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Need Action? Add a Sticky Note

February 11th, 2020

Before you send out that survey or report or memo no one will pay attention to, do what psychologist Randy Garner did and attach a Post-it to the cover with a quick personal note. You'll be surprised at the response it gets.


Garner did that just in a series of experiments, doubling his response rate to a survey. The psychology professor at Texas' Sam Houston State University found that the mere presence of a Post-it on the cover page prompted substantially more responses. Adding a personal note to it increased responses even more. And those who got the personal Post-it were faster to return the survey and were more complete in their written comments.

Even when he tested to see if survey length would have an effect, Garner found that a personal message on the sticky note upped the response rate by 500%. While a 5 page survey got a higher response rate among all three groups -- no Post-it, Post-it no message and personalized Post-it -- adding just a sticky note alone improved the return rate from 13% (no Post-It) to 40%.

In reporting his research in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, Garner said, "These results suggest that the Post-it generally tends to operate at a somewhat subtle level. When the task is more demanding, however, the personalized Post-it appeal may call greater attention to the personal nature of the request and figures more prominently in a decision to complete the task."

Discussing the implications of the experiments for business in a Harvard Business Review article, author and psychologist Kevin Hogan said adding the sticky note, even without a message, personalized the appeal creating a "sense of connection, meaning, and identity."

Garner's experiments, Hogan observed, showed that "if a task is easy to perform or comply with, a simple sticky note request needs no further personalization. But, when the task is more involved, a more highly personalized sticky note was significantly more effective than a simple standard sticky note request."

It's a good lesson the next time you want people to notice and act on that report or memo. Simply add a Post-it and a quick note.

And to make it even more personal and more effective, Hogan says, "Adding the person’s first name at the top and your initials at the bottom causes significantly greater compliance."

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