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Referral programs are a powerful marketing strategy that leverages the trust and influence of your existing customers to attract new ones. They offer a win-win for both parties: your customers get rewarded for referring their friends and family, and your business gains valuable new leads.

Table of Contents

  • What is a Referral Program?
  • What is Referral Marketing?
  • Why Employee Referral Programs?
  • Types of Referral Programs?
  • Top 5 Examples of Successful Referral Programs?


What is a Referral Program?


A referral program is a marketing strategy that empowers existing customers to advocate for your brand, reaching out to friends and family. When a referred individual makes a purchase, the referrer receives a reward from your company. It's a dynamic method to gain new customers and build stronger loyalty among existing ones.


Without a referral program, you rely solely on organic word-of-mouth marketing, limiting your brand  reach. While word of mouth is prevalent for some products like music, fashion, and beauty, it's less common for essential services like telecommunications and insurance. The cost of not having a referral program in such industries is considerably high.


Modern referral programs often utilize software, though some industries still rely on manual processes.


What is Referral Marketing?


Referral marketing, also known as word-of-mouth marketing, leverages existing and past customers to recommend your brand to their networks. It supercharges this natural form of advertising with user-friendly sharing tools, referral rewards, and gamification.


Why Employee Referral Programs & Referral Marketing


Traditional marketing is becoming increasingly expensive and less effective due to digital marketing costs, ad-blockers, spam filters, and consumer distrust in traditional advertising. Referral marketing is a clear alternative, as studies consistently show that consumers trust recommendations from friends and family above other forms of advertising. Customers are also more likely to open and read messages from trusted sources. Moreover, referred customers tend to be more loyal and valuable.


Types of Customer Referral Programs


Referral programs can be used by both B2C and B2B brands to encourage customers or clients to refer to your brand. While the mechanics of these programs often overlap, differences exist. B2B referrals may have longer time scales and higher rewards.


Referral programs can target various audiences, such as loyalty scheme members, employees, business partners, affiliates, and influencers. The actions driven by a referral program can go beyond purchases, including joining a loyalty program, downloading an app, or signing up for a newsletter.


Referral programs can also be categorized as dual-sided, one-sided, or no-incentive programs. Dual-sided programs, where both referrers and referees receive rewards, often yield the best results.


Tips for Building a Great Referral Program

A successful referral program brings in high-quality customers who spend more and stay loyal. To achieve this, consider the following:


1. Ask Your Audience


Always ask your audience, including customers, clients, and employees, to refer to your brand. If you don't ask, they may not think to do it.

2. Choose Your Moment


Timing is crucial. Ask for referrals when customers are likely to have a positive view of your brand, such as after a purchase or a positive interaction.

3. Ask the Right People

Identify your most loyal and satisfied customers, as they are more likely to refer to others who share similar values and lifestyles.

4. Be On Brand

Ensure that your brand  identity is consistent throughout the referral process, including colors, fonts, tone, and messaging.

5. Have a Clear Call to Action

Make it easy for participants to understand what they need to do to earn rewards or incentives.

6. Keep It Simple

Provide simple and easy sharing options, allowing participants to use their preferred sharing tools.

7. Offer a Choice of Rewards

Give participants a variety of rewards and periodically change them to keep the program enticing.

8. Offer Valuable Rewards

Provide rewards that have high perceived value but are cost-effective for your brand.

9. Pay Out Promptly

Ensure timely reward distribution, respecting necessary post-completion rules to protect your margins.

By implementing these tips and learning from the success stories in the next section, you can build a thriving referral program that boosts customer acquisition and loyalty for your brand.

Top 5 Examples of Successful Referral Programs


Now, let's dive into 5 remarkable examples of brands that have harnessed the power of referral programs to achieve exceptional success


  1. Airbnb Refer-a-Friend Program – US$18 credit per qualifying stay
  2. Evernote Rewards Program – 10 points for 3 referrals
  3. Revolut – varying time-limited cash payments
  4. Robinhood – random stock drawn from a pool
  5. Gousto – £18 account credit



Airbnb Refer-a-Friend Program – US$18 credit per qualifying stay


Airbnb referral program encourages users to invite friends to join the platform. when a referred friend completes their first stay, the referrer receives a US$18 credit that they can use for future Airbnb bookings. It's a win-win for both parties.

Evernote Rewards Program – 10 points for 3 referrals


Evernote rewards program encourages users to refer their friends to the note-taking and organization platform. When a user refers to three friends, they earn 10 points. These points can be redeemed for premium features or other benefits within the Evernote ecosystem.

Revolut – varying time-limited cash payments


Revolut, a digital banking platform, entices users to refer friends by offering varying cash payments for a limited time. The referral rewards may change periodically, creating a sense of urgency for customers to refer their friends.

Robinhood – random stock drawn from a pool


Robinhood, an investment platform, runs a referral program where referrers receive a randomly selected stock from a pool of options when their friends sign up and make their first trade. The element of randomness adds excitement to the program.

Gousto – £18 account credit


Gousto, a meal kit delivery service, provides customers with an £18 account credit for each successful referral. This credit can be applied towards future meal kit orders, making it a compelling reward for food enthusiasts.


In a world where marketing noise is deafening, referral programs stand out as a beacon of authenticity and trust. They exemplify the power of personal connections and the genuine endorsement of a brand by its customers.


Through the examples we have shared, you have witnessed the magic that a well-crafted referral program can weave. We've also equipped you with the knowledge and insights to build your own thriving referral program, one that will attract new customers and solidify the loyalty of your existing ones.


As we step into 2023 and beyond, remember that the true champions of marketing are not just the companies with the best products, but the ones who harness the voices of their satisfied customers to spread the word. Referral programs are where trust, rewards, and brand advocacy collide to create marketing marvels.


 Frequently asked questions FAQs

Q:How do I start a referral program for my business?

 A:Starting a referral program for your business involves a strategic approach. You'll need to define your goals, choose suitable rewards, and implement a tracking system. We've covered essential tips in our article to guide you through the process.

 Q:What are the key benefits of a referral program in 2023?

 A:The benefits of a referral program in 2023 are vast. It's a cost-effective way to acquire new customers, foster customer loyalty, and leverage the trust factor. With consumers becoming increasingly distrustful of traditional advertising, referral programs are gaining more traction.

 Q:What types of rewards work best in referral programs?

  A:The type of rewards that work best in referral programs depends on your target audience and industry. Some brands offer discounts, while others provide free products, credits, or even stocks. The choice of reward should align with your brand and resonate with your customers.

Q: Can referral programs be successful for complex products and services like financial platforms?

A:Absolutely! Referral programs can be successful for complex products and services. In our article, we have discussed how companies like IG and Google have harnessed referrals for intricate offerings. It's all about finding the right incentives and creating a clear value proposition.

Q:What's the role of trust and word of mouth in referral marketing?

A:Trust and word of mouth are pivotal in referral marketing. Customers are more likely to trust recommendations from friends and family over traditional advertising. This trust factor plays a significant role in the success of referral programs, as highlighted in the article.