How many times have you bought something a friend recommended to you? Our brains are wired to trust the people closest to us—which makes referral marketing one of your most powerful assets!
One of the best ways to promote your program is via referral emails. By telling your subscribers about your offer, you’ll reach a large number of people who you know are interested in your brand.
The key to effective referral emails is communicating the benefits of the program in your messages. Let people know what they get when they promote your brand, and make it easy for them to do so.
This article will show you how by highlighting examples, best practices, and an automated sequence you can use to promote your program.
A referral email (refer-a-friend email) offers an incentive for your existing customers to share your business with their contacts. Both the referrer and the referred customer will typically receive an offer, gift or discount when they make a purchase, so it's a win-win for all parties.
These programs typically use dedicated software to create a unique referral link or share button for each subscriber, which they can click or copy directly from the email newsletter. This tracks which sales come from a customer referral and hands out the rewards automatically. Check out our list of referral tools at the bottom of this article.
Referral emails are important because they encourage your current customers to promote your product for you. This is an effective form of marketing as people trust recommendations from people they know. Check out the following referral marketing statistics to see their impact.
88% of people trust recommendations from people they know more than any other channel
50% of people say that personal recommendations are an important factor when making purchases, only price and location were rated higher
30% of consumers report influencer recommendations are one of the most important factors in purchasing decisions. This compares to 27% for recommendations from friends or family members
50% more people trust word-of-mouth recommendations than lesser-ranked channels like online banner ads, mobile ads, SMS messages and search ads
As you can see, email referrals are an excellent method of marketing. When you activate your referral marketing with email, you can create a powerful relationship-building campaign that will drive sales and grow your customer base.
Now you know the importance of referral emails, you can start planning your own. Here are 11 of our favorite referral email examples in various industries that you can use as inspiration, plus we've included a key lesson from each one.
The Body Shop has a simple referral program that lets email subscribers get 20% off their next order.
It works because:
Both the referrer and referee get a bonus, increasing the chances that they will buy
The offer is super clear: The friend gets £10 while the referrer gets 20% off
It’s simple, all the referrer has to do is share a link
The brand promotes its referral reward program with a dedicated email that includes clear, actionable steps on how to get involved.
This referral email example from Papier has a professional, eye-catching image with beautiful fonts and plenty of white space to make the email pop.
Below the main graphic, Papier outlines the details of the referral marketing campaign in 3 easy steps with a clear call-to-action button to get started.
It also includes clear product images that may tempt people to buy. If the recipient decides to make a purchase, they know that referring a friend is an easy way to get a discount.
It’s also a very generous offer: Papier notebooks start at £23, so £10 off is almost 50%.
Don’t restrict referral messages to one-off emails. In the email below, we included a referral program promotion in a P.S. section.
The text highlights the benefit of the program, which is that people can save money if they share MailerLite with their friends. It also contains a CTA button people can click to find out more.
Access an advanced email marketing toolkit to create referral emails that generate sales. Design and automate emails with drag & drop tools and integrate with top referral marketing platforms. Get started today with a free 30-day trial of advanced features.
This email from Plann is another example of an email with a referral section towards the end of the newsletter. The difference is that using a box with a colorful background makes the offer for successful referrals stand out. It also includes clear directions people can use to get started.
This is a fun referral email from MorningBrew. The section opens with a joke before clearly explaining the terms of the promotion. The company also adds urgency to the offer by highlighting that the reward is only available to the first 2,000 people who hit the target.
This Revolut refer-a-friend email example is interesting because rather than offering financial compensation to referrers, it highlights how the product is better when used by other people you know.
The email also makes it easy to share the link by adding buttons for Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Website analytics tool Hotjar uses its referral program to promote its event, rather than its product. The offer was contained in an email about the event so it's super relevant. It’s also a very generous offer, with referrers receiving $100 for every successful sale up to the price of the ticket.
This referral email from Prodirect stands out because it contains an image of two friends or teammates. As sport is a social activity, refer-a-friend programs can be a good fit for this type of business.
The email also highlights that people who take part will get money off their next purchase, while a CTA button makes the next step clear.
This refer-a-friend email from Wise is interesting because it promotes a limited-time offer where referrers can earn significantly more than usual. This is a good way to encourage people who may have considered promoting your product to actually do so.
Timing is also important when sending this kind of referral email. Wise ran this offer in the months after it rebranded from Transferwise to Wise, presumably as a way to increase awareness around its recent rebrand.
You could do something similar during important times for your business. Consider using this tactic when you:
Promote key shopping periods
Release a collection of new products
Upgrade your website
Introduce a customer community
Launch a redesigned newsletter
Ultimately, it’s a good tactic to use any time your business can benefit from increased awareness.
Greeting-card seller Thortful includes a small refer-a-friend link at the bottom of every email it sends. It may not be the most in-your-face promotion, but the fact it’s there every week means it will build awareness over time.
The promotion works because the copy focuses on the benefits and the link takes recipients to the profile landing page where they can access their referral link or code.
Most of the referral emails featured in this article encourage people to make referrals to get money off a repeat purchase. But what do you do if your company doesn’t typically sell to customers multiple times?
This referral email example from health-tech brand Oura Ring is a good solution. Rather than providing discounts on their next purchase, the company gives away branded athletic apparel to people who make 3 referrals.
This works because Oura Ring knows there’s a good chance that athletic wear will be appealing to people who use its product. The company also teamed up with a high-quality and respected clothing brand that is likely to appeal to its customer base.
Now you’ve seen the examples, you should have a pretty good idea about what to include in an effective referral email. Here are 6 more best practices you can follow to create messages that drive action.
The best referral program incentives are those that are attractive to your audience. Money off or discounts can work, especially if your business is the kind that people make repeat sales from. Freebies may also be appropriate depending on your audience and product.
Keep the incentives easy to understand by offering a set amount or discount percentage for each referral. If you offer multiple levels with different rewards, ensure it’s clear what people can earn at each stage.
Good copy will help you highlight the benefits of your program. When writing your promotional content, make sure you clearly communicate:
What’s in it for the referrer and their friends
What people have to do to earn rewards
Any limitations or conditions people must follow
The next steps people need to take to get involved
Clarifying these 3 factors in your email will limit confusion, ensuring maximum referrals. When sending your email, be sure to also catch the customer's attention and boost open rates with an optimized subject line.
Once your copy is sorted, it’s time to think about the visuals! Your email design should look clean and professional, with an image to give your subscribers a tantalizing glimpse of what they’ll gain from your referral program.
Remember—if you aren’t sure which email layout will generate the most clicks, you can always A/B test 2 different versions and then send out the winner!
Once you’ve set up your program, send out an email introducing the program to your subscribers. Consider making this a one-off email, or even a series of emails like the one we’ve listed below.
You can then turn the email into an automation that goes out when a new subscriber joins your email list. This ensures your program gets maximum visibility and means everyone who joins your list will be able to take part.
We go into further detail about the kind of automation sequence you can send in the section below.
Once you’ve sent your introductory email, keep mentioning the program in your email newsletter to remind people of it.
You could add a mention to every email, or just when you want to give your program a boost. Repeatedly promoting your program keeps awareness high and ensures that people who didn’t see your introductory email will still learn about the program.
Save time when doing this by creating a custom block in MailerLite's new Drag & Drop builder. Just create the block once and then reuse it for any email campaign or automation. Learn how to create and save custom blocks here.
When you integrate your email marketing platform with your e-commerce provider you can access data about the value of each customer and the products they are interested in.
Use this information to promote your referral program to specific high-value, loyal customers who you know love your product. Or create offers that are most likely to appeal to certain types of buyers.
Email marketing is an excellent way to notify your customers that you have a refer-a-friend program, and you can do this with a 3-email referral marketing campaign:
First referral program email: State how it benefits your audience
Second referral program email: Send a follow-up reminder
Third referral program email: Build the relationship
Let’s take a closer look!
The most important step for any referral marketing campaign is the initial email. This email will outline what the customer or advocate can gain from referring their friends and family (aka, the referral incentive). It will also explain how to get started.
This first referral email should make a great first impression, and this starts with the subject line:
One for you, one for your bestie 💕
Share the joy with the people you care about 🤝
Invite friends, say hello to [discount]
Let your friends experience [insert company name] 🙌
Pssst, [name] 🤫 Have you shared [product] with your friends yet?
This one’s on us 😊 Treat yourself and a friend to [insert deal]
Get a [amount] discount for you and a friend—one day only 😎
You could also set up some catchy slogans for your referral email template! Here are a couple of ideas:
Plann: “Give and get one month of Plann for free!”
Papier: “£10 off sounds nice.”
The Body Shop: “Share the love: Give your friends a treat, and we’ll give you one right back!”
Huda Beauty: “Good friends share benefits.”
Tictail: “Everything’s better with friends.”
Coinbase: “Get free Bitcoin when you refer a friend.”
You want to make sure that it stops people in their tracks. Take extra time to create an outstanding subject line and preheader to ensure people open your refer-a-friend email. Make sure that the steps are clear and there is no confusion about the process of signing up and referring friends and family.
Once you have laid the foundation and notified your customers of the referral program, following up is simple. You will periodically send them friendly emails to remind them to earn their rewards by referring friends.
Your second email should be a reminder to send customer referrals and keep that momentum going.
Not everyone will tell their friends about your product or service right away. Some people want to test out the product for longer to ensure it meets their needs. Others might be busy when they read the first referral email. Follow-up referral messages can provide them with additional opportunities to refer their friends.
Remind your recipients of the value they receive from your referral campaign and how it can benefit their friends.
Sticking to an appropriate interval for sending follow-up emails is ideal. Daily may be too frequent, so space them out with a few days (or longer) between each email.
👉 Check out this article to learn more about setting up the perfect email cadence.
This third email can go out to people who have successfully shared your link and brought in new customers. The idea is to build a relationship with a group of people you know are highly engaged with your brand.
One easy thing you can do is ask these people to leave a product review on your website or a third-party site. As they enjoy your product and like to interact with your brand, there’s a good chance they will leave a positive review.
You could also invite people into a formal brand advocacy program if you have one. This will typically involve providing advocates with more resources and tips they can use to promote your brand, as well as providing further incentives to do so.
Other ways you can build a relationship at this stage include sending out a survey to discover what people think about your business and inviting them to follow you on social media or join your customer community
There are lots of referral platforms and software out there that you can link with your email marketing provider. Here are some of the best options that work with MailerLite.
Partnero is partnerships management software that lets you create refer-a-friend programs you can promote in your emails.
You get full customization including the ability to set a reward structure, create multiple rewards, and find top-performing customers. You can also build a general affiliate program and let your partners manage their sales in a white-label dashboard.
GrowSurf lets you automatically create unique share links for each of your MailerLite subscribers, making it super easy to set up an email referral program. You can learn more about the Growsurf integration here.
With Rewardful, you can set up referral, affiliate and partner programs, and track everything on their dashboard. It also syncs with Stripe, so that you can keep your payments in one place. You can learn more about the Rewardful integration here.
Sparkloop is a referral tool built with newsletters in mind. You can assign each of your subscribers a referral link, then set up giveaways and rewards to get them sharing. You can learn more about the Sparkloop integration here.
Firewards lets you manage your MailerLite subscriber referrals, send rewards and sync all data between the two applications. You can see the number of referrals, their unique link, and their level status. You can learn more about the Firewards integration here.
Referral marketing can be the sales driver that takes your business up a notch. The key is to set up a consistent referral marketing strategy, with the right incentives to ramp up your conversion rates. By harnessing the power of word of mouth and win-win referrals, you’ll be well on your way to more sales and a happy customer base!
Did you know that MailerLite has a refer-a-friend program? When you share it with your friends, the referred person gets $20 credit when they sign up, and you get $20 credit if they upgrade!
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in February 2019. It has now been updated with new insights and examples to help you take your referral email marketing to the next level!