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​Melinda Curle · 14 min read · Partner posts · October 25, 2021

How to promote your referral program via email marketing

MailerLite Support Lead Remis, and Employee Experience lead Santa.

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 email marketing one of your most powerful assets!

Referral marketing is when you encourage your customers to share your business with their own networks. It’s all about embracing word of mouth to create that coveted snowball effect for your business. 

Even if you’re on a budget, referral marketing lets you reach a large number of people and grow your small business. Combine that with email marketing to build those relationships, and you have a match made in heaven. 🤩

Let’s see how to bring this romance to life. 


A referral email (in other words, a ‘refer a friend email’) is a newsletter that offers an incentive for your existing customers to share your business with their contacts. This type of program usually involves a special offer for both the referrer and the referee, so it’s a win-win for everyone involved. It’s usually done by creating a unique referral link or share button for each subscriber (more on that later), which they can click or copy directly from the email newsletter. 

For example, The Body Shop promotes its referral reward program in this newsletter, including clear, actionable steps on how to get involved.

Referral email for The Body Shop

But is it really worthwhile for your business? Check out the following referral marketing statistics and decide for yourself. 😉

  • Referrals convert at 3-5x higher compared to other channels

  • Nothing accelerates a purchase decision faster than a word-of-mouth endorsement from a peer whose only agenda is to help

  • Referral marketing generates customers who have higher lifetime values, are more loyal, and contribute higher margins per year than other customers

  • On average, small businesses receive 60% of their business through email referrals

As you can see, email referrals are an excellent method of marketing—particularly for small businesses and e-commerce sites.

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.


How to set up a referral email sequence

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:

  1. First referral program email: State how it benefits your audience

  2. Second referral program email: Send a follow-up reminder

  3. Third referral program email: Ask them to become brand advocates

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:

Referral email subject lines:
  • 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 business 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 referral slogans for your email template! Here are a couple of ideas:

Referral email slogans:
  • 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.”

Once your subject line and copy are sorted, it’s time to think about the aesthetics! 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! 

Check out this referral email example from Papier (you might have noticed we showed their slogan, earlier!). It has a professional, eye-catching image, with beautiful fonts and plenty of white space to make the email pop—while visually laying out the referral offer for the customer. 

Papier referral email header

Below the main graphic, Papier outlines the details of the referral marketing campaign in three easy steps, with a clear call to action (CTA) button to get started. 

Full Papier referral email

The initial email’s goal is to spread awareness of your referral program. You want to make sure that it stops people in their tracks. Take extra time to create an outstanding header 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 refers to their friends right away. Some people want to test out the product for a bit longer to ensure it meets their needs. Others might be busy when they read the first referral email. Their network’s needs aren’t at the top of their mind. Therefore, 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.

A quick note about timings 🕒

Sticking to an appropriate interval for sending follow-up emails is ideal. Daily may be too frequent, so space them out every two weeks or every month. 

👉 Check out this article to learn more about setting up the perfect email cadence

When sending a follow-up email, draft an entirely new version. This will help your referral marketing program seem fresh and exciting. You can do a variation on the initial refer a friend email or mention the program in the text—like Plann, who position their follow-up in a section towards the end of their newsletter.

Plann referral email

In this referral email example, Plann has positioned the benefit directly in the heading, with directions to get started positioned clearly underneath.

Another tactic is to add a line of text gently reminding your readers of your referral program. In the refer a friend email example below from Morning Brew, we see that they open the email with a text reminder to refer 5 people to their newsletter—in return for a pair of joggers!

Morning Brew referral email

Great salespeople know that part of your lead generation process must be based on creating a relationship before making a sale. The same can be true for the referral process. 

You may not find success with the first email. However, continuing the conversation with your customers and demonstrating value can improve the chances of getting referrals.

Once a solid relationship is established and your customers value your products, they will want to refer their friends and family.

To maximize the chances of a successful referral, offer incentives that benefit both the referrer and the person referred.

Referral advocacy is very similar to asking for a referral or two. An advocacy request email asks users to email their friends with their referral code and share it on social media. This will leverage your friends and their friends’ friends, and maximize your reach.

You can make it easier for your loyal customers by adding the share links in your referral email. It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Check out this Revolut refer a friend email example.

Revolut referral email

If you examine this referral email example, you’ll notice all the right elements. There are incentives for both parties, a link to easily share through the app, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Successful referral emails should showcase your gratitude and highlight the value that customers receive from your products or services. This will ensure that your referral machine is well-oiled and consistently producing a steady stream of new business for you.


When sending emails, you can include an email sign-off. A good strategy is to include a link to your referral program in every email. Therefore, each time you create an email campaign, your email list is reminded of your referral program.

This tactic works well with companies that communicate frequently with their customers through email. It is not a nagging reminder to give referrals, but their subscribers know where they can sign up to refer their network. 

Putting a link to your referral program in your email signature is a nice, set it and forget it tactic. It will frequently remind your customers that they can earn referral bonuses—just like in this referral email signature example from MailerLite, below.

Referral email signature from MailerLite

Email marketing is a great way to continually remind your customers of your referral program. Many companies spend a lot of time launching their referral program but tend to forget about it after the launch. Customers need continual reminders.

It is also important to note that you’ll gain new customers that you need to inform about your referral program. Therefore, make sure you’re sending out refer a friend emails periodically.


There are lots of referral platforms and software out there which you can link with your email marketing provider. ReferralCandy lets you grow your business with word-of-mouth referrals, with a program that runs itself, and can be integrated across multiple platforms.

If you’re using MailerLite for your email marketing, you can integrate it with several referral platforms, including: 

1. Growsurf

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. 

2. Rewardful

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. 

3. Sparkloop

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. 

4. Firewards

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!

While we’re on the topic of referral programs…

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! 

Are you running a referral email program? What have your experiences been like so far?


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!

​Melinda Curle

Melinda Curle is a writer for CandyBar and ReferralCandy.