news2Posted on: September 21st, 2015

Imagine that you really need to convince someone to do something, such as following through on a task. You might be surprised to learn that one of the best ways to get someone to comply with your request is through a tiny nuance that adds a personal touch—attaching a sticky note.

A brilliant set of experiments by Randy Garner at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville found that a) adding a personal touch, and b) making someone feel like you’re asking a favor of them (and not just anyone) can bring about impressive results when done in tandem.

The goal of Garner’s experiments was to see what was necessary to generate compliance in completing surveys—which are often quite lengthy and tedious—by fellow professors at the university, using only interoffice mail as the conduit of communication. The wild card factor in these experiments was the use of sticky notes. In one experiment, he sent surveys to three separate groups of 50 professors (150 professors total). Three groups received three different requests, as follows:

Group 1 received a survey with a sticky note attached asking for the return of the completed survey.

Group 2 received a survey with the same handwritten message on the cover letter instead of an attached sticky note.

Group 3 received a survey with a cover letter, but no handwritten message.

What happened?

Group 3: 36% of the professors returned the survey.

Group 2: 48% of the professors returned the survey.

Group 1: 76% of the professors returned the survey.

Generalizing this experiment in other contexts simply requires understanding why the sticky note worked so well. It represents many powerful behavioral triggers all in one little object:

  1. It doesn’t match the environment—the sticky note takes up space and looks a bit cluttered. The brain, therefore, wants it gone.
  2. It gets attention first because of #1. It’s difficult to ignore.
  3. It’s personalized. (That’s the difference between Group 2 and Group 3 in the experiment.)
  4. Ultimately, the sticky note represents one person communicating with another important person—almost as if it is a favor or special request, which makes the recipient feel important.

Garner couldn’t help but explore the sticky note factor further. He decided to do a second experiment where he sent a group of professors a blank sticky note attached to one of the surveys. Here’s what happened:

Group 1 received a survey with a personalized sticky note message.

Group 2 received a survey with a blank sticky note attached.

Group 3 received a survey with no sticky note.

What happened in the second study?

Group 3: 34% returned the survey with no sticky note (similar to the first experiment).

Group 2: 43% returned the survey with the blank sticky note

Group 3: 69% returned the survey with the personalized sticky note (similar to the first experiment).

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.

But there’s more to compliance than just the result. There’s also the speed of compliance and the quality of the effort. Garner experimented to see how quickly people would return a follow-up survey if there was a sticky note attached and also measured how much information the person being surveyed returned if there was a sticky note attached vs. the group that received no sticky note. Here’s what he found:

Group 1 (with sticky note) returned their self-addressed stamped envelopes (SASEs) and surveys within an average of about 4 days.

Group 2 (no sticky note) returned their SASEs and surveys in an average of about 5 1/2 days.

But the most notable difference is that Group 1 also sent significantly more comments and answered other open-ended questions with more words than Group 2 did.

Further experiments revealed 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. What makes it truly personal? Writing a brief message is effective, but adding the person’s first name at the top and your initials at the bottom causes significantly greater compliance.

I’ve used this personalization theory with business people around the world to great success. For example, a mortgage broker I worked with tested this approach in mailings, effectively doubling the number of phone calls from people pursuing a loan with the broker. And it’s not just effective at the office or with clients—the people you live with are going to respond to the sticky note model as well. (Try sticking one on the bathroom mirror and see what happens.)

Recently, the personalized sticky note has been put into digital form for use in email, to mixed results. It’s most effective in email when the two people have met, or know each other. It had only had modest effect in sales letters designed to make an immediate sale, when the reader didn’t know the author of the sales letter. Using the notes in sales letters designed for current clients and customers needs further testing.

The next time you need colleagues to comply with a request, or the next time you’re giving a potential client a portfolio to review, try leaving a sticky note. A small personal touch will go a long way toward getting the results you want.


Posted on: September 18th, 2015
Author: Anthony Iannarino
Welcome Reader,

When I was a kid, I drove from Ohio to Los Angeles to spend a month there deciding where I would live and where I would work. I had a 1990 Chrysler Laser (it was new then!). That car required unleaded gas, providing me with two choices at most gas stations as I drove across the country. At some stations, I could get 91 octane gasoline. At other stations, especially in Texas and New Mexico, I could get only 87 octane. The 87 octane gas had a lower price, and it was cheaper.

Did you catch that? It had a lower price AND it was cheaper. Price and cost are different. And that difference is made up of value.

With the 91 octane gas, I got something like 360 miles from a tank of gas. With the 87 octane, I got less than 280 miles from a tank. For a few extra bucks when I filled up my tank, I got a massive increase in mileage. I didn’t have to stop as often to get gas, and when you are driving across the country, this is important.

Last week during a Level 4 Value Creation workshop I facilitated, I asked the participants to tell me one thing that they bought that was an absolute commodity. The first answer was “toilet paper.” That got a big laugh. I asked the participant, “So, all toilet paper is equal, and you buy the cheapest toilet paper every time.” He said, “No! It’s gotta work!” This brought an even bigger laugh, as people recognized that there are different levels of value on something that is perceived to be a commodity.

The next answer was “fuel.” But even this isn’t true. You will pay more for gasoline that is convenient to you when you need it. You will also spend more money with a gas station that provides you with the opportunity to buy a few of the things you need on your way home. You’ll pay way more for almost everything you buy inside the store at a gas station. You are paying for the value created by convenience.

Even when something is a commodity, you pay more for something that creates greater value.

You probably make decisions to spend less money on things that you believe to be commodities, things that aren’t important to you. And you may even spend too little on some things that really are important to you.

Your customers do the same thing. They are cheap, and their cheapness is costing them real money.

It is your job to teach them the difference between price and cost. You have to show them the greater value they receive by paying more (think compelling, differentiated value). You also have to show them what they pay by choosing a lower price (think risks and higher actual costs).

  • What greater value does your higher price create for your clients or customers? How does paying the higher price reduce their actual costs?

  • What higher costs do your clients pay by choosing the lower price? What are they losing? What are they putting at risk?