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Conversions Unleashed: Email Marketing Referral Programs

Updated: October 19, 2023
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It’s time to get people talking about your business with an email marketing referral program. Many marketers overlook this method for gaining new customers. Essentially, email marketing referral programs leverage your existing customer base to attract fresh subscribers through referral emails.

According to a Nielsen Trust study, customer referrals outshine other forms of advertising in terms of trustworthiness. With nearly half of all customers basing decisions about businesses on recommendations from friends, neglecting referral marketing could harm your business. Join us as we explore the significance of referral emails and examine strategies for crafting a successful email referral campaign.

Why You Should Launch an Email Marketing Referral Program—if You Haven’t Already

Email marketing referral program messages are not your ordinary ecommerce email. They have a greater impact. While regular marketing messages introduce your brand, engage customers, and encourage them to take action, referral emails go beyond that. These aim to create excitement around your brand and the rewards offered, motivating loyal customers to become brand advocates and share your message with others.

In simple terms, an effective referral email:

  • Generates excitement about your brand
  • Offers an attractive incentive by highlighting your referral program
  • Inspires existing customers to support your brand and invite others to join

Referral messages are significant because they use your existing customer base to endorse your company and attract new customers. Think of it as the difference between a cold call and an introduction made by a mutual acquaintance. Which one would you trust more? The same principle applies to potential customers; they are more likely to trust recommendations from their peers in the community—rather than flashy marketing campaigns.

In the world of advertising, word of mouth (or, in this digital age, social proof) is incredibly influential.

The Ten Commandments of a Successful Email Marketing Referral Program

Let’s start creating a successful email marketing referral program with ten strategies to maximize the potential of your existing customers and generate new leads through referrals:

1. Identify your promoters.
2. Analyze past purchases and subscriber engagement.
3. Personalize your message.
4. Provide different referral incentives.
5. Implement double-sided rewards.
6. Offer pre-made email or social forms.
7. Create unique referral links.
8. Simplify social sharing with single sign-on.
9. Expand beyond email.
10. Never underestimate the importance of testing.

Identify Your Promoters

Before starting an email marketing referral program for all customers in your email list, it’s crucial to identify those who are already genuinely enthusiastic about your service. Think about this—sending a referral request to a dissatisfied customer is unlikely to get the desired response. It can negatively impact your email open rate and the overall success of your referral program.

The most effective way to find loyal customers is by using the Net Promoter Score (NPS). You can determine the NPS for your company and individual subscribers by sending them a simple survey with this question: “How likely are you to recommend our brand, product, or service to a friend or colleague?” (Responses are usually rated on a scale of 1 to 10).

Use tools like SurveyMonkey to conduct this specific survey and collect the responses. After rating on a scale of 1 to 10, it’s standard practice to ask an additional question. You can present it on the next screen or in a follow-up email: “What is the main reason for your rating?”

Those who choose a score from 1 to 6 are called “detractors,” while those who select 7 or 8 are considered “passives.” Conversely, individuals who respond with 9 or 10 are characterized as “promoters.” To achieve the best outcome, focus on engaging with the promoters and start your referral email campaign with this group.

Analyze Past Purchases and Subscriber Engagement

If you’re unable to calculate your NPS for any reason, you can still assess a customer’s connection with your company by analyzing their previous buying patterns and subscriber engagement. For example, if you notice that someone has been a loyal customer for over five years, they could be a great candidate for a referral. Additionally, positive interactions on social media can indicate whether someone is likely to promote your brand.

Unpaid endorsements on social media act as referrals and can be valuable social proof on your website to improve the conversion journey. Referrals can range from a simple “like” on Facebook to a completed purchase. With a better understanding of your target audience, you can objectively explore ways to create an engaging and effective email marketing referral program.

Use Personalized Messages

Craft your email copy specifically for your ideal customer. This might seem obvious, but it’s a detail that often gets overlooked. Personalization goes beyond just using the recipient’s first name. If you’re a retailer asking for feedback, reviews, or referrals, try mentioning the particular purchase in the email or subject line.

For instance, let’s say you send an email to people who recently bought something from your business. In this email, you encourage them to share their purchase on Facebook in return for a reward. This approach works especially well if you can automatically insert the exact product the person bought, which makes it more relevant. As a result, it increases the chances of the customer getting involved in the referral campaign.

Offer Different Email Marketing Referral Program Incentives

Understand that not all customers are motivated by the same rewards. Some may be interested in receiving money, while others might prefer access to exclusive features or cool merchandise. For example, you can offer free products as a referral reward, or alternatively, provide a cash bonus for a future purchase. It’s crucial to match the incentive with the referrer’s ultimate goal. Importantly, if you’re simply asking customers to share a link on social media, the reward should be more modest compared to what they receive for a successful sale.

Provide Double-Sided Rewards

It’s important to provide incentives not only to the referrer but also to the person who acts on the referral. Reciprocity is a key factor in social interactions, so offering benefits to both parties can greatly enhance your efforts.

For example, you could consider offering a $10 credit to both the referrer and the referred person as part of a “give and get” approach to your email marketing referral program. This way, both sides receive monetary incentives, creating a win-win situation for everyone involved.

Provide Pre-Made Email Marketing Referral Program Forms

Make it easy for your customers to refer others by offering ready-made referral messages. Just like you optimize your landing page for a smooth buyer’s journey, simplify the referral process as well. The more obstacles you create, the fewer referrals you’ll receive. That’s where pre-populated text and templates come in handy.

Combine your incentives with pre-filled forms to make it effortless for customers to claim the offer. All they need to do to claim the referral rewards is enter their email address and the email address of their friend, then click the submit button.

Create Distinctive Email Marketing Referral Program URLs

When asking for referrals, it’s crucial to create unique links to ensure that your customers and potential subscribers are rewarded properly. There are various methods to generate these special links, but using your email service provider (ESP) is often the most efficient way.

If you’re using your ESP to send out your email marketing referral program messages, you can assign a unique identifier to each recipient to generate personalized referral links. For example, you can use your ESP merge tag to include the individual’s email address in the referral link. With this setup, you can easily track the performance of your referral campaign and fulfill your incentive commitments.

Simplify Social Sharing with Single Sign-On

When your main objective for your email marketing referral program is to encourage your audience to share a specific link on their social media platforms, it’s important to ensure a smooth sharing experience.

Avoid complicating the sharing process by requiring users to create entirely new accounts. Instead, use a single sign-on solution that seamlessly directs them to the login page of their chosen social platform.

Prepare the link ahead of time, so all the user has to do is choose whether they want to share it on Twitter or Facebook. This makes the sharing process effortlessly simple.

Expand Beyond Your Email Marketing Referral Program

Don’t limit your reach to just email. While 68% of companies find email to be profitable, you may be missing out on potential gains. Engage your audience through different digital channels like video, paid ads, social media, or direct marketing. Diversifying your referral campaign strategies is crucial for success.

Never Underestimate the Importance of Testing

Testing your email marketing referral program campaigns is an important step, as it provides a simple way to gain deeper insights about your audience and improve your marketing efforts. If you’re not conducting testing, you’re missing out on a valuable chance for gradual improvements in your efforts.

Email Marketing Referral Programs Matter—a Lot

It’s clear to see how email marketing referral programs play an important role in boosting your brand’s reach and reinforcing customer loyalty. Paying attention to the details of these emails can have a big impact on the success of your business, so make sure you give them the attention they deserve. Start building relationships with your own email marketing referral program. Then assess the results to cultivate long-lasting relationships with more customers—and watch as the positive impact of referral emails begins to take shape within your business.

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