Yes: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive, the authors (Cialdini, Goldstein, Martin) cite two studies on the use of yellow sticky notes to show how they engage people and can increase the response rate. In both studies, when a sticky note with a hand written message was attached to a survey cover letter, the response rate to the survey more than doubled when compared to just sending out the survey cover letter.

Most people would deny they took the survey because of the sticky note and short message written on it. However, quite often the psychological prihttp://www.amazon.com/Yes-Scientifically-Proven-Ways-Persuasive/dp/1416570969nciples of influence are triggered at the subconscious level and that’s a big reason people deny it – because they’re unaware of how the stimuli affected them.

Why does the sticky note with the short message work so well? Because of reciprocity; the principle of influence that alerts us to the reality that people feel obligated to give back when they sense someone has done something for them. Using a sticky note with a handwritten message takes extra time and personalizes the request. Consciously or unconsciously, recipients of the survey responded to that small act in a big way. After all, it’s hard to deny a doubling of the response rate in two separate studies.

You’re wondering where the 700,000 reasons are going to come in. Let me take you back a few years. Within days of returning from an extended Christmas break, I was called into a meeting because our company made a big error, a $700,000 mistake to be exact. Somehow we’d overpaid 150 insurance agencies in one of our operating states, doubling their commission income for the month! It would have been nice if we could have pushed a button and gotten the money back but we couldn’t. Part of the plan to try to get the money back as quickly as possible included a letter going out from our accounting department with clear instructions on exactly what each agency needed to do in order to remit the over payment.

Fortunately, the accounting person had been through my training where I shared the results of the sticky note studies. I reminded him about that and said, “If you don’t have time to put a note on each letter call me and I’ll come do it.” Because he was a good student he remembered the training session and assured me he would put a sticky note on each letter and sign them before mailing.

About two weeks later I called him to find out how the collection was going and he said, “I’m floored!” When I asked why, he proceeded to tell me 130 of the 150 agencies had already sent the money back. I was a bit surprised because if someone told me I owed them money due to an over payment, I’d send back what I owed right away. With that thought in mind I asked, “You mean they didn’t all send it back?” That got a laugh then he replied, “We’re talking about money here. A lot of times people will say, ‘It’s your problem, you fix it,’ or ‘Let’s work out a repayment schedule,’ because they’ve already spent the money.”

When we had lunch about two months later, he said 147 or the 150 agencies had repaid all the money. I’m not going to tell you they all paid it back so quickly just because of the sticky notes or even that twice as many did so, but I know for a fact more of them responded, and did so faster, because two separate psychological studies verify that for me.

In my Principles of Persuasion workshops I emphasize the reality that small changes can lead to big differences. The great news is so often what it takes to produce those big changes costs next to nothing. For my company it was a couple of packets of sticky notes and perhaps 15 extra minutes to sign them and stick them to letters. Do you still send things the old fashioned way where you need people to do something? If so, I encourage you to invest in some sticky notes and you’ll see better results because the science tells us so.

15 replies
    • Anonymous
      Anonymous says:

      You can add a sticky note to email. If you have Windows 7, open your sticky note. Type the note you want. Use your snipping tool to copy the image and paste it in paint and save as png file. Open your email and insert the sticky note image. You can also link it to any web page you want. Takes a bit to do but is easy.

      I love the idea of using a yellow sticky note. I have already added some to a few emails. Waiting to see the results.

    • Brian Ahearn
      Brian Ahearn says:

      I've even used a picture of sticky note with "Thanks, Brian" on it and got a much better than normal response. Both tap in to reciprocity – people subconsciously know you did more and feel more compelled to respond.

  1. Brian Ahearn
    Brian Ahearn says:

    I'm glad you asked because that's going to be a follow up post in a few weeks where I'll share some actual results I've seen. The quick answer is this – you need to personalize your mass emails in such a way that people feel like it was sent directly to them and not dozens or hundreds of people. Mail merging your data so you can include a first name and send an individual email to each user, just as you'd print individual letters to mail, is the way to go. If you include a question people feel compelled to answer and that helps too. I encourage you to keep an eye out for that post because I'll have much more to say.


  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I found this to be a fascinating article. Two reasons: One is, I am always seeking to get better responses to any marketing material. Two, I supply offices all their necessary products including sticky pads! This is a great, relatable story that might yield a few more sales!


  3. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I've had great success with hand written envelopes in my direct mail marketing. Adding this will no doubt increase THOSE numbers. Can't wait to give it a shot! Thanks!

  4. roofer
    roofer says:

    Hi there, quick question. Would you mind sharing
    which blog platform you’re working with and do you like it?
    I’m going to start my own website (I’m hoping to build a reputation soon) but I’m having a tough time deciding between Squarespace/Wordpress/Wix/Tumblr and Drupal.
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  1. […] much more when you take time to personalize them. In one study, a simple handwritten message on a yellow sticky note doubled response rates on a survey. Why? Reciprocity dictates the more someone does something for […]

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