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This article is part of the “Referral program ideas and examples” section of our guide that has over 38 resources dedicated to everything you need to know about referral programs.

You may enjoy other articles from this section:

Think of the best referral programs out there. What do they all have in common? Well, the best referral programs typically include these three qualities: they have a targeted promotion, they use incentives that fit their customers, and they have strong advocates. Let’s see how these qualities make up the best referral program ideas

Your business is unique, which means you need to build your own unique referral program. There’s no sense in applying a one-size-fits-all approach, you have to build your program targeted specifically to your audience. Whether your running a refer a friend program, influencer program, ambassador or partner program, designing the right program includes looking at referral marketing as a whole. Luckily there are a ton of referral program ideas out there, here are our top tips are broken out into the key tactical areas: 

Key Referral Program Areas

Since there is a lot to cover, feel free to jump right to the section that you need inspiration on.

promotion ideas
Ideas for Promotion
advocate ideas
Ideas for Getting Advocates
incentive ideas
Ideas for Incentives

Your product and services are great, and customers love working with you. But are they telling their friends, family, and colleagues about the value you provide?

Incentives help encourage your customers to share whether you’re a B2B business or B2C business. And when you use incentives specific to your customers it entices them to share even more. It’s one of the many reasons why you need a referral program.

Word of mouth marketing is one of the biggest drivers of revenue growth, but it can be elusive and hard to measure. Although it may seem like you can’t control who sells on your behalf… You can actually encourage your happy customers to refer friends to your referral programs. After all, a happy customer or client is a strong advocate. When you support customers, you are creating trust. Which means effective referral programs ahead. 

What referral program ideas will work for your business?

The Best Referral Program Ideas for Promotion

Referral sharing

Let’s first take a look at some ideas for promotion. Your program has to get in front of your customers in order for them to share it. Luckily there are a few things you can do to promote the program and make sure it is being seen.

A simple but to the point headline/offer

If you can gain attention with one short sentence and explain the benefit of joining at the same time, your customers are going to be intrigued. When your customers are intrigued, word of mouth occurs.  Below are some examples of great headlines. Notice how they use numbers, they get to the point, and they explain the benefit of joining.

We will start you off slow. Here are a few example headlines and referral slogans that you can spruce up and make your own.

  • Share with your friends and get $10
  • Refer and You Shall Recieve
  • Let’s Help Each Other Out
  • Give $100, get $100 for yourself
  • It’s How We Say… Thanks!
  • Share the Love
  • Spread the love, and get $25 when your friends sign up
  • Help us Help You
  • Invite your friends and earn a free ride
  • Call on your friends to help, you both can earn $10

Here are some headlines in action:

  1. Bombas – “GIVE 25% OFF AND GET $20” – Simple and to the point
  2. Greats – “Tell your friends about GREATS and you both get 20%” They mentioned the who, what and why in a ‘great’ way.
  3. Red Coach – “Invite your friends, get up to $50 off, give a free trip!” Okay, wow. They mentioned who, what, and why and they made it exciting.

2. Timing and finding a reason

When you ask is just as important as how you ask.  The best time to ask is when the customer is at their happiest, at the peak of their delightful experience with your brand.  The easiest reason parallels that timing when you can even say “Because you are such a great customer and had a wonderful experience with us, we thought you’d like to share that with your friends”.  As with any campaign you can also use holidays or other events to bring up joining your referral program or encouraging them to share.

The calendar is smattered with holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas, the 4th of July… the list goes on and on. Why not use these holidays as a reason to run a promotion for your referral program. For instance, on Valentine’s Day, you could have a “Spread the Love” campaign, where you give 20% off to customers and the friends they refer during the entire month of February.

But don’t feel confined by the Roman calendar. You can create your own holiday or special customer appreciation campaign. Maybe you are celebrating a business milestone, such as an anniversary. Can you tie a referral program promotion into your celebration?

3. A landing page with a FAQ

You want your landing page design to be professional looking which means it shouldn’t be too overcrowded.  (We have some other tips on referral landing page designs here). You need to avoid bombarding your customers with blocks and blocks of text. Chances are they won’t read it all anyway. So how do you get all your program facts covered? Well, that’s easy.  You can add in a FAQ section. This will allow you to be more descriptive to help explain your program further. Plus, it will help cover all the common questions your customers are sure to ask. Like when and how rewards are given.

sample of a referral landing page

4. Great images and style

Imagery and style can help you get over the initial engagement hump One of the best parts of an image is that it can do help you visually explain and draw the user’s attention. So whether you using images to explain the referral process or you just want to show off what reward the customer can earn, chances are it will help create a more intriguing program. Images also break up the text so that your customers can stay engaged. You can also consider a hero shot – an image that sells the purpose of the program. Just make sure your imagery stays relevant to you, your program and customers, it also helps if the image is gripping!

5. Launch the refer a friend program as a “Thank you”

thank you referral promotion

How can you give back to your customers for being great and supportive to you? A refer a friend program, that’s how. When you launch a program as a means of appreciation your customers will feel good. They will know that you are looking out for their best interest and that you care about their happiness. You have probably seen a referral program that mentions ‘Customer Appreciation’ in the headline of the program. The reason? It works. When customers know they are appreciated, they become more engaged in your brand. 

6. Make it discoverable (links, emails)

Along with having a dedicated referral program area on your website, you need to make the program discoverable to any customer. So, what are some ways you can do this? Think about strategy. What do your customers have access to? Are there certain assets or emails that get sent to your customers? If you have an eCommerce store, do you provide a thank you page to your customers after a purchase? Do you have a blog? Marketing blogs are a great way to spread the word.  Use all your channels of communication as an opportunity to share your program.

budsies referral promotion

Here are other great places to mention or add a link to your referral program.

  1. Email Body/Images
  2. Email Signature
  3. Newsletter
  4. Thank You Page
  5. Purchase Confirmation Page
  6. Invoices
  7. Flyers (or other items that you physically send to your customers)
  8. Side Menus (or ad space on your website)
  9. Blog

7. *BONUS* retargeting

This is a great opportunity to get back those people who couldn’t commit right away. By retargeting these customers you may give them the nudge they need to go forward and sign up. Perhaps these people wanted to join but just couldn’t sign up right away. You would be doing them a favor by reminding them. Don’t be scared to advertise directly to people who have shown interest in your program already.

Do you need more ideas for program promotion? Here are a few articles that may help you.

Best Referral Program Ideas for Getting Advocates

Strong advocates are built on trust. If your advocates can stand behind your business proudly, then sharing your business is bound to happen. Advocates can come in all shapes and sizes, and if you team up with the right people, a successful referral program is a piece of cake.

1. Customers… Ask them… High-value ones

You will be setting yourself up for major success if you invite your best customers. A client referral program seems to be the most popular type of referral program. Why? Well, most people, after they get to know your brand will root for you to do well.  They support you, and they will happily help you promote your referral program. Customers or clients turn into some of your biggest fans. Typically loyal and happy customers are more inclined to get involved with your products and services including your referral program. This is exactly why a client referral program is one of the most popular ways to grow a business. Here are a few ideas on how to ask for a referral

2. Fundraisers as partners

Restaurants like Papa Gino’s offers local organizations charity opportunities. If people come to the restaurant on a given night, the school will get 20% of the proceeds. Why not set up a referral program that sends donations to nonprofits and schools?
referral program ideas
Set up a referral program specifically for schools, where the students and parents can promote it, so proceeds of referred purchases will get donated to the school.

3. Employees

Your employees have the potential to be some of your brand’s biggest brand ambassadors. So, why not create a referral program specifically for them?

You can run it like a monthly contest where each employee can get an entry into a drawing for every customer they enroll, or you can create some sort of leaderboard to celebrate all the referrals and direct sales that come from employees.  Gamification can help bring you to referral success. 

4. Partners

What’s the difference between a referral program and an affiliate program? While a referral program encourages customers to refer their friends, an affiliate program incentivizes other businesses and resellers to sell their stuff.

For example, Amazon has an affiliate program called Amazon Associates, which encourages anyone who refers people to Amazon’s product to make money of off those they refer. For example, an author might suggest people buy their books from Amazon and give them a special link so that they earn a percentage of the purchase.

amazon referral partner program

There are probably many other businesses who serve your industry. For example, FreshBooks and Referral Rock both cater to small businesses, so they might partner together to offer incentives to anyone who refers one to the other.

Additionally, you can have a partner program, where partner businesses refer customers to you. Running a partner program is a great way of expanding your customer base, and even building your partner network. Similarly to referral programs, you’ll need to figure out motivating partner program incentives.

5. Instill confidence 

Okay, this isn’t a person, but it’s good to know. Perhaps this is a no-brainer, but if your customers do not have confidence in your brand, they will not be confident in sharing you with their friends. If you build this confidence, by providing all customers, employees or whoever with a great product and great customer service, you may be surprised by how many people are willing to refer you. A lot of customers are willing to refer, so make sure you give them a reason. Confidence in your brand is a great start.

Still stumped on program ideas? Here are a few articles that may be able to help. These referral marketing examples could act as your template or whatever type of program you wish to choose. What works, works.

Best Referral Program Incentive Ideas 

Incentives have to “fit” your customers and your businesses. An incentive should make sense and be appealing. If you sell items that are not everyday purchases, don’t use a return coupon as your incentive. Think of mattresses, cars, sofas, roofs. How often does one person buy these items? It’s not a daily, weekly or monthly sale. Chances are, a customer will not need a second roof or sofa, at least for a while. Customers won’t feel inclined to join a referral program if the incentive does not make sense. However, the incentive can always be used to encourage related purchases such as conditioning kits for products or service level agreements for providers.

It’s easy, just consider what incentive makes sense for you. You also have to keep in mind what your customers want. On top of that, you should consider how you can provide value to them and future customers. If you’re doing all of that, you’ll be a great referral business.

Let’s take a look at some ideas that make sense. As long as what you are giving as a referral incentive makes sense, you are golden.

1. Do it for a cause

In some fields, you can’t offer customers a monetary reward for referring your services. Instead, you might be able to donate on their behalf. If a customer refers a friend, you can offer to donate $50 to a particular charity, tying your referral program to social good.

This approach works particularly well if you can donate to a relevant charity. For example, TOMS shoes donate shoes to children in need, and Warby Parker, a glasses company, is committed to good eye care around the world.

2. Encourage social gifting / 2-sided incentive

People love to shower their friends and families with gifts, so make sure your referral program has a two-way incentive. That means that both parties– the person who makes the referral AND their friend who signs up– should benefit.

The referral marketing examples from ClassPass (a subscription service that allows users to try out different fitness studios in their region), offers a $20 off referral incentive to existing customers who refer new users. When these existing customers share a special referral program link with a friend, and the friend uses this link to sign up, both parties get $20 off their monthly membership.

Social gifting in referral programs

Part of the reason Classpass’ program works so well is that friends can participate in fitness classes together. If an existing customer gets their best friend to sign up, they’ll suddenly have a workout buddy in their next Pilates class.

3. Tiers… scale-up

tiered incentives

Your customers may refer more if the incentive gets better each time they use their referral link. This is why tier rewards work well. You can set up a program so that a member has to pass through different tiers before being rewarded.  You can set criteria for each tier so that the process seems like a ‘challenge’ or ‘game’. This can result in your customers being more involved in the referral process. For example, you can create a program so the reward is dependent on how many approved referrals your customer sends. Your customer could earn $25 for their first 5 Referrals. Then they would hit the next tier where they would earn $50 for every approved Referral after that.

4. Give the referrer higher % for the first referral

Many customer referral programs offer a consistent referral reward. Uber, a great business, offers customers and the new customers they refer $15 off through their referral program.

However, many companies are encouraging existing customers to make referrals with a very large bonus for the first referral they make. Rather than offering $15 off for each referral, the company will offer $50 off for the first referral and $5 off for all subsequent referrals. This high incentive for the first referral encourages users to share in the first place.

The large incentive will make them take advantage of the referral program. Once they’ve done that, they’ll be more likely to use the customer referral program in the future.

5. Incentives for leads, not just customers

This is a great opportunity to help your customers convert their referrals. Sometimes referrals also need to see the benefit of making a purchase. In fact, most effective referral programs used dual-sided incentives as a way to engage both parties. Therefore, a referral incentive could be the answer. This gives them an excuse to try your product. This could also lead to a higher conversion rate since the referred customer is more motivated to engage in the referral program. Let’s face it, everyone likes being rewarded.

incentives for new customers - effective referral programs

See how both people in this situation are rewarded? Want more awesome incentive ideas?

Bonus… Double Down… Show your appreciation!

Reward best referrers

If someone refers you more than once– or goes out of their way to refer you every chance they get– you should find a special way to show your appreciation. Many companies send out handwritten thank you notes. A care package is another great idea.

Sometimes, companies offer substantial discounts to those who refer others more than 5 times. If someone refers 5 customers to you, they’ve brought in a substantial amount of new revenue, so find a way to give them a piece of the pie.

Unique benefits

Many referral programs offer financial and monetary benefits. For example, dollars or percentage-off of future sales. But a great referral program idea is to offer unique benefits. For instance an entry into an exclusive VIP club, special gifts, or handwritten notes.

If you can’t afford to give discounts, or it’s simply not in your company’s ethos, then send t-shirts or other company swag. You’ll be surprised by how many people will refer your business in order to get a cool t-shirt.

Referral Marketing is about Execution

Referral programs are a great way to encourage customers to spread the word about your business, and we hope these unconventional customer referral program ideas inspire you to start a referral program or take an existing one to the next level. Check out these other referral program examples, they could perhaps help you create the perfect client referral program template. Remember, referral software can make all of this happen and help increase ROI. Start your B2C or B2B referral program today! If you need ideas on referral marketing software, check out our list of plug and play referral marketing software or a great list of free referral software services.

Read our referral marketing strategy guide to learn more about referral marketing.

This article is part of the “Best referral program ideas and examples” section of our guide that has over 38 resources dedicated to everything you need to know about referral programs.

You may enjoy other articles from this section:


Posted by Megan Mosley

Megan Mosley is a writer for Referral Rock. You can find her poking around online or tweeting about marketing, small businesses, SEO, or even sharing funny memes. She is addicted to coffee and uses it as a fuel to keep her going through the day.