Iuliia Nesterenko

Technical Writer

What Is Referral Marketing and How to Promote it with Email Marketing

What Is Referral Marketing and How to Promote It with Emails

Regardless of how amazing and mind-blowing your new marketing strategy is, consumers will always seek the opinion of their peers before they make a purchase.

They don’t trust the glamorous marketing promos and retargeting ads, but they put their faith in the recommendations of their family and friends. Even though this is true for more B2B buyers than B2C, it cannot be denied that people are 4 times more likely to purchase if it was referred to them by their close friends.

Think about it: you market your product to thousands of potential customers daily and these people are not familiar with your product or may have never heard of your brand. Reaching out to such people alone eats up a huge part of your marketing budget.

And after such efforts, just a few of such leads become customers. That’s an unavoidable fact that everyone in business has to come to terms with. It’s not a seamless process to win consumer trust and convert leads into loyal customers without solid cold email marketing strategy.

So wouldn’t it be a cost-effective move to have customers who are already loyal to your brand spread the word on your behalf? In fact, 73% of loyal customers who are part of a loyalty program are more likely to recommend a brand.

The right incentive or a little appreciation can be the driving force for a satisfied customer to go out of the way and tell your family and friends about your offer. And every referred prospect will be a lot more enthusiastic and less skeptical about your business. 

What is Referral Marketing?

Referral marketing is a word-of-mouth marketing strategy designed by a business to incentivize its current customers to tell their friends, contacts, and family about the brand with the aim of compelling them to become new customers.

How to Drive Referrals?

You can request referrals from your satisfied customers via numerous channels. But today we are going to look at how you can take advantage of email marketing to drive referrals.

Why Email Marketing?

For one, 72% of people prefer receiving promotional content via emails.

In simple words, customers expect to receive promotional emails from their favorite brands and they are most likely to open it as it's coming through their preferred channel. Besides that, emails are the least intrusive method of reaching out to your customers. 

Think of it like you’re casually reaching out to your customers to let them know about an amazing deal that they’d like.

This is especially true for B2B consumers, as emails are their most preferred channel for communication. They’d rather receive marketing promos and product updates via emails because it won’t hamper their workflow.

That said, assuming that the moment you launch your referral program customers will start referring their friends and family to your brand is far reaching.

For this process to work, you must make your customers aware of the referral program first and then politely nudge them to take part in the program.

While you can boost the reach of your referral program campaign via social media, it won’t be a targeted outreach. It’ll be open for every kind of customer both the happy and unhappy ones. This can boost the chances of fraudulent advocates, and the leads you may get out of this won’t be high quality.

Also, most people prefer not to share a brand’s marketing post on personal social media profiles. And when they do, they’ll limit it only to their close friends.

To succeed with this channel of promotion, find the right time to send your referral request to loyal customers who are engaged with your brand and enjoy your services. This should be easy if you choose to automate your email marketing efforts with a software that takes care of all the nitty-gritty details for you.

Email marketing allows you to identify that right moment and we’ll see that soon.

This is probably why companies that run referral marketing programs choose email marketing as an important channel in their customer acquisition funnel.

Share of email marketing in acquisition

The key is to send the referral request at just the right moment to the regular customers who have been actively engaging with your brand and are satisfied with the services. Email lets you specify that moment (we’ll get into that shortly, sit tight).

It’s not just us, companies with referral marketing programs in place consider email marketing as the most effective customer acquisition channel.

How Do You Ask for Referrals with Email Marketing?

For a referral email to be persuasive, it needs to consist of various components that work together. You need to structure your email so well that it stands apart from other promotional emails that flood your customer’s inbox every day.

Step 1: Use the Right Subject Line

What’s the first thing you see when you go through your email? The subject line.

Everyone knows that unconventional subject lines are crafted to compel the reader, but with referral emails it's smart to steer clear of such creative subject lines and let the customer know right away why you sent them an email.

Creativity helps obviously, but vagueness doesn’t. you don’t want to risk customers ignoring your emails because they think it’s just like every other promotional mail that you sent them. Target a balanced subject line that’s creative and clear at the same time. Check out these examples:

  • Refer your close friends, and your next vacation is on us!
  • Interested in some free stuff? Tell your friends about us!
  • Show your family and friends some love by giving them amazing discounts!
  • Hey “Name”, we have some gifts for your friends!

Keep the emails self-explanatory, eye-catching and simple.

Ensure you place the value proposition at the top of your email and highlight it to draw the attention of the reader to it. Let them know clearly what you’re offering and how both the referred and the advocate will benefit from it.

An outstanding email example is from Uber Eats. If you manage to take your eyes off the header image, you’ll see how they’ve laid out the details of the program.

Referral email example

Step 2: Keep Your CTA “One” and Clear

The goal of sending your customers an email is to get them referring. So that should be the only CTA that your readers have the option to take.

You want to ensure that you avoid making your email look spammy with so many CTA links. Right from your email, your customers should be able to refer their friends and family immediately.

You can put in personalized links in the email rather rather than force them to sign up and go through a rigorous process to have that done. They will most likely procrastinate and in time, forget about your program.

Step 3: Ensure the Email Looks Professional and Legitimate

Your email should align with the company’s voice and brand color palette. If customers doubt the authenticity of your message, they’ll be wary of giving you data for continuing the process of the referral chain.

Step 4: State Your Terms and Conditions Clearly

Everyone feels cheated whenever they start a process and find out they don’t qualify due to some hidden conditions. It’s really important to make legal content readable. For instance, if the person the advocate refers to a business has to make a particular number of purchases to be eligible for a discount, let the advocate know right from the start.

Step 5: Charm the Recipient with Personalization

Personalization is important, as buyers don’t want generic emails that trigger zero emotion. Separate your audience based on their loyalty to your business and personalize the messages sent to them accordingly.

Here's a basic example from Really Good Emails:

Personalized email

Also, ensure that your content is dynamic and uses customer data to showcase potential advocates’ offers that are relevant to them (products that they’ve bought before on your store) and use such anchors to charm them and pull them in.


Emails help you follow-up, personalize, and track your referral program advocacy request. And that’s invaluable.

Follow the steps and tips listed in this piece and watch your referral program grow tremendously.

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Iuliia Nesterenko

Technical Writer

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