Referral Program Ideas for Brand Growth

Referral program ideas can help grow your reach. Expand with warm leads and grow your customer base.
Updated on December 13, 2022

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Referral marketing ideas (referral program ideas) can be a smart and substantial way to help your business thrive. Referral programs create warm leads for an existing business and create more revenue. Meanwhile, they encourage existing clientele to share their experience with your brand. The best-rated referral programs to date have a few key things in common:

  1. A targeted promotion: Who is your brand trying to reach? Define your ideal customer and reach them with your referral marketing ideas.
  2. Satisfied customers who spread the word: Brand advocates or marketing ambassadors who make the whole referral marketing process work.
  3. Incentives for bringing in new business: In other words, a perk for the current customer – they talk up your services, and in turn, get something for their efforts, often money or dollars off a recurring service. This is known as an incentive or customer reward.

We’ve seen this combination time and time again create successful referral campaigns.

Another way to foster success is by tailoring the referral program to your particular business model. Because each brand has its own nuances, you’ll want to weave those into this important marketing strategy.

The most effective referral programs target a specific audience and appeal to what their customers want. This can be done with customer referral programs (refer-a-friend programs), brand ambassador referral programs, or partner referral programs.

Overall, your referral marketing ideas should fit your overall marketing strategy – an approach that’s simple and effective. Luckily, there are many customer referral program ideas that we can reflect upon to gain inspiration.

Each is broken up by key success factors found in every referral program: targeting your audience, having ambassadors work in your favor, and offering an incentive.

Read the whole article for a bigger picture look, or skip straight to the success factor that interests you most.

No matter your industry or marketing plan, this article has a referral program idea you can use.

Starting a successful referral program

Your business is loved by your current customers, but are they telling their people about all that you have to offer?

No matter the type of business platform you run, providing an incentive can offer that extra push for customers to share the good news. In other words, give them a prize and they’ll start singing your praises. This is one of the most important steps in referral marketing.

In addition, this encouraged word-of-mouth approach is one of the fastest ways your brand can benefit from referral program ideas.

Network referring has proven time and time again to be one of the biggest driving factors of business growth. Organic word-of-mouth marketing is a no-brainer. This is when customers talk about your services naturally and new customers trickle in. These are some of the most important business leads as customers come in informed, and with money in hand.

But what if you could amplify that method?

Referral marketing encourages customers to share their experiences and advocate on your behalf. It’s a push to drop your name and provide a good review. After all, happy customers are some of the best salespeople to date. Let them bring the new business straight to you.

Meanwhile, your current customers are getting something in return, which only beefs up the process. Dual rewards mean more business overall.

The best referral program ideas for promotion

There are several ways that you can implement a successful referral program. But before your customers can share a marketing referral to your brand, they first have to see your promotion. Check out these options for promoting successful referral programs and how you can implement them for your brand.

1. Use a simple but catchy headline

Catch customers’ attention right off the bat with a referral marketing headline that’s informative, and that explains the benefits of sharing. Let them know about the perks right from the get-go to create a more effective referral program.

Check out these effective headlines! Take note of the use of numbers, clear benefit explanation, and how they get straight to the point:

  • Robinhood: “Invite friends, get stocks.”
    • Short and sweet, this message gets straight to the point of what customers receive.
  • Dropbox: “Invite friends to Dropbox and earn more storage space.”
    • This title offers a clear benefit: extra storage space.
  • Roam Luggage: “Get $50 for every friend you refer.”
    • This title grabs readers’ attention with the use of the exact reward amount.

Need more referral marketing examples? Check out these samples that can be customized for your brand:

  • Share With Your Friends and Get $20
  • Refer and Earn a Gift Card
  • Let Us Help You Get More
  • Invite Your Friends and Earn
  • They Save, You Save
  • Let Us Thank You
  • Spread the Love

2. Ask customers at the right time

In setting up your referral program campaign, it’s also important to consider when to ask your customers for referrals. You want to approach them at the right time – once they’ve had a good experience and are invested in your company. It’s a great way to entice loyal customers and to encourage their praise.

Once they are engaged with your brand, this is your moment! It’s time to step in and say, “We appreciate you as a customer, and we would be happy to help your family and friends.” Then, introduce the referral marketing program.

Your most successful times to ask will take place right after a sale, once your item has been delivered, or at the end of a successful customer service chat. This is when you can talk up your best referral program.

In addition, holidays or other marketing events are great times to bring attention to your brand’s referral marketing program. For instance, around Valentine’s Day, you could announce a campaign about “Sharing the Love,” where customers can earn $15 and give $15 for referring friends and family members. Run the campaign for the month of February as a referral marketing program, or customize it to meet your specific needs.

You can do this for various holidays, or even create your own day, either a branded holiday or your company’s anniversary. Other companies have done this with Amazon’s Prime Day, or IHOP’s National Pancake Day.

But you don’t need a special occasion to create your customer referral campaign. Having great customers is enough to celebrate on its own.

3. Create a great landing page (with FAQ)

Your referral program’s landing page should be clear and easy to follow to take your brand to the next level. Avoid bogging the page down with too much text or design features. Oftentimes, customers are most interested in the reward and skip over the rest anyway.

It’s also important to outline key factors of the referral reward, including through an FAQ section that answers customers’ potential hangups. Here, you can explain the program without crowding your design, and quickly and effectively inform your readers. Bonus benefit: you can easily update the FAQ with any program updates or changes, without completely redesigning the landing page.

4. Include eye-catching images and visuals

Referral page visuals will be the first thing to catch customers’ eyes. From e-commerce page design and layout, to images and graphics, visuals grab your readers’ attention. Use this to your advantage by creating graphics that explain the process, or images that break up long sections of text – it’s a win-win!

hero shot

A successful way to win over customers with your incentive idea is with a “hero shot.” A hero shot is an image of someone enjoying the benefits you’re offering. When customers see the perk, they are more likely to follow through with the program and strive to earn the reward.

5. Thank customers on your refer-a-friend program page

Offering rewards is a surefire way to thank customers for their referred friends. The opportunity to earn helps them feel appreciated by being compensated for their loyalty. And their loyalty means they’ll bring in more customers, and therefore, more business for your brand.

Being sincere in your thanks can go a long way in earning trust. Include a heartfelt thank-you in your referral sales page for a way to gain and retain customer loyalty, including repeat business and future leads.

6. Make your program easily found online

Once your referral page is on your website, it’s time to make sure it’s easily found by searchers. If you use digital marketing efforts already, send out a link, whether through email newsletters or social media. You can direct customers to the page link once they sign up or complete an order. Add your thank you and provide the sales page for an effective funnel.

Each platform of communication you have with customers can be a chance to add your referral page link, including places like:

  • Ad space
  • Website menu bar
  • Blog posts
  • Email marketing campaigns
  • Your and other employees’ email signatures
  • Thank you/confirmation pages
  • Invoices
  • Printed ads
  • Customer service messaging

7. Retarget visitors who have already shown interest

With retargeting, you can reel in potential customers who are already interested in your referral program. This is already a proven method of customer acquisition, so why not use it to drive referrals?

If someone visited your site previously but wasn’t able to sign up for the program, you can reach out to them and remind them to follow through. Doing so in a friendly, encouraging way is an effective way to cash in on warm leads.

With referral software, you can reach these customers through various outlets, thanks to easy customizations and referral automation features.

For instance, if a customer added something to their cart but never checked out, you might drop them an email with a gentle reminder, or even an additional coupon. The same can be done after visiting your referral landing page; automatically shoot a quick message reminding them of available rewards and you can earn new referrals pouring in.

Best referral program ideas for gaining advocates

Brand advocates help you market your brand and your entire referral program. By talking up your company, they spread the word about what you do, putting in a good review in the process. They can be a great marketing tool to have on your side, and earning them can help your referral program thrive.

Finding brand advocates is essentially your program in action – by looking at who’s actively promoting what you do, you can make a connection with them and ramp up their efforts. Snag your top customers, and add them to a list of brand advocates. You can use specialized software to make this an easy transition.

These key players in your marketing can gain you more views and allow more customers to see your referral program.

1. Find your best customers

Streamline your marketing plan by creating a list of your best customers. They’re already singing your praises, now you just need them to work on behalf of your referral program. Essentially, you are just re-focusing their efforts.

Your best customers will:

  • Make frequent purchases
  • Engage on social media (positively)
  • Share customer reviews on outside sites
  • Share your posts online
  • Talk about your brand in informal conversations

Another way to identify best customers is with an emailed survey. A short NPS survey can tell who is most likely to recommend you to friends and family members for a free month or referral link.

Once the list is ready, it’s time to reach out.

2. Partner with nonprofits

Another tip that can attract customers is to work with nonprofit organizations. Rather than rewarding individuals, you are providing funds or goods to a local charity. This is called a community referral program.

vena referral program idea

For example, Vena Software sends $2,000 to the charity of a customer’s choice when they refer a new customer to use their service. This can draw in new leads by appealing to a local or ongoing need and even help to build an online community.

3. Excite your workforce

Remember all the hoopla about brand ambassadors? They don’t have to just be customers; your employees can serve as incredibly effective brand ambassadors. If you think about it, it just makes sense: they already know your company inside and out, they’re fully engaged with your brand, and they have the potential to bring in large numbers.

A referral program that targets your employees can be incredibly motivating and increase employee productivity! This is true in two scenarios: if you’re trying to hire new workers, or if you’re looking for new customers. In this article, we’ll be focusing on how employees can grow your customer base.

Referral program ideas for your employees can be very similar to the program used for your customers. You can offer a reward for every lead, create tiered reward systems where workers can earn more based on the number of referrals they bring in, or host monthly contests to see who can draw in the most customers. Create a scoreboard to motivate and entice employees, or offer prizes for the big winner. This addition of gamification adds fun and excitement, as well as having the ability to greatly increase participation.

4. Host an affiliate or partner program

Another referral program idea is the addition of an affiliate or partner program. This takes place when another business or brand is incentivized to promote your product. In affiliate programs, content creators promote your product by placing links to your brand on their website, and receive a commission on all leads who convert via the links.

An example is Google’s Workspace Affiliate Program. Any brand who refers another company to sign up earns a commission on the lead.

Meanwhile, partner programs are usually more personal. They work with one-on-one relationships between brands. Rather than referring a product or functional service, partners refer a specific brand and the people who represent it. If you already work with other businesses, a partner program can be a great option. Learn more about partner program incentives with this guide.

Consider the addition of an affiliate or partner program (or both) to advance your referral program campaign.

Added bonus: Gain popularity by solidifying brand confidence

When you’re looking for folks to help share your referral program, it’s worth noting that these efforts will gain more traction when advocates, partners, etc. have confidence in your brand.

Ensure you have a trustworthy brand that offers high-quality products and/or services to instill this confidence. Great customer service is another tactic to win customers over. These two elements alone can create popularity and trust among businesses.

Best referral program incentive ideas

The best – and most effective – reward incentives are ones that will best intrigue your customers. Know your market and find rewards that will speak to them. For instance, if you sell pricey items, such as high-end furniture or luxury luggage, a coupon code for 10% off will do little to entice your customers for a repeat purchase. To be the most effective, you need to create a deal that drives consumers to cash in quickly. This is the best way to promote fast and frequent referrals.

To determine the best reward for your market, look at a few factors:

  1. How often do they use your service?
  2. How much are they spending?
  3. What will create the most value for them?

Answering these questions can put you in the mindset of your ideal market. Finding a referral incentive they want can entice and draw in your most valued customers time and time again.

Incentives that hit this target can mean you’re on your way to referral program growth.

Here are some ideas for effective reward incentives:

1. Promote a good cause

Monetary rewards aren’t always on the table for companies to provide. An effective secondary option is donating to a charity. By reaching customers at their heartstrings – say, offering $50 to charity – you can incentivize them to get others to sign up. This is a popular referral campaign idea.

This option works best when donating to a charity that is relevant to your brand. For example, Bombas is a brand that makes socks and underwear. Their mission is to donate a pair of purchased goods with each sale. The program, 1 Purchased, 1 Donated is aimed at helping homelessness and people who are in need of quality items to stay warm and dry. Applying a similar model to your referral program and making meaningful community connections will motivate customers to share.

2. Encourage customers with give and get rewards (double-sided incentives)

Referral incentive ideas are great for the existing customer, but it’s especially effective to also reward your new, first-time customers. This give-and-get model runs off word-of-mouth marketing and can help referral programs thrive due to double-sided incentives. Refer a friend, and both parties earn. This is also known as social gifting.

Airbnb offers a double-sided reward for existing customers and first-timers alike. Incoming customers can earn $65 off of a stay and experience, while the existing customer earns travel credit. This is a great way to seal the deal with potential customers; because they’re saving funds there’s less pressure and they don’t feel like there’s a hidden catch.

3. Provide tiered incentives

Cash earned or a free product can motivate customers for a referral or two, but how do you keep them bringing in the leads? With a tiered reward system, you can allow your best customers to earn more based on the number of new customers they draw in. This method creates a fun challenge, as well as a way for them to earn bigger and better rewards.

Besides, with each new customer, they’re putting more in your pocket, so providing bigger kickbacks is only a drop from the bucket. This is refer-a-friend marketing ideas at its finest.

For a universal example, look at airline rewards. The more you earn with Delta, the more SkyMiles you have to your name, and therefore the more rewards you get.

A tiered referral system works the same way. The more folks you bring in, the more you can earn. For instance, you might earn $25 for the first five referrals, then $40 for the fifth through tenth customers you bring in, and $50 after that. And so on. Bigger rewards = more referrals.

4. Give a bigger incentive for the first successful referral

There are many brands that offer the same incentives for every referral. Whether it’s their first or 100th referral, the reward is identical. For instance, Uber gives back the same reward to new and recurring customers, regardless of the number of referrals or time as a loyal customer.

But another approach is to offer a “signing bonus,” or larger first-time reward and smaller subsequent rewards. An example being a $50 bonus for your first referral, then $5 on all future referrals.

This higher first-time bonus creates more leads due to the shock factor. Then, once customers are hooked, they are more likely to keep referring, even for a smaller reward. Looking for a referral program that works? Consider this approach as one of the best referral marketing options.

5. Incentivize for sales, not leads

In order for your referral campaign to be considered successful, customers can’t just give their friends a tour, they need to close the sale. New leads must actually sign up for your services or products in order for you to earn. Therefore, referrals should be awarded when the deal is closed.

Most referral programs include this condition in order for the referring customer to earn their reward. Ensure your customers close the sale by showing them clear benefits provided by your brand. A double-sided reward can also become helpful here, offering a perk to both the existing customer and the new lead when the new lead makes their first purchase.

Leads are more likely to sign up for something new if they feel like they are getting extra value. Hopefully, they will have enjoyed the process so much that they return, this time referring someone new through your word-of-mouth marketing program and earning as the existing customer.

Bonus idea: Reward customers with your appreciation

Similar to how you have your list of best customers, there will also be a list of best referrers. Find a way to show your thanks in order to reward them for their hard work or referring new customers. This seemingly simple step can go a long way in proving your appreciation and giving them the nod of approval. There are many options to thank key referrers, whether it be hand-written thank you notes or a care package of quality items.

Monetary rewards are popular, but unique gifts can further entice customers to earn through your reward program. Special trips, special products, or exclusive memberships can keep them coming back for more as well. Consider these options as part of your word-of-mouth marketing program.

Or, if that’s out of the budget, consider gifts like branded swag. Folks love a good t-shirt or hat – allow them the chance to earn on your behalf, and then promote your brand further with the gift. This is another successful customer referral program idea.

Key takeaways

There are many perks to referral programs as a way to grow your business. By motivating customers to advertise via word-of-mouth you can greatly grow your customer base. We hope to see these effective customer referral ideas in play with your own unique take that brings your business new revenue.

Looking for more ideas to create a successful referral marketing plan? Look at these additional top referral program examples.

Or, check out these resources: