I’m going to give you 700,000 great reasons to use yellow sticky notes. Most of my career was with State Auto Insurance which gave me a proving ground to see how influence and persuasion training worked in “the real world.” It’s one thing to read about psychological studies but 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 where yellow sticky notes were used to engage people and increase their willingness to take action. In both studies, when a sticky note with a handwritten message was attached to a survey cover letter, the response rate to each survey more than doubled when compared to sending out the survey cover letter by itself.
Most people would deny they took either survey because of the sticky note and short handwritten message. However, quite often the psychology is triggered at the subconscious level and that’s a big reason people don’t recognize their own thought process – they’re simply unaware of how the psychological stimuli affected their behavior.
Why does a sticky note with a short message work so well? That’s reciprocity in action, that need to give back when someone does something for us. Using a sticky note with a handwritten message takes extra time and effort and it also personalizes the request. Consciously or subconsciously, survey recipients respond to that small act in a big way. How else can you explain the response rate doubling in two separate studies?
Now for the 700,000 great reasons. Some time ago, within days of returning from an extended Christmas break, I was called into a meeting with a half dozen people. The reason for the meeting was because our company made a big mistake – a $700,000 error to be exact. We had accidentally overpaid 150 insurance agencies in one of our operating states, doubling their commission income for the month of December! It would have been nice if we could have pushed a button to electronically take the money back, but we couldn’t. Our plan to get the overpayments back as quickly as possible included a letter from our home office accounting manager with clear instructions on exactly what each agency owner needed to do in order to remit the overpayment.
Fortunately, the accounting manager had been through my training where I shared the results of the sticky note studies. I reminded him about the studies and told him, “If you don’t have time to put a sticky note on each letter and sign them, call me and I’ll do it.” He was a good student and remembered the training so he assured me he would put a signed sticky note on each letter before mailing them.
A few weeks later I called him to find out how the collection was going and his exact words were, “I’m floored!” I asked why and he proceeded to tell me 130 of the 150 agencies had already sent the money back in full. Being an optimist, I innocently asked, “You mean everyone didn’t send it back?” That got a good laugh then he replied, “We are talking about money. 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 a few months later, he told me 147 of the 150 agencies had repaid the money in full! We don’t know if they all paid it back so quickly just because of the sticky notes, but our experience tells us many more responded and did so much more quickly. And our experience exactly corroborated the two independent studies.
This is worth repeating: small changes can lead to big differences! The great news is many times what it takes to produce those big changes costs little to nothing. In this situation it was packets of sticky notes and 30 extra minutes to sign them and attach them to letters. That’s a great ROI – Return on Influence. And yes, return on investment also!
How can you Influence PEOPLE? Do you still send things through the mail asking people to do something? You should – even in today’s electronic world. And when you do, invest in some sticky notes, take time to write a short, personalized note, and you’ll see much better results.
Original post 1/30/12. Revised post on 2/9/23 using the chapter from my first book, Influence PEOPLE.
Brian Ahearn is the Chief Influence Officer at Influence PEOPLE. An author, TEDx speaker, international trainer, coach, and consultant, Brian helps clients apply influence in everyday situations to boost results.
As one of only a dozen Cialdini Method Certified Trainers (CMCT) in the world, Brian was personally trained by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., the most cited living social psychologist on the science of ethical influence.
Brian’s first book, Influence PEOPLE, was named one of the 100 Best Influence Books of All Time by Book Authority. His follow-up, Persuasive Selling for Relationship Driven Insurance Agents, was an Amazon new release bestseller. His latest book, The Influencer: Secrets to Success and Happiness, is a business parable designed to teach you how to apply influence concepts at home and the office.
Brian’s LinkedIn courses on persuasive selling and coaching have been viewed by more than 500,000 people around the world!