How to Increase Email ROI Using Referral Marketing

— August 7, 2017

Every email you send pushes customers closer to or further away from a purchase. The stakes are high when you’re building a brand. Marketers agonize over every little way they can increase conversions, tweaking button colors and subject lines—think of Google testing 41 different shades of blue.

But one of the easiest ways to increase email ROI is by asking people to share your message with their friends. You’re leaving money on the table if you’re not using the emails you already send to nurture referrals. Chances are those emails won’t just interest the people on your list—they’ll also interest their friends.

We’ll guide you through ways to drive more referrals in the emails you’re already sending—to maximize your ROI with minimal effort.


Remind Your Customers to Refer—Constantly

While 83% of satisfied customers are willing to refer your product, only 29% actually do. It’s hard enough for someone to remember that your company has a referral program, and even harder for them to remember to tell their friends during the hustle and bustle of their everyday life.

Make sure that you’re getting as close to that 83% as possible by reminding customers with frequent referral CTAs. You can include those as content in your lifecycle emails, even ones entirely unrelated to your referral program.

How to Increase Email ROI Using Referral Marketing

An email from Amazon Student which offers personalized product recommendations—and prompts the customer to make a referral in the footer. [source]

For retailers, transactional emails are a great opportunity to encourage a recommendation from a happy customer. After people get an order confirmation email, when they get a shipment notification, and when they’ve received their order are all moments of delight. Those are the best times to let them refer.

A little farther afield, problem solved emails from customer support reps where you can add a line like “Refer a friend here for 25% off your next bill!” to the email signature are an easy reminder to refer .

Finally, in addition to marketing, transactional, and customer service emails, we recommend a regular dedicated refer-a-friend email. Making the benefits of sharing the primary message will drive program participation. And, with dual-sided referral rewards, it’ll not only help drive revenue from new customers, it’ll drive repeat purchases too.

One of the easiest ways to increase email ROI is by asking people to share your message with their friends.

Advanced tip: Customize Who You ask for referrals with dynamic content

Make this strategy even more effective by considering it within the context of your referral funnel. You’re already collecting data through your emails—like open rates, click-through rates, and survey responses—so you should use it to nudge your customers to become advocates.

While not every customer is ready to advocate on behalf of your product, you can use their customer data and personalized dynamic content to nudge them there. Dynamic content is when your emails show different content to customers in different segments. For example, a clothing site could show snow gear to someone who lives in Vancouver and bathing suits to someone who lives in Florida.

You can use this approach to make customers who aren’t ready to refer excited about your company and further encourage the ones who are. In this example, Campaign Monitor (which offers dynamic content) explains that the customer sees a CTA to “refer a friend” if they are a frequent purchaser, and if they’re not, gets an offer of 30% off and free shipping. That way, the customers who weren’t impressed with you before can become impressed, and the ones that already are can bring in new customers.

How to Increase Email ROI Using Referral Marketing

Campaign Monitor’s visual explanation of how dynamic content works. Each customer sees content based on their specific customer data. [source]

You can create a segment based on any quality you want, and dynamic content based on any segment. For example, you could send an email that says “20% off your purchase” to any customer who rated you below an 8 on your NPS survey, and an email that says “20% off if you a refer a friend” to anyone who rated you an 8 or above.

Customers change segments automatically when they meet certain qualifications, like a new NPS score—so this strategy requires little manual upkeep.

Make Your Email Content Easily Shareable

Your customers are more likely to share your content than ever before. 73% of millennials see it as their responsibility to share, in order to help their peers make smart purchasing decisions. And these shares have more of an impact than ever before, too—25% of web traffic is driven by Facebook alone.

If you’re not making it easy for customers to share information about your company, you’re leaving money on the table. Make sharing frictionless by adding social share buttons to your emails. Social share buttons remind your customers that they can and should share this content with their friends, and they also decrease the amount of effort required to share.

In this email, HR service Gusto takes an otherwise run-of-the-mill transactional email and adds a shareable tidbit to the bottom. Using a service like Campaign Monitor, you only need a snippet of HTML text to add a “Like” or “Click to Tweet” button to any email, like this.

How to Increase Email ROI Using Referral Marketing

A transactional email from HR service Gusto, with a Twitter call-to-action in the footer.

By adding a tweetable fact, Gusto expands their brand’s reach using an email they’d have to send anyway. You can add opportunities for branded sharing (even in transactional emails) by simply copying and pasting the social share HTML snippets.

Advanced tip: make content worth sharing to reach more people

To take this to the next level, don’t just make your emails easier to share—send content worth sharing. About one-fifth of top viral email content is content marketing. Adding shareable tidbits to your transactional emails is a start, but writing and sending blog posts will get even more eyes on your brand.

By creating helpful content and positioning yourself as an expert in your industry, your customers will pass around your articles to people who need your help— and who might also need your product. The people who share your blog posts market your brand without having to plug your product.

AdEspresso, a tool that helps businesses make the most of their Facebook ads, sends emails like this one with blog content about how to maximize social media ROI.

How to Increase Email ROI Using Referral Marketing

A selection of an email from AdEspresso that includes both original and aggregated content on how to increase social media ROI.

If you don’t have the manpower to write and manage a blog, creating a newsletter with industry-relevant links from other sites (like AdEspresso does here) still positions you as an expert, and can also drive your subscribers to share your emails—putting your brand in front of their friends.

Maximize Email ROI With Referrals

These tweaks are so easy to make, and they help you make the most of the emails you’re already sending. You can customize these tactics with your own company’s email marketing strategy, starting with the basics and adding on the higher-touch efforts over time.

While we recommend sending emails specifically designed to court referrals as well, every email you send should build your brand. These tactics will help make sure that they help share your brand, too—helping your customers sing your praises.

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