6 Email Referral Program Teardowns

— April 7, 2017

Email is your best referral asset. It’s by far the most popular referral method because people are used to sharing via email. Dashing off an email message quickly to a friend about how much you love a product is much easier than starting a whole conversation over text.


Meet your customers where they’re most inclined to share by rolling out a killer email referral program. Emails help you encourage referrals over time, instead of letting customers forget about your rewards. They help you nudge newer customers to become advocates, and prompt your advocates to share with even more of their friends.


With the right tools and tactics, you can make sure your emails are maximizing their referral potential. We analyzed 6 email referral programs to highlight what to do and what not to—so you can make it as easy as possible for your customers to spread the word.


With the right tools and tactics, you can make sure your emails are maximizing their referral potential.


1. Planted


Planted is a recruiting service that connects non-technical people with jobs in the startup industry.


They offer a double-sided reward of $ 100 in Amazon Credit for anyone you refer who gets a job through the service. The email is clean, cute, and direct—nothing distracts you from the call-to-action (CTA).



This referral email is practically frictionless. They make the incentive clear, give you a unique referral link within the email, and they also have a big, eye-catching button where you can see who you’ve invited, who’s joined, and who’s been offered a job. Once you click the “Track My Referrals” button, they also offer you templates for email, Twitter, and Facebook sharing.


While the templates are customizable, the email template seems a little bit spammy, and might get flagged in someone’s inbox. It’s weird to use hashtags and @-mentions in an email to a friend.



What You Can Steal: It’s possible to make your email beautiful, simple, and effective all at once. The big “Track My Referrals” button is a clear call-to-action, that is much more eye-catching than hyperlinked text. But a button that stands out in one email, isn’t going to stand out in the next.


Use an email service with a drag-and-drop interface, so that you can try out different email designs that are appropriate for your brand but also direct focus to the call-to-action button. Try using an email design tool, like Campaign Monitor, to send out different iterations and then A/B test to find the CTA that’s most effective.


2. Career Foundry


CareerFoundry offers online courses that give people the skills they need to break into the tech industry.


They sent this email to contract employees who mentor and teach the courses—many of whom acquired their skills by taking a course themselves. By asking teachers, who understand on a personal level the value of the program, to refer their friends, they’re guaranteeing themselves both positive and targeted referrals.



Their program offers massive double-sided benefits, which incentivizes advocates to talk up CareerFoundry, and incentivizes their friends to listen.


But to take advantage of this service, you have to go through the extra step of signing up for their referral program. The referral program links take you to a dashboard which helps you manage your referrals (to see both who you’ve invited and who’s accepted the invitation), which is useful—but this process of signing up causes friction. Make your referral program barrier-free by giving them an easy-access personalized link instead.


What You Can Steal: Targeting the people that know first-hand the value of your program (in this case, its teachers) increases the likelihood that they’ll sing your praises. You can target people at specific times in their relationship with your company where they’re most likely to refer using an email service like Customer.io, which specializes in customer segmentation. For example, you could target referral requests towards frequent buyers who just made a purchase.


3. The Hustle


The Hustle is a daily newsletter that keeps you up-to-date with the latest tech and business developments.


They sent this email out to subscribers to encourage them to refer their friends. If subscribers reach certain referral benchmarks, they get Hustle merchandise, like stickers or a duffel bag.



The conversational and mysterious subject line (“Interested?”) helps increase open rates, and the goofy tone of the letter helps engage subscribers.


But the best part of this email is the visual representation of the rewards for referring. Not only do subscribers see what they get when they refer friends, but the physical rewards also lend themselves to social media sharing. Not only will referrers spread the word to get a pair of socks, but they’re likely to also post a photo of themselves on social media wearing the socks.


The one drawback of this email is that it doesn’t offer you a link or form to share with your friends. Referrers don’t get a template—instead they have to do the work of trying to convert subscribers, which is extra effort.


What You Can Steal: Swag (and its share-ability) powers your referral engine. People love getting swag, and they love posting photos of cute swag on social media. Use a swag service like CustomInk.com to create anything from t-shirts to mugs in minutes—without having to hire a graphic designer.


4. Capital One


Capital One’s referral program offers a $ 50 double-sided reward for each friend that applies for an account.


Because almost everyone has a bank account already, banks have notoriously high marketing costs to try to get potential customers to switch to their bank—and sizable rewards are a cost-effective way to incentivize them.



They include the “Unique Referral ID” right in the email, so there’s very little extra effort on the part of the referrer. But on the other hand, the system is very complicated for the person being referred. They have to type a random string of numbers and letters into a box on an application. They might lose the number or forget to type it in.


This complicated system discourages referrers from using your program. They don’t know if their friends will remember to take all the right steps to make sure they get their reward. While the step-by-step transparency is good, the system is a touch too complicated, which discourages potential advocates from speaking up.


What You Can Steal: The “Unique Referral ID” as a random string of numbers and letters helps prevent fraudulent referrals from going through. While we recommend using a variant of the referrer’s name as the “Referral ID” because it’s easier to remember, Extole also offers fraud protection, to make sure people don’t take advantage of your company’s generosity.


5. Amazon Prime Student


Amazon Prime likely has between 50 and 70 million members worldwide, but they still incentivize more to join with a referral program.


This email, which includes daily Kindle deals for Prime Student, includes the referral program at the bottom and offers $ 10 for every student you refer who joins.



The best part of this referral tactic is that it juxtaposes the monetary offer with personalized products that the receiver wants to buy. The student who receives this email will want to refer a friend because doing so helps them pay for the products they see—personalized products the Amazon team has already determined they might need.


But $ 10 isn’t a high incentive—especially coming from Amazon, a marketplace giant. It’s also added at the bottom of the email and is easy to miss. A larger button, instead of just hyperlinked text, could help draw the reader’s eye.


What You Can Steal: Don’t just tell your referrers about the possible rewards—show them. If you’re an e-commerce platform, showing referrers personalized products that they actually want gives them an extra push to tell their friends. Business intelligence tool Clearbit (which you can integrate with your email marketing through Segment) helps you gather information about your individual customers for even deeper personalization, which you can use to drive referrals.


6. Dropbox


Cloud storage system Dropbox has about 500 million users, and it’s growing by roughly 100 million each year.


They send this email when a referral has been successful, to let people know about the rewards they’re receiving. Even if customers are receiving value from your referral program, they might not realize it. When people recognize the benefit they’re getting from your referral program, they’re more likely to refer again.


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Their email rewards customers for past referrals and encourages them to refer again, which creates a viral loop. Implementing this referral program increased signups by 60%, and 35% of their daily signups come from the referral program.


They also have an in-app dashboard form where you can connect your contacts. You don’t need to manually copy and paste your friends’ emails, like a lot of referral programs require—you import them directly from Gmail. This decreases friction and lets users invite as many people as possible without doing a lot of manual data entry.



What You Can Steal: Give your users access to all of their contacts at once by using Google’s Identity Platform, which integrates their Google account with their account at your company. That way, they can invite all their contacts to your service in one fell swoop, instead of having to manually copy and paste email address after email address.


Plug the Leaks in Your Referral Marketing Funnel


The best referral emails are ones people want to engage with. Not only do you need to provide the incentive for them to refer, but you also need to make it as easy as possible for them to participate. Adding extra steps, like forcing them to sign up for a program or even making them read a paragraph can detract from the number of people who refer your company.


Optimizing your emails based on these tips will plug the leaks in your referral marketing funnel. When you make it as easy as possible for your advocates to spread the word and their friends to sign up, everyone who wants to become your customer will.

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