Referral marketing 101: How to turn on the power of viral referrals

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A business thrives when its customers are happy. It’s that simple. When a product, service or brand delivers real value, we can’t help but tell our friends and families about it. We want them to benefit from the outstanding quality and service we’ve experienced. Also known as word-of-mouth marketing, referrals allow a brand to stand out from the crowd quickly and cost-effectively.

Over the years, we’ve seen referral mediums evolve by leaps and bounds. From casual conversations between friends and family members, user reviews on open platforms, viral ads on social media, to digital referral campaigns via desktop and mobile apps ? it’s never been easier for customers to spread the word en masse.  

Simply put, it’s never been easier (or cheaper) for businesses to recruit new users and scale growth quickly, in a highly targeted way.

© Influitive

The beauty of referral marketing is that, when done right, it opens up one’s business to exponential growth via pre-qualified influencers (i.e. satisfied users who are able to influence potential new users).

But how do you craft an effective referral campaign? Here are a few tips on how to turn on the power of viral referrals:

  • Deliver an Experience Worth Sharing

Whether it’s legendary customer service, a game-changing product/service, or even a wacky video ad ? the user experience needs to be one worth sharing. Put yourself in the customer’s shoes: will the product/service excite you enough to give it a public thumbs-up?

What you’re selling doesn’t have to be revolutionary. It’s not so much what you’re selling, rather, how you sell it.

Take Harry’s for example. They sell shaving products. Nothing extraordinary in itself. What was extraordinary was the way they secured 100,000 sign-ups during their one-week prelaunch campaign.

In addition to offering free products as incentive, a key element of their success was their creative design and execution of the referral campaign. By gamifying the process with different tiers of the referral challenge offering different prizes for each tier, they made it creative, fun and exciting.

For Harry’s customers, completing the referral challenge in itself was an experience worth sharing.

  • Make It Easy to Share the Experience

This might sound like a given, but it’s important not to underestimate the importance of shareability when designing the user experience. A well-designed referral campaign takes into account the complete user experience, from the product to the landing page, website, customer service, and ultimately, the referral process.

airbnb referral

Sharing options all bountiful including plugins with Gmail, Yahoo, Messenger, Facebook.

A seamless sharing interface will score bonus points, as proven by Harry’s with their thoughtful pre-written tweets, which included a short link to the campaign site:

“Excited for @harrys to launch. I’m going to be #shaving for free”.

Simple but effective. The easier it is for the user, the higher the chance of them hitting the Share button.

There are so many different ways to create sharing opportunities for a campaign.

  • Trunk Club does such an epic job with their packaging that customers create YouTube unboxing videos to share their excitement.
  • It doesn’t hurt to add a personal touch to the packaging either, as demonstrated by Everlane. Beautifully wrapped in craft paper with an Everlane sticker and a thank you note, their products are just begging to be photographed and shared on social media.  

While referrals for the B2B segment tend to be more business-oriented in the form of testimonials, reviews, guest content and endorsements, the process can be just as fun and rewarding for customers.

  • Influitive’s powerful Advocate Marketing Programme generated a 650% growth for their business in 2014, all thanks to their advocates’ influential referrals.
  • Offer Incentives that Make a Statement

Here are a few examples of brilliantly-designed incentives (tangible and intangible) to draw inspiration from.

referral program graphic

© infulitive

  • Airbnb achieved a viral growth factor of 1:1 when they launched their referral programme offering cash credits in their closed-beta community of 2,161 members, bringing in 2,107 new members.

Incentives take different forms and shapes. What matters most is the perceived value to the target audience ? be it a useful product or service, an entertaining video or an unexpected surprise.

  • Be Social

Make it easy for users to leave reviews, whether on a website or social media platforms. That said, reviews can make or break a brand. Assuming you’ve covered all your bases by designing the best possible user experience, it’s important to acknowledge that sometimes we just can’t please everyone.

This is where it pays to have social finesse. Don’t underestimate the power of social media rants and negative reviews. Even if it’s an unfair review, you’ll want to preserve the brand credibility and image by responding in a professional and friendly manner at all times.

  • Get to Know The Influencers

Time to put those networking skills to good use. Get to know the influencers by researching target users with active social profiles. It pays to have advocates with a strong online following when you’re building up a new brand.

Make a beeline for bloggers, YouTubers and Instagrammers who frequently review or post about products or services in the category. Offer them a free trial and, if they’re happy with it, ask them to share their experience with their followers. If they don’t seem impressed by the trial, ask them for feedback and take it as an opportunity to improve. It’s win-win either way.

Referral marketing is a proven method of success for businesses, and it’s never been easier (or cheaper) to mobilise customers en masse to spread the word. In fact, we’re all waiting for the next new product to blow us away so we can broadcast it on our social networks.

Justin Merino

Justin is the founder of kulturspace & the inaugural Berlin Student Film Festival. A native of Los Angeles, he has recently moved to Berlin from Tel Aviv. A self described nomad and jack-of-all-trades, he's recently joined the jovoto team as Community Guide.


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