How to Create a Referral Program Marketing Strategy in 2023?

Referral programs have long been hailed as one of the most effective ways to acquire new customers and boost sales. Businesses tap into the social networks of their satisfied customers, present their inclinations as social proof, and compel them to purchase in exchange for an incentive or reward.

Abdul Wahab

Abdul Wahab

· 11 min read
How to Create a Referral Program Marketing Strategy in 2023?

In an ever-populated business landscape and dwindling marketing resources, brand advertisers struggle to navigate, market their propositions, and build a healthy rapport with prospects.

Even though the media industry is driven by brand advertisements, traditional marketing is hardly accessible for new businesses and startups that operate on limited marketing budgets. Besides, the over-exploitation of social media and email campaigns makes them the least effective channels to win the audience’s trust.

Turns out, people trust recommendations from their friends and family, and even strangers, over sponsored brand ads. Consumers are influenced by reviews, testimonials, social chatter, and most importantly, referrals when shopping from a new-fangled brand.

Referral programs have long been hailed as one of the most effective ways to acquire new customers and boost sales. Businesses tap into the social networks of their satisfied customers, present their inclinations as social proof, and compel them to purchase in exchange for an incentive or reward.

Whether you’re taking a referral marketing campaign off the ground or hoping to optimize the existing one with top-notch tips and strategies, this article compiles all the necessary knowledge to scale your business.

What is Referral Marketing and How it Works?

Referral marketing is a strategy implied by businesses to empower and incentivize existing customers to refer the brand’s products or services to their circles of influence. Often correlated with word-of-mouth marketing - which relies on people spontaneously endorsing products of their own accord - referral programs take on a more systematic approach.

Instead of leaving it up to people to decide, customer referral programs motivate users with monetary rewards and exclusive perks in exchange for bringing qualified leads.

Whenever a customer refers a new lead to a brand, marketers in turn will benefit them with rewards as gratitude for bringing business. Based on the 2016 Nielsen study, 88% of American citizens expect incentives from brands for actively referring their products. In some cases, the incoming customers also receive incentives for signing up and registering their first purchase to pique their interest.

As a marketer, you need to identify what drives your customers and leverage that to harness their social network. Enabling consumers to promote your upcoming business endeavor helps businesses build the hype and acquire valuable pre-launch leads without spending huge marketing budgets.

Creating an effective referral program marketing strategy is not just about offering incentives; it's about building a community of loyal customers who genuinely believe in your brand. It's about creating a win-win situation where your customers are rewarded for sharing their positive experiences, while you gain new customers and maximize sales.

What Makes Customer Referral Programs So Valuable?

Satisfied customers are a company’s biggest assets. A community of loyal customers not only vouch for the impressive products but also hint at the brand’s exceptional customer service afterward.

A marketing medium that can be bought off with sponsorships is least likely to earn consumers’ trust, let alone mold their purchase decisions. Not to mention, the extensive drain on capital resources. In the past five years, the budget expenditure on customer acquisition has risen by 60%.

People value opinions and recommendations from ones they trust, making referrals the most effective form of marketing. Here’s how adopting a referral strategy can improve the overall revenue growth of your company:

An infographics displaying key referral marketing statistics.
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  • People tend to trust the endorsements of those they know and respect, making referrals a powerful tool for building credibility and overcoming skepticism. Consumers are 4x more inclined to purchase a product that is referred to them by a friend or family.
  • Having received positive feedback from the referrer, referred leads have a 30% better chance of converting into customers likelier to spend 2 times more than those channeled through typical channels.
  • Businesses with word-of-mouth marketing drove 5x more sales than paid advertising solutions. 71% of companies that have adopted referral programs as their prime marketing strategy have reported a higher conversion rate than their counterparts.
  • By actively participating in a referral program, customers become more engaged with the brand and feel a sense of ownership. Consequently, referred customers exhibit a 16% higher lifetime value than customers acquired through other channels, marking higher customer loyalty.
  • Word-of-mouth marketing relies on personal recommendations from trusted sources such as friends, family, or acquaintances. Around 50% of all Americans base their purchase decisions on trusted referrals than any other means.

Guide to Building the Best Referral Marketing Strategy

Implementing a referral program doesn’t necessarily mean your current customers will preach your business like gospel, but it’ll spark their interest compelling them to spread the word to anyone who listens.

The ideal referral campaign reaps benefits for companies and rewards customers with cashback incentives, creating a win-win situation for both parties. But to achieve promising results, make sure your campaign is backed by a flawless product or service that customers are happy to share with others.

Whether you manage a B2C e-commerce company or a SaaS startup, the following steps are unconditional for any business that operates online. Let’s uncover ways to create a referral program that entices your audience and extends your customer base.

Plan Your Incentive Offerings

Incentives are the driving force that compels happy customers to refer to a company’s products and entice prospects to sign up as customers. They provide a tangible reward for customers who take the time and effort to refer others to your business.

The incentives you offer can greatly impact the participation and success of your referral campaign, make sure they are structured in a way that manifests your company’s goals. The right incentive structure propels the form and flow of your reward by:

Monetary vs. Non-monetary Rewards

Monetary rewards offer direct cash value which can be assessed depending on the cashback participants receive for each successful referral. If you have a sizeable marketing budget, offering cash rewards and discounts would appeal to customers that seek immediate financial gain.

Non-monetary referral rewards focus on providing unique experiences, exclusive access, or special privileges instead of hard cash. Such rewards create a sense of exclusivity and foster an emotional connection with the brand which reaps improved customer loyalty.

Single vs. Double Incentives

Businesses that implement single incentive structures only reward referring customers for bringing qualified leads to the platform. Double-ended incentives, as the name suggests, benefit both parties.

In exchange for every successful lead, both referrers and referred-in customers receive rewards. Such programs are highly effective in driving engagement and increasing program participation which is why around 90% of referral campaigns are double-sided.

Tesla’s referral program landing page.
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In 2015, Tesla’s referred program offered $1,000 credits to existing customers for referring and $1,000 off the purchase price for the referred customer, as a way to boost their sales.

Refine Your Referral Process

Adopting an off-the-shelf referral program from the leading enterprises may not suit your brand unless accustomed to the taste of your audience. What works for other companies may not penetrate your audience’s psychology, leaving room for improvement.

In this day and age, you wouldn’t want your customers drifting off during the referral process due to the mundane referral process. Whether it's participating in the program, sharing referral links with friends, or reaping rewards every step of the process should be seamlessly easy and transparent.

Smartphone screens showing Tabbedout’s profile dashboard and referral landing page.
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In order to cater to a broader audience, develop a mobile-driven referral approach. From registration forms and login pages to refer-a-friend widgets and sharing buttons, keep the theme and layout of your consistent with your brand image. Set up an intuitive referral page and automate most of your process, so visitors never leave with a bad experience.

Market Referral Program on Mainstream Channels

A referral marketing program needs a constant inflow of customers to stay afloat, and your existing user base may not fulfill that. When launching a referral program, spread awareness about your campaign on various marketing mediums including emails, social media, and paid ads to amplify the reach and impact of your program.

By leveraging popular and widely-used marketing channels, you can engage a larger audience, increase brand awareness, and maximize the potential for successful referrals.

Cowrywise referral link shared on WhatsApp.
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Besides laying out the terms and conditions of your program, add shareable content like interactive posts and video clips to attract the audience and propel them to participate.

  • Make sharing just as effortless as participating in your reward program by adding sharing buttons to your website, blog posts, and targeted email subject lines.
  • Introduce a personalized link generator that creates unique referral links for each participant to associate with and track leads.
  • Integrate your referral landing page with each post to drive in customers that show an interest in your brand. Design eye-catching banners or pop-ups to grab visitors' attention and encourage them to join the program.
  • Explore partnerships with complementary brands that share a similar target audience. Collaborate on cross-promotional campaigns to promote each other's referral programs to your respective audiences.

Implement a Referral Tracking System

In today’s fast-paced economics, sticking with the antique pen-and-paper approach to manage customer recommendations will cost you valuable leads. While the strategy may favor influencer-driven referrals, you wouldn’t keep up if every other customer turned brand ambassador for your business.

The consumer-driven marketing tactics make it crucial for businesses to instate a referral tracking system for launching and running a successful referral program. It measures the performance of your program, tracks every referral, monitors referral activities, and attributes rewards accurately.

Without automation, your B2B referral program is likely to fall through. Here’s how implementing a proper system can assist your marketing efforts:

  • Knowing which referral sources are driving the most conversions, allows you to allocate resources and optimize your brand messaging more effectively.
  • Allowing referrers an insight into the progress and status of their referrals establishes transparency and strengthens the consumer-brand relationship.
  • The referral tracking system automates and streamlines various aspects of your referral program, such as tracking referrals, sending notifications, and managing rewards.

Offer Top-Notch Customer Experience

An impeccable product design, great branding, and a streamlined referral scheme may propel a business to greatness, but only the best-in-class customer experience will make the success everlasting.

Knowing the company you’re actively advocating for has got your back will not only strengthen the relationship but also inspire people to rave about your business to their friends.

From targeting leads with personalized emails to sending thank you messages as a follow-up for participating in the program, keep in touch with your prospects at all times. Make sure your customer support employees are aptly trained to assist users regarding any apprehensions and queries.

Prefinery's customer support webpage.
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When customers have a seamless and enjoyable experience with your brand, they are more likely to become loyal advocates and willingly refer others. Since referred customers already have a positive perception of your brand, a great user experience will only reinforce their trust in your brand.

Test and Reiterate the Referral Strategy

Like any marketing campaign, you slight misstep in planning or software integration can disrupt your referral program. Before launching, make sure to beta-test your program with a handful of loyal customers.

Monitor integrations like emails, social media handles, and URLs that can make or break your campaign’s success. The ideal campaign must blend the rest of your digital marketing ideas and experience, making it seem like a part of the whole. Reiterate and optimize your strategy in even the slightest deficiency to achieve business goals.

5 Tips to Boost Your Referral Marketing Program

The concept of referral marketing is not new; in fact, it has been utilized for centuries. However, with the advent of digital technology and social media, businesses have seen a significant transformation in customer referral programs in 2023.

Today, businesses can leverage various channels and tools to amplify the reach and impact of their referral programs. But considering the competitive market behavior, you need to be different to stay alive. Adopt the following tips to ace your referral program regardless of your niche or industry.

Time it Perfectly

Even if you have a foolproof marketing plan and the best brains to execute it, the marketing strategy can still go south if the timing is terrible - and there’s no litmus test to identify the perfect time to use referral marketing.

While many SaaS and Fintech startups adopt referral programs as their pre-launch marketing strategy to boost customer acquisition, the strategy is leveraged by e-commerce businesses at a later stage. Experts suggest the best time to run a referral program is when you develop a revolutionary product or fostered healthy relationships with your customers.

Set Up a Seamless Referral Process

Imagine a referral process that operates without any squabble, effortlessly guiding customers from the initial referral to the final conversion. A seamless referral process is not only a delight for your customers but also a catalyst for the success of your referral program.

Referral marketing works best by removing barriers or complexities in the process helps streamline a customer’s journey from being a prospect to a brand advocate, ultimately driving business growth. Some tips to create an uninterrupted referral program include:

  • Communicate the referral program details, benefits, and expectations to customers in simple and concise language.
  • Provide multiple, user-friendly referral methods including personalized referral links, social media sharing buttons, or email invitations.
  • Send timely and personalized notifications to referrers, keeping them informed about the progress of their referrals.
  • Implement a tracking system that allows referrers to monitor the referral status, reward eligibility, and conversion updates in real time.

Encourage User Generated Content

Incorporating user-generated content (UGC) into your referral campaign can be a game-changer. Encouraging customers to create and share content related to your brand or referral program, can help you harness the power of authentic and engaging content that drives participation and promotes your brand in niche communities.

Each customer has a unique perspective, style, and voice, resulting in a rich tapestry of content that captures different audiences' attention. By showcasing their content on your social media handles and blog posts, you foster a sense of pride and loyalty, motivating them to continue advocating for your business.

Send Timely and Subtle Reminders

In a bustling world filled with distractions, sending timely reminders in your referral program is a powerful way to keep customers motivated, and focused on driving referrals. Customers that receive timely reminders are more likely to send a referral link and follow up with potential leads.

Sending consistent reminders ensure that the program doesn't fade into the background but remains at the forefront of participants' minds, driving ongoing engagement and referral activity.

If you have a mobile app or web-based platform, leverage the immediacy and accessibility of push notifications to grab participants' attention and encourage them to check their progress. For an easy way out, set up automated reminder sequences to ensure consistent communication with participants.

Closing Note

Creating a successful referral marketing strategy from scratch is never easy, especially if you are a growing startup prepping your product launch plan. Only take the DIY route, if you have the budget and marketing expertise to handle the load.

Once your referral program is on-air and leads start rolling in massive numbers, managing your campaign can turn into a real hassle with your product management still underway.

Instead of doing all the heavy lifting yourself, let professionals handle the job to reap the full benefits of referral marketing. The leading companies in SaaS and Fintech space have signed up with marketing management companies like to track referrals, oversee analytics, and report to subsequent channels and never stray from the business objectives.


How do I determine the right incentives for my referral program?

Referral incentives should be in line with your target audience’s preferences, the extent of your marketing budget, and the value your customers find appealing. Common referral incentives include cash rewards, discounts, or priority access to the product. However, it’s customary to conduct market research and analyze competitors to pick the right incentive that resonates with your audience.

How can I make the referral process seamless and user-friendly?

One of the best ways to simplify a referral process is by offering personalized referral links and intuitive sharing buttons to boost participation. Streamline the referral form, minimize required fields, and offer clear instructions to develop a user-friendly referral campaign.

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