Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on December 5, 2017 and was updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness on July 10, 2019.
Referral programs are one of the most effective forms of marketing. Not only do they keep your existing customers engaged, but they also motivate them to help you acquire new customers, keeping your brand’s growth going. They’re also easier to run than ever as apps like Smile (shameless self-promotion, I know) can seamlessly integrate with major ecommerce platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce.
However, while starting a referral program may be simple, running a successful program takes a bit more elbow grease. You need to equip your customers with the right information if you want them to participate in your program, and an email referral campaign is the best way to do it.
Why you should use email marketing with your referral program
Since 73% of customers are unlikely to return to your store after one purchase., it’s unlikely that they’ll discover the value of your new referral program if you only promote it on your website.
Email allows you to get your referral program in front of the customers who are not only the most likely to benefit but also the most likely to participate. These customers (also known as brand advocates) have the power to help you grow your customer base with higher quality customers. After all, like attracts like — if your best customers are making repeat purchases and engaging with your brand, chances are that the friends they refer will engage in a similar way.
When you consider that the average referred customer has a customer lifetime value 16% – 25% higher than the average customer, it’s easier to see why you need to take advantage of every tool available to get your referral program out there.
How to run a successful referral email campaign
Since the primary goal of your referral campaign is awareness, you want to do everything you can to make sure your referral emails feel like an extension of your other marketing inItiatives. That means that you messages should align with the branding of your other emails.
In addition, you want to avoid overloading your customers with messages. Be aware of your other campaigns and plan to send referral messages on a semi-regular basis. Finally, you want to keep your messages simple to make it easier for your customers to take action right away.
Working with an email service provider like Hubspot, Mailchimp, or Klaviyo is the best way to automate and manage your referral emails because they integrate seamlessly with with online loyalty program software like Smile. With each of these email marketing providers, you can automatically trigger email campaigns that ensure the right message is delivered to the right customers at the right time.
The 4 most effective referral campaigns
Now that you understand how to integrate your referral campaign into the rest of your email marketing strategy, let’s look at the most effective campaigns you can run to help boost your referral program’s engagement.
Referral program launch announcements
A launch campaign introduces your customers to your program as a whole and provides clear instructions on how to participate. These emails should also clearly state the value customers can expect to gain from participating. It’s important to keep things simple and easy to understand, and to use language that resonates with your audience.
As you can see in this example from Good Grains, the best referral program launch emails focus on the benefits of participating. This keeps your message focused and ensures it’s both heard and understood.
In this case, the message’s value is very easy to see: give $15 to a friend, get $15 to spend on yourself, and click to get started. Without diving into a detailed tutorial, Good Grains manages to distill its referral program into easily understood steps and makes a point to take us through the entire referral journey. The email also takes on Good Grains’ brand voice by being fun, quirky, and relaxed.
The key takeaway here is to not overload customers with information when you launch. Provide a simple message and include a strong CTA that gives them the option to learn about the program in more detail. Keeping it simple will increase the chances that they understand and get excited about the value you’re offering.
Brand advocate campaigns
A brand advocate campaign targets your most loyal customers and encourages them to invite their friends and family to join your program. At the end of the day, brand advocates are going to bring the most value to your referral program because they are the most likely to refer people to your store.
By launching a referral program and reaching out to these loyal customers, you will show them that this program is expressly meant to thank them for their loyalty and help solidify why they chose you in the first place.
This email from One Love Organics hits all the marks. It explains the program’s value in just one sentence, includes the customer’s unique referral link, and even gives a brief step-by-step guide on how to participate. Best of all, the personalized messaging in the email shows the utmost appreciation for their customer’s loyalty.
These details will go a long way towards mobilizing their most loyal customers and will serve as a regular reminder that their commitment is noticed and valued.
Re-engagement referral reminders
A nudge campaign is great for keeping your brand top of mind between purchases. It doesn’t need to be very fancy or include too much information. The key here is to just provide that quick tap on the shoulder to remind customers you’re still there. This is especially important if your industry is on the lower end of the purchase frequency spectrum.
Charlie Hustle does a great job of combining their referral program with other relevant marketing with this subtle but impactful call-to-action. By sticking to their traditional branding and putting the emphasis on another value proposition for their current customers, they’re able to deliver well-structured emails like this one, complete with a clear call-to-action.
Each of these emails nudge their customers that much closer to completing their next referral, keeping their program top-of-mind without overwhelming the focus of their other marketing efforts.
Post-purchase referral campaigns
While nudge campaigns remind customers you’re still there, post-purchase campaigns are all about encouraging participation when your brand is still top-of-mind. This is typically right after they’ve completed a purchase. With their new products on the way, they’re going to be the most excited and, as a result, more likely to want to share their experience with their friends. Taking advantage of that excitement with a well-crafted referral program significantly improves the chances that they’ll follow through.
SteelSeries builds on their customer’s excitement with a post-purchase referral email that accomplishes a couple of things. For starters, they congratulate their customers on earning more points and invite them to check out their points balance. This not only gets customers back to their site but also reminds them that they’re a member of their program.
Secondly, they follow this valuable reminder with an invitation to earn more points faster. With a clear referral CTA and an image of one of their more popular products, they help customers make the connection between the next purchase they want to make and how participating in the program can help them get there.
These two features help catapult this email into the highly effective category and guarantee that these emails will benefit SteelSeries’ program members just as much (if not more) as them.