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3M has a plan to keep the Post-it note relevant to young smartphone addicts

Newspapers, magazines and telephone directories are all paper products that have fallen prey to the rise of digital technology. But the humble Post-it note has thus far dodged the bullet.

These small squares of paper with a strip of adhesive on their rear, which have been selling for more than three decades, have proven indispensable to many offices and households. And they’ve continued to earn nicely for their maker, industrial conglomerate 3M.

Post-it note sales are estimated to total $1 billion a year, which would represent nearly a quarter of the 3M’s steadily growing consumer and office products division. That’s contributed to 3M’s overall stellar 2013; its shares are up 45%, with impressive profit growth, a dividend hike and its biggest share buyback program of the year in December. And yet, the Post-it note is not immune to disruption in the digital age. It can be far more efficient to save a reminder on your smartphone, using one of the many free memo apps available, than to scrawl something down on a sticky piece of paper that might get lost.

On Dec. 17, at an investor briefing, 3M outlined its plans to safeguard the Post-it note’s future. “The evolution of what’s going on in the office market space,  and the generational change that’s occurring, we focus now on a deep push to continue to make Post-it more relevant to the new millennial generation that’s coming into the workforce,” Michael Vale, head of 3M’s consumer and office business said. In recent branding initiatives, the company has sponsored VH1′s Do Something awards for charity work and advertised in the education market.

Last year, it launched a smartphone app collaboration with digital organizer Evernote, which allows users to upload photos of Post-it notes to Evernote’s system. The technology can extract the handwriting from the notes, file them into specific notebooks, tag them, and assign reminders to them. The company cited the partnership as a sign of becoming “more relevant to the increasingly digital habits” in offices and homes, while hinting at more to come in 2014.

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