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

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By now, many people (millions, to be exact) are well aware of Morning Brew – the free daily newsletter bringing business news and entertainment right to your inbox. But how exactly did they get this wild growth in such a short period of time?

Well, we’re here to break down this viral growth. Specifically, we are going to talk about their self-created referral program that flooded them with new subscribers, allowing for very quick growth. In fact, 30% (and in the earlier days, as much as 80%) of the newsletter’s growth has come from their referral program, Share the Brew

Their referral program may have stemmed from their ambassador program – where initially, people were actually speaking about Morning Brew during lectures and hand-collecting emails. The ambassador program actually did quite well in its humble beginnings and brought in the newsletter’s first 10,000 subscribers. 

Because ambassadors already started to create a buzz around the newsletter, Morning Brew was able to capitalize on this existing word of mouth. Their referral program really helped them pump up subscribers, some days averaging over 1,000 referrals in a single day. 

The Morning Brew referral program is probably one of the most talked about in the referral marketing space. If you’re looking to start a referral program or give your current referral program a facelift, here’s your opportunity to take a deep dive into what worked so well for Morning Brew’s Share the Brew referral program.

What is Morning Brew? 

morning brew intro image

Morning Brew is a daily email newsletter that covers a variety of topics related to business and finances. What started as a team of two has jumped to nearly 300 employees. Their employee base is not the only thing that has grown. They continue to have a very successful referral program, which was the cause of their initial customer growth spurt.

The success of their beloved Morning Brew has even paved a way for more niche newsletter subscriptions on their platform. Which, as you can guess – creates more topics for even more subscribers.

Currently, they have a total of nine niche newsletters (and counting). Some of these include their IT Brew, which covers trends in the IT industry, and Marketing Brew, which discusses marketing and advertising topics.

Their success has even led to multiple podcasts (currently four), three education programs with 700+ alumni, and of course, their merchandise store.  

So what may have started as a humble beginning in 2015, has since transformed into a mega newsletter with millions of subscribers and even led to a $75 million deal

Morning Brew’s referral engine: Driving viral growth

Morning Brew can attribute a great chunk of their growth to their referral program. Their program launched in 2017, and helped take their audience from the then 100,000 subscribers up to the now 4.5 million current subscribers. When the referral program was launched, it accounted for “80% of [the newsletter’s] growth before paid acquisition”. More recently, it’s been said that the referral program still accounts for almost 30% of growth. 

That is a lot of growth in a relatively short amount of time. The self-made referral program proves to be well worth the time and effort. There were even months where they were averaging over 1000 referrals per day. 

Morning Brew really hammered out their referral process, and in 2019 started to require a double-opt in to ensure only legitimate referrals get counted for. Even after implementing this double-opt in, they were seeing a conversion rate of over 85%. 

Tyler Denk from Morning Brew has mentioned that as soon as the referral program was reliable, they started working on viral coefficient calculations. He discussed how if 10,000 paid subscribers came in weekly, about 500 would start referring people, and then 25 of those referrals would also refer – creating a network effect. 

Because of these strategies, they went from $3 million to $13 million in revenue in 2019. Fast forward – Morning Brew is said to have hit $36 million in early 2022,  and then up to $50 million towards the end of 2022. From there, they are set to continue to grow revenue by 66%. Their referral program remains strong and continues to help with this growth.

We’d say their “Share the Brew” program seems to be quite effective. Here’s a few humble numbers:

  • 225,000 subscribers have shared at least 1 referral (based on data from 2019).
  • 80,000 subscribers have shared 3+ referrals (again, based on data from 2019).
  • About 30% of their growth still comes from referrals.
  • They have seen as much as 1,000+ referrals in one day.

Using referrals for subscriber acquisition: A smart call

We know Morning Brew is not relying solely on the power of referrals to grow. Instead, they have strategically created a spot for them within their marketing strategy. And, as we can all see, it’s working.

The newsletter used the more cost-effective referrals as acquisition first (before they started using paid ads). This helped them grow, in a relatively short and inexpensive way. Then, when the time was right, they started using paid acquisition. They did this because they knew that they could still get subscribers to refer as well.

Another reason this strategy works is because they don’t have to spend as much on paid acquisition, thanks to the effectiveness of referrals. 

For example, the cost per acquisition (CPA) for their largest paid channels (Facebook and Instagram) is $4-5 per subscriber. Whereas, they only pay for a referral if the person subscribes, and the referral only costs them about 25 cents each. 

What’s even crazier, is the breakdown of the referral costs. If someone refers just 1 person, the CPA is 25 cents. That entails bulk ordering stickers (10,000 at $.20/sticker, and paying for postage ($.65/envelope). Roughly, that is $1.25 for 5 new subscribers. If that same person then goes on to refer 15 people, the CPA drops to 23 cents. 

With a referral program, you are only paying for the reward and, technically, the initial setup.

How does the Morning Brew referral program work?

Morning Brew really took their time with creating a well-rounded referral program. Their program stemmed from the constant word of mouth that was already occurring around the newsletter and ambassador program. They really did hustle from the start, and already had 100,000 subscribers before their referral program was even launched. 

That is part of what worked so well for them. They were offering a product that people actually wanted, and it was free. Since  they already had such great word of mouth circulating, it was a clear indication that a referral program would work really well.

They hunkered down and created a program to maximize growth. Here’s how Morning Brew blended up the perfect referral program.

  • They focus on structure.
    • They run a milestone-based referral program. This utilizes a tiered approach, and offers different rewards at different milestones/tiers. 
    • Along with this, they sometimes run referral-based contests to keep subscribers and past referrers intrigued and to really drive referrals. 

  • They have consistent promotion.
    • ‘Share the Brew’ is in every single newsletter. So those who read the newsletter are exposed to the referral program daily. So they promote the program to every single subscriber, every single day. 
    • This, along with a variety of other transactional and nudging emails – they are on top of program promotion.
  • They created a smooth referral process.
    • There are just three steps for referring. The process is simplified and easy to navigate. 
    • The subscriber can access the referral program from every email received.
    • They see the share button, the rewards, and their individual referral link all in one place. 
    • Morning Brew also incorporated A/B testing and changed up the email and copy on their referral pages.
  • They keep things relevant by changing rewards.
    • Their tiered program is set up so that at different referral milestones a reward is earned, from stickers all the way up to a complete work from home set up (desk, computer, etc.). 
    • These rewards have changed slightly over the years (currently, they even have a mystery box as a reward). 

Let’s do a deeper dive into each of these reasons that make the Morning Brew referral program epic!

A deep dive into Morning Brew’s referral program: What makes it so successful?

People have been referring friends to businesses for years. And anyone can agree that recommendations from friends and family are far more intriguing than a brand’s paid ad. So for a business that could already prove people would talk about and share them with a friend, it made sense to formalize a referral program. 

This is why Morning Brew decided to ultimately tap into this type of marketing. However, they knew it had to be done strategically and at the right time. 

Because they already had great word of mouth, they were able to build off that momentum and create a truly amazing program. It also meant that they could really take their time to figure out what would work best for their program. 

Let’s take a look at the components of the Morning Brew referral program that helped lead to the newsletter’s astonishing growth, and tips for your own referral program that you can take away. 

Smart referral rewards

Most people won’t join a referral program if there isn’t much incentive to do so. This is especially true for a media and news platform. Which is why Morning Brew first decided to make good content that people would actually want to share (adding a little sass can really kick it up a notch), and then backed it up with an incentive to do so (aka – their referral rewards).

morning brew rewards 2023

Morning Brew took a tiered approach, where each tier of referrals led to a grander reward. Morning Brew played around with this formula a little bit, and rewards have changed slightly over time. But, for the most part, they found rewards that work really well for them.

They took a smart approach by aiming for quality over quantity. Therefore, they chose rewards that were brand-related and that any Morning Brew junkie would be happy to receive. The majority of their tiers offer branded merchandise. 

For a frequent Morning Brew reader, this type of incentive can help bring them closer to the brand and also build up the subscribers loyalty. Oh, and as an added bonus – subscribers were now walking around advertising Morning Brew to others.

Because they carefully curated their rewards, they were likely going to get referrals who actually fall into their audience rather than just a long list of unqualified referrals. 

Let’s dive into their tiered reward system, and why it works.

morning brew reward tiers

  • Rewards are always front and center. Their tiered referral system always allows referrers to know how many shares are needed to reach the next level. They provide a great visual that not only has a tracker, but also displays all of the potential rewards. 
  • They start small. The goal here is to make the lowest tiers the most affordable, as these are easiest to reach and must be given out the most. The first rewards are totes, stickers, and notebooks – which are bought in bulk so they’re extremely affordable. (A sticker only costs about 20 cents each when bought in large quantities.)
  • They create curiosity. They offer a mystery box at 7 referrals. This is also a great time to add an element of surprise. By placing this at the middle but slightly lower end, it makes the box seem achievable. 
  • Rewards are something people want. People love branded clothing. The clothing options in the program (t-shirt, joggers, and crewneck) are carefully chosen to be something readers will enjoy wearing. It’s been mentioned that these are high-quality and comfortable to help make those milestones worth it. How does Morning Brew know its subscribers want them? Because they sell similar branded items in their shop.
  • They offer a grand prize. They have an epic reward for super-advocates. For 1,000 referrals, someone can earn a work-from-home makeover with all the latest tech. This gives the best advocates something to shoot for (and yes, they have had people refer over 1,000 peers before).
  • They change up the rewards. The majority of the rewards have stayed pretty much the same. Previously, early rewards included an exclusive weekly newsletter (the “Light Roast” Sunday newsletter) and an exclusive Facebook group. These made subscribers feel like insiders and cost nothing to produce. At one point their grand prize was a paid trip to their headquarters.

The rewards they chose are not far-fetched, crazy, nor that expensive (at least the majority of them). They also picked items that would help create advocates out of casual readers.

What strategies can you steal? 

If you’re going to try a tiered reward system, you have to consider two things: the reward at stake and how achievable the reward is. 

Let’s take note: the majority of their tiers are spaced at an achievable rate. If you refer 5 people, sending 2 more referrals to get another reward doesn’t seem too terrible. The reward seems within reach, and it’s something the referrer actually wants. 

Worth considering: Branded merch can be a huge motivator (and gives you a walking advertisement). For a news outlet that is free, this works especially well.

The MacBook giveaway

Morning Brew will use viral tactics, occasionally, to boost referrals. Even though they know this may not always lead to quality referrals, they do run giveaways. Why, you ask?  Because they are a powerhouse at driving numbers and referral engagement.

morning brew referral program macbook tweet

These famous flash giveaways are done at random points throughout the year. The giveaway is simple – every referral sent by a subscriber earns them an entry into a Macbook Pro giveaway.

The more referrals someone makes, the more chances they have to win the high-end laptop. Plus, at 3 referrals, there is a bonus – where the amount of entries for the referrer doubles for every entry after that. 3 referrals become 6, 4 referrals become 8, and so on.

They do switch up the grand prize though and run other similar giveaways. Their current referral giveaway is using Airpods Max as the driving force for referrals. 

the airpods max giveaway

What strategies can you steal? 

Make giveaway prizes something big and worthwhile. Since these items are typically not branded merchandise, they can drive higher crowds. In this case, the winner gets a Macbook Pro – for themself and the friend they referred. This type of giveaway is easy motivation to get readers to make referrals, especially first referrals.

The caveat is that not all referrals may be legitimate. But, if you require double-opt in – like Morning Brew does – you can better verify the legitimacy and quality of the referral. 

Another strategy you could steal from Morning Brew’s referral giveaway is using bonus boosters. After a certain amount of referrals, consider counting those as double entries. This is easy and you may possibly get even more referrals.

Worth considering: Giveaways work well with high-converting and unbranded items.These items tend to drive a nice influx of referrals – so consider adding a filter or screening process to weed out any fraudulent referrals (self referrals and fake emails are common in this scenario). 

Easy-to-use referral hub

The referral hub that Morning Brew set up is easy to use. Meaning, there’s potential for easy referrals to occur. Within just a few clicks, the subscriber can easily send a referral, and view what tier they are at. That gives them an easy visual to how many referrals they need to send before earning the next referral gift

morning brew referral program hub

There are 4 key components their referral hub uses. 

  • Visual rewards. The referral hub shows the rewards and how many referrals needed for that reward. They also provide a motivating counter, which displays both the current referral count and how many referrals are needed for the next reward.

morning brew reward tiers

  • Quick link access. They made it easy for subscribers to find and copy their unique referral link. This allows subscribers to share their link wherever and how they want. This is also the second place a subscriber can find their personal referral link!

morning brew share your link

  • Multiple sharing options. They provide multiple ways of sharing, and simple instructions for how to share. Want to just use your link? Cool. Prefer sending a quick email? Great. Share on social media? Perfect. They use every avenue a subscriber might share. 

share on social morning brew

  • Prewritten referral message. By adding a prefilled message to the email form, readers won’t have to think of what to say… but, they also allow readers to personalize that message if they want. 

morning brew referral program message

What strategies can you steal? 

You should really consider offering multiple sharing options. Some people may want to snag their link and go. Others may just want to share from an email form – without having to come up with an entire message on their own. You can also consider offering social share options, as this will allow users to share easily with all their friends at once if that’s what they prefer. 

You may want to remind users of potential rewards. This can be especially useful for tiered rewards where each tier offers a new item. 

Worth considering: Keep in mind that different rewards will motivate different people. By putting the visual up front and center, a user may be more motivated to refer. 

Smart promotions

Morning Brew’s promotion strategy is genius. They chose to do promotions in a very logical way. Each subscriber will only be promoted pages and CTAs that make sense for their activity level in the referral program. 

For example, someone that has only referred 1 person will not be shown the same referral landing page message or ‘Share the Brew’ section as a person who has referred 18 people. The message to motivate these two individuals is different since the reward at stake is different.

There are 3 promotion strategies that stand out. 

  • Promote in every newsletter. They use every newsletter to promote the referral program.
    • The Share the Brew is always in the newsletter.
    • They seem to play around with location too, sometimes you’ll find it at the end, but sometimes at the beginning or middle. This way anyone who may fall off or close the email before reaching the bottom has the opportunity to see it as well.
    • They offer two options from this section within the email. Subscribers can click to go to the referral hub, or they can copy their referral link from the newsletter and be on their way.
  • Change up the promotion copy. Dynamic promotions vary the referral promotion text and images in emails. These changes are based on the referrals someone has sent or has not sent. Sometimes the GIFs rotate through rewards, while other times this GIF  highlights rewards the person has not earned yet. 
  • Use strategic and personalized emails. The strategy is superb, they make sure emails reach individual referrers when they’re most primed to share. These emails include:
    • The no referral nudge. If someone hasn’t referred, they are nudged to do so. An email is sent the week after subscribing to anyone who hasn’t referred yet. This gives a subscriber some time to get to know the newsletter – and hopefully want to share.
    • Getting them over the hump. Another nudge is sent when someone is only one referral away from the next reward, and if they haven’t had any referral activity for 2 weeks.

morning brew strategic emails

What strategies can you steal? 

Morning Brew sends a newsletter every day, and people open the newsletter… every day. It’s an obvious way for their program to be seen. If you share your program in every newsletter, subscribers will eventually notice. And it might even prompt a referral to occur. 

The key takeaway is to promote your referral program when and where you can. If you’re not sending a newsletter, you can promote your program in any email you send by mentioning it in your email signature. This is a great way to promote, because people are most likely to see it if they open the email.

You may also want to explore nudges. You can automate different processes for different scenarios like Morning Brew did. You may be sending abandoned cart emails or ‘we miss you’ emails already. Why not toss in a ‘don’t forget to refer’ email?

Worth considering: Keep things fresh. Consider changing up the copy of your referral program promotion. The referral headline is the easiest thing to change, and works well at grabbing attention. After someone sees the same sentence over and over, it becomes a bit stale, and eventually people may become blind to it. Morning Brew has a dedicated section for their program within their newsletter, so they have a little wiggle room to get really creative with the copy.

Straightforward landing page

Getting people to refer is one thing. Getting their referrals to take action is another. Morning Brew made the referral process easy and straightforward.

morning brew friend landing page

Here’s what we noticed that may have helped them finesse all of those sign ups.

  • Created familiarity. The email a referral receives recognizes the advocate sending the message. By using the name of the friend, it creates a level of trust, which can encourage action. 
  • Covered the basics. Cool, my friend sent me something, but what is it? That’s a question Morning Brew answers right away. The page briefly summarizes what Morning Brew is all about. Without this short description, the referral would likely have no clue what Morning Brew was.
  • Mentioned the wanted action. Morning Brew presents the “subscribe” CTA in eye-catching blue, in the middle of the page. Just look at the size of the button, it’s definitely the first thing someone will notice.
  • Kept it uncluttered. As you can see, there is nothing distracting – nothing that could draw the reader away from the subscribe action. They really kept this to the point. 
  • Reiterated key aspects. After the CTA is clicked, the referral is reminded of who sent them (their friend), and what the Morning Brew is (a free business newsletter). Morning Brew even included a little glimpse of their fun and cheeky tone. 

morning brew referral program cheeky message

What strategies can you steal? 

The goal of all referral pages is to get someone to convert. But, people do not have very long attention spans, so the goal should be to keep this short and sweet. Meanwhile, cover all the bases. Who is this? Why was I sent this? What do I need to do? Those are three questions the email and referral page should be able to cover, quickly.  

Worth considering: Don’t be afraid to be bold. Morning Brew used their bright blue button to really get people to go to the subscribe page. The initial button is big, and catches the eye right away, so consider making this aspect really pop.

End with a thank you

Morning Brew keeps subscribers informed of when referrals convert. They also send reward notification emails that double as a nice pat on the back. 

This particular message is received after a subscriber has a successful referral (the referral subscribed). The message delivered acts as a simple thank you. Plus, it covers reward details which may nudge them to refer again. 

morning brew referral program consider us impressed

What strategies can you steal? 

Don’t forget to say thanks. No one has to give you a referral, but if they happen to give you one, let them know you notice their effort. Morning Brew sends a message like this after a successful referral comes through. So, you do not need to say thanks every time a link is shared. But if the referred friend converts, it’s a nice gesture.

Worth considering: If you’re giving out referral rewards, consider adding the image of what the earned reward is or mentioning it in your thank you message. If you’re doing a tiered reward, consider adding in the countdown to the next reward – this little reminder may be exactly what someone needs to share again.

What to keep in mind for your own program?

Morning Brew has done a great job creating their program. There are many elements you can use to create your own referral program. 

But, before you implement any of these elements, there are few things to ask yourself. 

  • Do we have existing word of mouth? Make sure your product or service is worth referring before you start a program. Morning Brew made sure they had plenty of interest before starting their program. The existing word of mouth created a nice foundation for their referral program to build on. 
  • How will we run a referral program? Morning Brew built their referral program completely from scratch (without software). But the vast majority of companies don’t have the time, know-how, or resources to do so, and will have a much easier time using software like Referral Rock.
    • Referral software also automates the sending of rewards, including swag rewards just like Morning Brew. This is key in keeping your customers or subscribers happy (and in the know).
    • In addition, software has safeguards that help prevent referral fraud. This is especially important in a free newsletter program that relies on gathering real emails of real readers. Morning Brew is free – we can imagine how many people try to self refer to get to the next reward tier. 
  • What type of program are we going to have? If you want to run a tiered program like Morning Brew’s, you’ll have to keep in mind that not all referral software has the capability to run one. Referral Rock does, and lets you run a tiered program with ease.
  • Who are we going to reward? Morning Brew only rewards the referring customer because new subscribers aren’t making a purchase (the newsletter is free). But if your company sells products or services, it’s best to reward both the referrer and new customer when the new customer makes their first purchase
  • Can we go viral from a referral program? This should not be an expectation. Your company likely won’t have a program that is as viral as Morning Brew’s did. But referral programs are still an effective way to drive customer acquisition and retention. 

Final thoughts on the Morning Brew referral program

Morning Brew was able to create a high converting referral rewards program. There are many elements you can snag from their program to make yours just as epic. 

But, remember… Morning Brew had a solid foundation to build up from. They offer a free product, and their product was already highly talked about. People actually really like what they are offering, which makes it easy for someone to want to refer. Additionally, they had a great subscriber base before even starting a program. All of these had a big impact on the success of their program, and could be the reason why it went viral. 

Looking for more secrets of newsletter referral programs that you can steal? Check out our ultimate newsletter referral program guide.