This article is part of our Referral Program Deep Dive series, where we dive into all the details of what makes hyper-viral referral programs (like the Harry’s referral program) successful.

Want to find out the secrets of other top-notch referral programs? Check out our other deep dives:

The Harry’s Shave Club pre-launch program went viral because of its innovative referral marketing strategy. While they were still a startup, they were able to leverage the power of social proof and incentivize customers to share their excitement about the grooming brand with their friends and family.

Harry’s offered a high-quality shaving product at a lower price point than many of its competitors, making it an attractive option for customers. This only helped solidify why someone would want to refer in the first place. So, there was a clear and compelling value proposition from the get go. 

This allowed them to create an innovative and engaging referral program for their launch. Harry’s incentivized customers with a reward system that offered free products for successful referrals. And it worked – Harry’s proved that their pre launch was a well-executed referral marketing strategy. 

  • Over 1300 people had at least five successful referrals.
  • 200 people that had over 50 successful referrals. 
  • 77% of their sign ups during their pre launch came from referrals. 

To this day, the Harry’s referral program (specifically, their pre-launch one) is one of the most discussed programs in the referral world. It only took them one week to collect over 100k emails for their email list (and over 85k of those emails were legitimate). 

Let’s discuss what aspects of this program may have led to its success, and what takeaways you can steal for your ecommerce referral program (or any referral program).

Harry’s referral program: How it began

Harry’s is a simple, yet high quality, razor brand that is famous for its razor shave club subscription. In fact, Harry’s is one of the most successful razor subscription brands on the market (alongside their competitors, Dollar Shave Club). 

harrys referral program intro

Harry’s has since become a household brand, and since it falls in a very niche market, it seems to be quite popular when compared to what’s in the mass market. The bright orange handle (though it’s not the only option available) is recognizable by even people who aren’t using the brand. Their team of 600 engineers, chemists, and designers really seem to have knocked this one out of the park. They have since expanded to a variety of care products, like deodorants, skincare, soaps, and shampoos.

Aside from their signature look, many consumers choose Harry’s because they give back to the community. 1% of all sales gets donated to nonprofit organizations that offer mental health services to men. They are set to reach $12 million in donations (helping about 1.5 million men) by 2024.

But, how did they get to this point? Their prelaunch really helped set them off. They managed to receive over 100,000 emails in just one week of this prelaunch campaign.

Their prelaunch was set up to focus specifically on valid referrals. So, the founders Jeff and Andy, took it upon themselves to meet up with friends and other entrepreneurs they knew to get help sharing their product. About 200 people later, they were ready to focus on using these contacts to spread the word via their referral campaign. 

This campaign proved to be a success. 77% of all emails collected were from referrals. Around 20,000 people sent about 65,000 referrals.

Let’s take a deeper look into their prelaunch and referral campaign.

How does the Harry’s referral program work?

The Harry’s referral program used a milestone – or tiered – prelaunch program structure. At certain tiers a new reward would be up for grabs.

For the initial push, the program was promoted by all employees. At the time, employees were encouraged to send the product announcement to their friends, family, and anyone else they knew (referrals started from the very start!)

The email sent was personalized and friendly – plus, who wouldn’t open an email from a friend? This email would provide a link to the Harry’s 2-page microsite, where the referral would find a splash page (to sign up), and then the referral page (the viral loop).  

The referral page included easy sharing options and a progress bar to track referrals and reward status. Each tier was laid out so that a free product was awarded. The lowest tier, 5 referrals, awarded a less expensive Harry’s product (free shave cream), and the value went up at each tier. Ultimately, the reward at the fourth tier, 50 successful referrals, was an entire free year of shaving blades.

The Harry’s referral engine: Driving viral growth

What’s insane about the Harry’s referral program is that it saw massive success before their product was even launched. We’re talking about 100,000 emails in just one week. 

65,000 referrals were sent from about 20,000 people (on average, people referred 3 or more friends). And actually, more than 200 people referred 50 people or more!

Let’s reiterate the success of Harry’s referral engine. 

  • Referrals accounted for more than half of all signups! 77% of the 100,000 emails collected came from referrals. 
  • 20,000 people sent a referral. There were roughly 65K referrals sent. 
  • 200 people sent more than 50 referrals. Meaning, 200 people actually made it to the highest tier.

By relying on their employees – and interested fans – to share, they were able to reach people in a more personal way. This meant they did not need to rely on press or traditional advertisements as much –  and in the end this proved to be a successful approach.

The Harry’s viral loop

A viral loop is when people share a brand with friends, who in turn share with their own friends and so on (continuous cycle that feeds itself). Harry’s used this method and created a viral loop to continuously drive sharing and to get new leads. 

Why did this viral loop work? It allowed Harry’s to utilize the trust of friends to generate new leads. And this was done from the network they already had. In the case of Harry’s, it started with their employees and worked its way out. This type of acquisition is free or nearly free (the only money that is spent is when a referral actually converts.)

It was also the execution of how Harry’s used the free product rewards that helped to drive a continuous loop of sharing. This is because…

  • Referrals could refer immediately. Harry’s immediately offered referred leads the chance to share with their own networks and get rewards of their own.
  • The more referrals sent , the higher the reward tiers they could reach. This had a multiplying effect as many referred more than one friend.

Harry’s encouraged customer acquisition and retention at the same time by investing in their existing network (starting at their homebase – employees). Then used their product to get people to want to actually participate. Together, these allowed Harry’s to experience viral growth.

A deep dive into Harry’s referral program: What made it so successful?

How did their program create such a frenzy that thousands of people wanted the product before they had ever tried it? 

Let’s get into each element of Harry’s prelaunch and referral program that allowed it to reach 100,000 subscribers within just one week. We’ve got plenty of pointers for your own referral program that you can steal. 

Strategic first invitations

The Harry’s pre-launch program used a strategic invitation approach to build buzz and generate excitement for their product launch. In addition to having employees share, they offered an exclusive sneak peek to a select group of influential individuals, and encouraged them to share the news with their audiences. (This included fellow CEOs.)

By targeting this group, Harry’s was able to leverage their social influence and credibility to reach a wider audience and generate interest in their brand. They also made it easy for these individuals to share the news by providing them with pre-written templates.

The emails used to announce the impending launch were created very strategically by:

  • Relying on employees. Employees personally invited the recipients to share with their own peers, in a conversational, friend-to-friend way. People trust those they know – so it made sense to go this route.
    • All invites had email signatures with a direct link to the program.
  • Providing personalized messages. All emails sent were personal invites and used a conversational tone.
  • Very tailored content. Messages to each invitee was based on how much they knew (or didn’t know) about Harry’s.
  • People with a direct influence. Special strategic emails were sent to people like CEOs. This encouraged recipients to share with a wide audience (such as their entire employee network).

This approach helped Harry’s to build anticipation for their launch and generate a sense of exclusivity and urgency among their target audience. By tapping into their networks, they were able to create a snowball effect, with the news spreading rapidly and organically among their audience.

Harry’s prelaunch program was a strategic and effective way to build buzz and generate excitement for their brand. Between the personal invites and the tailored content, referrals were introduced to Harry’s in a conversational and friendly way.

What strategies can you steal?

Make your product seem exclusive. This can create a buzz and people will want to join partly out of curiosity, but also because someone they know (and likely trust) invited them to this ‘exclusive’ thing. 

Harry’s exclusive list and first people to know about the referral program were:

  • People the founders talked to, and who were interested in Harry’s story. 
  • Friends of the Harry’s employees, invited by the employees they knew personally.

These two groups worked really well as CEOs would have a great influence on their network and employees. And their employee group was able to share with individuals they knew really well (who better to trust than a friend who also works for the company being discussed).

Worth considering: Use personalization when possible. That could mean using the referrer and referral’s names or also making the copy of the message more personalized. By doing this, you are helping the referral to build a direct link, and that can help build trust in your product.

Streamlined design

Harry’s wanted to build a campaign that relied on credible referrals. One way they achieved this was by creating a dedicated page to referrals during their prelaunch. In fact, the prelaunch program was made up of two pages. They included page 1: the sign-up page (splash page), and page 2: the referral page.

The sign-up page only showed a teaser of the product and invited people to sign up to find out more. This was beneficial in that it piqued people’s curiosity (be the first to know) about something new. Another thing they did was prevent distraction. On this page, there were no links out, and no other distracting information. The person could only enter the email or leave completely.

be the first to know harry's

Then, once they signed up and confirmed they were interested, they were directed right to the referral program. This worked well because it was placed after a high interest point. The person was obviously interested as they gave their email. After that confirmation, it’s prime time to offer free products. Not only would the person be one of the first to try it, but they could potentially get the product without having to buy it (just because they sent a referral).

don't leave your friends behind harry's referral program

What strategies can you steal?

Harry’s had all avenues end at the referral program. By limiting page options during this launch, they were able to both focus on attracting sign-ups and referrals. You should also keep these pages simple. Harry’s splash page was very simple, and only used 1 strong CTA. 

Worth considering: If you are trying a prelaunch method, limit the amount of options someone can explore. By limiting pages to only sign up and to referral (for more people to sign up), you may get exactly what you want. 

Element of exclusivity

This prelaunch also allowed Harry’s to add an element of exclusivity to their product. Because it was new, and you basically had to be invited to learn about it, it led to people taking action. 

It was also the messaging used that made this an exclusive club. The sign-up page struck a chord with the messaging “be the first to know.” Essentially, this email grants exclusive access to insider information. This helped give them a sense of prestige, as owning or experiencing something that is not available to everyone else can be seen as a symbol of status.

Then once they sign up, the message on the referral page was “don’t leave your friends behind.” This provoked referrals because people love sharing insider access with their peers. Why? It boosts their social currency and makes them the reason someone learns about a good product. In this case, referrers were among the first to receive access to Harry’s product.

This tactic also led to FOMO. As we all know, Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is a powerful motivator for many consumers. By creating this feeling with a sense of exclusivity, Harry’s was able tap into this fear and motivate consumers to take action before they miss out on a unique opportunity.

What strategies can you steal?

Try to create exclusivity. This worked well for Harry’s for several reasons. It created a sense of  prestige and FOMO. Which led people to sign up and continue referring. 

By creating an exclusive product or service, Harry’s was able to differentiate themselves from their competitors and make their brand stand out. 

Worth considering: If you’re able, a prelaunch is a great way to create exclusivity. Many people jump onto ideas (even new ideas) because pre-launches and exclusivity can create a sense of excitement and perceived value. These can be powerful motivators for consumers to take action.

Clear, uncluttered landing page

There are serious perks to keeping landing pages simple. A landing page with a clear message and a single call-to-action (CTA) is more likely to convert users than a cluttered page with multiple CTAs. By removing distractions and focusing on the primary goal, a clear and uncluttered landing page can increase conversion rates.

harry's is coming

Harry’s made it very clear on what people should do and how they should navigate the page. This really helped lead to higher engagement and a higher conversion rate.

What their landing page did well:

  • Headline gets right to the point. Harry’s is coming, Be the first to know, and invite friends & earn product, are simple, but let the user know exactly what the page is all about with just a quick glance.
  • It’s followed by an explanation.Harry’s did not choose to be too wordy. Instead, a brief explanation was able to help them get viral signups. 
  • They added visual appeal. Strategically chosen imagery draws in the eye and keeps people interested. They used an image of their razor for the initial page, and then added an image of a wooly mammoth on their referral page (great choice to get the referrer to ingrain their logo into their head).

What strategies can you steal?

Like Harry’s, you’ll want to keep landing pages short and concise (which is true for all types of landing pages). It’s even better if you are able to focus on one goal per page. By having the sign up and referral pages separate – they were able to get people to do both. If they would have asked for a referral on the splash page – it likely would not have been as successful.

Worth considering: A clear and uncluttered landing page is also more likely to be mobile responsi