Step-by-Step Guide to Run a Refer-a-Friend Email Campaign

People are keen to believe what their friends say about a brand, rather than a standalone advertisement. Leveraging that dependency through an impressive referral campaign should be your best foot forward.

Abdul Wahab

Abdul Wahab

· 17 min read
Step-by-Step Guide to Run a Refer-a-Friend Email Campaign

Higher brand visibility and real-time engagement do justify the shift towards social media marketing—considering it harbors 59.9% of the global population—but at the cost of emails, is an undersell. Sure, the odds of email newsletters ending up in spam folders or staying unnoticed by recipients are higher than ever. But strong word of mouth can beat that.

People are keen to believe what their friends say about a brand, rather than a standalone advertisement. Leveraging that dependency through an impressive referral campaign should be your best foot forward.

Meeting growth milestones month over month, year over year compels marketers to enact newfound strategies, but one that turns in the highest ROI is referral marketing powered by emails.

It’s a clever way of letting your satisfied customers be your advocates and source you good leads. This step-by-step guide covers all you should know to execute a stellar referral email campaign.

What is Referral Email Marketing?

The term speaks for itself; a referral marketing program that is disseminated through emails. While it still leverages the power of word of mouth and genuine human connections to popularize a brand’s name and acquire quality customers, the way it’s broadcasted to the audience differs.

Instead of publishing the program on social feeds, marketers design specific email sequences to introduce it to their customers, incentivize them to become advocates, and foster healthy relationships.

A referral email is like a newsletter, except the content is laid out to motivate existing customers to refer the brand or its products within their social circles. The participants get incentives and rewards in exchange for referring new leads to the business—a win-win situation for all parties.

How Refer-a-Friend Emails Impact Your Business?

Impressed by its targeted reach, minimal operational expenses, or simply following along with the trend, brands and marketers are still focused on emails as the marketing hotspot. 4 out of 5 marketers say they’d rather compromise social media than give up email marketing. #

Emails are a direct, one-on-one communication channel, which is better suited to capture your customers’ attention, prompting them to share the message forward.

Unlike mass advertising on social media or influencer shoutouts, referral email marketing is restricted for a selective audience. Brands usually prefer existing customers who have subscribed to their newsletter, made frequent purchases, and left feedback on site.

Not only are these individuals likelier to promote your business but they’d refer customers who are bound to stay, ensuring a higher lifetime value. The following reasons should persuade you to adopt a refer-a-friend emal strategy going forward:

Cost-effective Customer Acquisition: With zero upfront costs and minimal operational expenses, email referral marketing offers the cheapest means to gather new customers. For every $1 spend on email marketing generates an ROI of $38, which can be significantly improved if coupled with referral program.

Better Conversion Rates: Referral emails are sent to customers with the highest probability of participating in your program, bringing you higher-quality leads. Referral leads have a 16% higher lifetime value than customers acquired through other means.

Build a Loyal Following: Incentivizing your exisitng customers to promote your brand sets them on a higher pedestal. Being rewarded for each referral compels them to grow fond of your enterprise even more. Likewise, referred customers have a 37% higher retention rate than their counterparts.

Types of Referral Emails

Referral emails are not a single-time event—you send out invitations to prospects asking them to join your program and that’s it. If customers show an interest in your product or service and make repeat purchases, there are several ways you can leverage the opportunity to lure them in.

Perhaps a slight check-in after they’ve completed a purchase or a subtle follow-up reminder if prior emails go unnoticed, would help aboard maximum leads.

Top-end businesses often design complete automated email sequences that are triggered by different actions. For instance, if someone subscribes to your newsletter, it could direct a referral proposal email their way automatically, or a thank you message after they make a transaction.

Here are 4 effective ways you can target emails that leave maximum impact:

Invitation Emails

Invitation Emails are a company’s initial line of contact with a subscriber/customer featuring a formal invitation to join your referral program. It highlights the referral terms and conditions for participating, sharing referrals, and redeeming rewards that customers set to gain by referring others.

Often named pre-launch marketing emails, the invites are usually sent in advance of an upcoming launch to drive pre-orders and influx of fresh leads. Before you hit the auto-send to prospects, make sure the benefits are attractive, rules are crystal clear, and a call-to-action (CTA) is embedded.

Casper knows well how to introduce them, and the referral program to their audience.

Casper’s introduction email with a referral invitation.
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Notification emails are inherently an appreciation, delivering a burst of excitement when a customer's referral takes a desired action—be it signing up or making a purchase. On one hand, it helps you acknowledge customers’ advocacy for your brand while on the other, notifies them that they are about to be rewarded.

Acknowledgement puts you a step closer to fostering a loyal customer base. By reinforcing the rewards earned, you not only celebrate the present achievement but also trigger motivation for continued participation in the campaign. Here’s how Massdrop notifies its customers on their referral progress.

Massdrop notfies referrer about the status of their referral.
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Thank You Emails

A referral progress report coated as an appreciation may not be enough to develop a closer relationship with your customer. Rather, it’s best to offer gratitude in literal terms.

Send a “Thank You” email to referrers for signing up, making a repeat purchase, or actively promoting your brand while sharing the news of rewards earned.

You could also capitalize on this opportunity to enroll referrers in a loyalty program that offers better rewards. Remind them that every incoming lead through their referral link will set them up for exclusive rewards. BigDogCo. thanks its recurring customers and seize the chance to promote their referral program.

BigDogCo. Thank you email sent to repeat buyers.
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Follow Up/Reminder Emails

Reminder emails play a pivotal role in keeping the momentum alive after the purchase. Think of them as friendly nudges, gently encouraging customers to stay engaged—in case the initial voices go unheard—and continue advocating for the brand.

It recaps the potential rewards, provide clear calls-to-action for seamless sharing, and, if there's a time-sensitive element, create a urgency to boost participation. To make these reminders hit home, personalization based on customer behavior is key.

Let them know what you sets your business apart with an impressive copy and engaging visuals. Learn from Blume’s catchy reminder email that presents a limited time offer.

Blume’s referral thank you email.
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Setting up a Referral Email Campaign: Points to Ponder

Think of referral emails as the difference between a cold call made to recruit a potential client and an introduction made by an acquaintance. Putting yourself in the client’s shoes, which one seems more trustworthy?

The same goes for potential customers. They are wired to trust words from a peer or family member over sponsored ads. But to get through to their inboxes and be prominent requires a planned email strategy. As you sit down to write your email copy, pay attention to the following details:

Who is the Recipient?

What stops you from copy-pasting some well-read and popular referral emails tosteer your own campaign? Competition and rivalry could be one thing but its the end users that make the most difference.

Who you’re writing the email to, determines its content from the layout to the incentives it features. Target people who are an exact match for the product, have purchased it recently, or are an old customer. These individuals are your best shot at finding new leads.

Get an insight into their preferences and inclinations. Would they respond to a to-the-point referral CTA or prefer a gamified structure that piques a little more fun. A simple audience survey would help you set the tone for your email.

When to Send the Referral Email?

Timing is everything when it comes to capturing quality clients. You cannot just barge in to your prospect’s busy schedules to present your offer. Pitching your email at the wrong time may end up in the spam folder or left unnoticed by the client.

The ruel of thumb is to pin point the best time when your customer is more focused and likely to engage in your referral campaign. It may vary from business to business, but customers usually await your message after they:

  • Sign up for your newsletter,
  • Purchased your product or renewed subscription, or
  • Got in touch with a customer support agent.

Capitalize the moments after your customers had a positive experience with your brand while pitching your offer. If they are pleased with your service and find your referral rewards attractive, it’s high chance they will reach out to participate.

What to Include in the Email?

A referral email is an introduction to your referral program, no confusion here. But how much do the have to know to confidently sign up, is still a question worth asking. Striking the right balance is key—enough information to entice them and make the process clear, but not too much that it overwhelms or confuses potential referrers.

Either in the subject line or the email body, elaborate your referral offer—what you are offering and what you expect them to do in return. The initial tagline should read like, “Invite your friends to Join, and win $X or X% off your next purchase.” or “Join our cirlce and win together.”

Make it short but compelling to leave the most impact. Don’t forget to add strong visuals to appeal new users.

Step-by-Step Guide to Run a Referral Marketing Email Campaign

Referral emails could be one of the most impressive ways to round up new audiences and create a cycle of positive impressions. Loyal customers, when offered the right incentives, are happy to share their experiences with others. Their credibility and social influence will get you leads who inherit the same trust referrees have.

But when competing against companies with clossal marketing budgets, offering an attractive incentives gets challenging. It’s vital that you build a strategy where every referral email counts.

Carry Out a Market Analysis

No matter what campaign you’re preparing for, it starts with some homework—preferrably a comprehensive market analysis. Companies must study how a particular niche market is faring based on its valuation, potential competition, audience demographic, and future outlook before introducing their offering.

If you want your target audience to prefer your brand over existing competitors—and more importantly, promote you to others—adhere to their preferences and desires. Not only should you build a product that fulfills their needs better than competitors, it should be tagged with brilliant rewards that lure prospects to your side.

As they say, don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. If you don’t have a clear picture of what you are competing against and who your ideal customers are then your referral offers would hardly make a difference.

For instance, when targeting a top-notch clientele, a simple discount code won’t appeal as much against a competitor that’s offering referral charity donations.

Assort Your Email List into Segments

Even with a selected audience, there’s no saying if every member is good enough to be spread your brand message. Many customers fail to make distinction between a referral promotion and a random spam email which leads to a lower opening rate.

Instead of barraging your email list with referral emails at random, narrow in on customers who will likely pay heed to your message. Prioritize ones who have subscribed to your newsletter, regularly leave feedback on your website, and interact with you on social media.

Know who values what in your email list, and tailor your message to each customer’s preferences, buying history, and behavior. But will it be enough to execute a successful product launch? Here are some positive angles to look at:

When your request aligns with the interests of the audience, they will be more inclined to click through your email and respond positively.

Going beyond the basic demographics allows marketers to personalize the emails to make them appear more appealing.

Different audience segments respond differently to referral incentives. Make sure whatever you propose aligns with their preference.

Segmented lists enable more precise tracking of the campaign, predict potential outcomes, and propose chances in advance.

Craft an Impressive Referral Email

Off a mere 34% of marketing emails that are opened, and only 1.3% of them are clicked through and drive conversions. With such a strict criteria for getting a conversion, marketers need to be at the top of your game when crafting an email to ever get a chance of luring their customers.

Keep your referral email design different from the typical newsletter while still adhering to the core aspect of the brand. Here is a quick guide to writing good referral emails:

Set a unique, catchy subject line that makes your email vivid amongst the inbox clutter and prevent it from falling in the spam box.

Include engaging visuals that not just grabs attention but also resonates with your brand, conveying a positive perception.

Pitch your referral offer in bold, brighter fonts so recipients know what’s being presented at first sight.

Add a vivid call-to-action button at the bottom of your email. Link a referral link generator alongside that associates unique codes to each participant.

To add weight to your offer and exhibit credibility, feature success stories and testimonials from previous referrers.

Automate an Email Sequence

No matter how small your business is at the moment or how limited your customer base is, integrate an emal automation tool to streamline your marketing processes. Because once your campaign picks off, it would become physically impossible to write and send emals to subscribers at every milestone.

Building a referral sequence means you don’t have to worry about have to manually directing emails to customers. It leaves the physical jargon out of your campaign allowing you to focus on more important issues.

Rather you pre-design a series of response emails that are triggered by recipient’s behavior e.g., when they subscribe, place an order, refer, and redeem rewards. The follow-up sequence is a subtle way of reminding customers who didn’t initially engage in your program, keeping them hooked for long.

Track and Reward Qualified Leads

Knowing whether you’ve shot it right or not, is elemental to fixiing your aim for the future. Tracking your campaign in real-time lets you know how your current strategy is faring and the steps you need take to boost progress and achieve your business goals.

With a proper tracking mechanism in place, you get to see who opened your emails, who clicked, and, most importantly, who successfully converted through referrals.

If you notice a particular incentive is driving more referrals or a specific segment is more responsive, you can adjust your strategy on the fly for maximum impact. Often times, the purpose is to implement steps that limits the cost of acquisition and maximize the ROI.

Nevertheless, don't keep your referrers in suspense. Clearly communicate the rewards from the get-go, whether it's in the initial referral email or part of a follow-up, participants should have a clear understanding of what's at stake. Once a referral leads to a successful conversion, ensure the reward is delivered promptly.

Many email marketing platforms offer built-in tracking features which let you trace every sale or sign-up back to the referral source. It’s clever way of finding out what’s working and what features may need a tweak.

How to Write Compelling Referral Emails that Convert?

Even if you have spruced up lucrative incentives, if you have a poor way of relaying it customers you will eventually end up with zero traction. Good rewards can win you a stream of new customers, as long as you pitch them well.

Pay attention the following marketing tips to create referral emails that speak right into your customers and compel them to be your advocates.

Start with a Catchy Subject Line

An email inbox is a polar opposite of a social media feed. People don’t scroll through their inboxes for amusement or to end boredom—they’re there for a reason and open exactly what they are looking for.

Amid scores of new emails, you barely have a few seconds to capture recipient’s attention. If something stands a chance at compelling them to open, it’s the subject line. Your subject line is the first thing your audience sees. It's the make-or-break moment that determines whether your email gets opened or becomes part of the ignored pile.

Labeling your email with bland and ambiguous subject line will barely get any click-throughs, that is if it avoids dreaded spam folders. Ask yourself, would rather click on an email that says "Special Offer Inside" or one that promises "Unlock 20% Off Your Next Purchase"? Stitch Fix comes with a brilliant subject line to grab focus.

Stitch Fix’s referral email.
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But it’s important not to get caried away while creating the subject lines. Being too creative might also land you in hot waters. Compared to a fancy subject line, a clear one is expected to get 541% more clicks. Here are some must-learn tips to write a compelling subject line:

Be Specific: Instead of vague statements, provide details that pique curiosity. "Exclusive Deal" doesn't say much, but "Your VIP Access: 30% Off Limited Edition Items" sparks interest.

Spark Urgency: Create a sense of urgency without resorting to hype. "Limited Time Offer" might be overlooked, but "24 Hours Only: Grab Your Discount Before It's Gone" compels action.

Personalization Matters: Use the recipient's name or tailor the subject line based on their preferences. "A Special Gift for You" is generic; "John, Your Personalized Discount Awaits" feels more tailored.

Ask a Question: Engage the recipient by posing a question. Instead of "New Arrivals," try "Ready for a Wardrobe Upgrade? Explore Our Latest Arrivals!"

Pitch Your Referral Offer: An Irresistable Incentive

More words don’t mean acceptance. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The average human attention span is only eight seconds—which means if your subject line capture interest you only got 8 seconds to maintain it.

Don’t be superfluous with your email copy with fancier jargon, get straight to the point. Showcase your incentive bright and clear, so reciepients know if it’s worth their time and effort. Back your main tagline with equally attractive rewards.

Briefly disclose the criteria for entering the campaign without getting into the details. Knowing what is expected of them will compel the interested folk to refer right off the bat. Include a referral link generator in the email alongside all major sharing options.

The Body Shop does remarkably well in setting all the information in their referral email without making it feel too cluttered.

The Body Shop’s referral email.
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Make a Presentation: Include Attractive Imagery

It’s not the 1990s, stop stuffing your emails with boring paragraphs of text. Where words fall short, visuals tell a story in a glance. Whether it's showcasing your product in action, highlighting happy customers, or depicting the benefits of your referral program, visuals enhance your narrative—more chances of locking a sale.

People love attractive visual presentations. Consider showcasing your product or service in action to encourage audience to purchase. But when you’re focusing on creating new advocates for your brand, use infographics and cash symbols.

Lifestyle shots, demonstrations, or user testimonials, any visuals backing your business offering can persuade a mass audience. Brooklinen uses attention-grabbing imagers with persuasive subject line in its referrals emails.

Brooklinen referral emailBrooklinen’s refer-a-friend email.
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Embed a Clear Call to Action

The use of strong words, bountiful rewards, and attractive imagery has paid off—you’ve successfully got your target audience hyped for the program. But is it enough to motivate them to participate and send referrals your way? Not yet, there’s still a final piece missing. Your email needs a call-to-action CTA button to convert customers into referrers.

Your referral email has a specific goal—whether it's acquiring new customers, increasing brand awareness, or driving sales. The CTA is the linchpin that aligns every element of your email toward achieving that goal. Cleancult knows well how to embed referral CTA in an emall:

Cleancult’s referral email features an attractive CTA.
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A CTA is typically an embedded link that either takes customers to your referral landing page or generates a unique referral link to your name on the spot. Most emails also carry buttons to all major social sharing platforms, making referral invitations a lot easier. Here are some effective tips to insert CTA in your emails to make the most impact:

The language of your CTA should leave no room for ambiguity. If the action is to refer friends, make it explicit: "Refer Now."

Use phrases like "Limited Time Offer" or "Act Now for Exclusive Benefits" to motivate recipients to take action promptly.

If your referral program offers incentives, integrate them into the CTA. "Refer for 20% Off" or "Share and Earn Rewards" effectively communicates the value.

Optimize your CTA for mobile users. Ensure that buttons are appropriately sized for tapping, and text remains readable on smaller screens.

3 Stellar Referral Email Examples to Inspire You

Before you experiment with the email design, take a look at these top refer-a-friend email examples to inspire your own.


Harry's, a brand specializing in men's shaving and personal care products, is known for executing impeccable email campaings, and their referral emails are no less.

Harry’s referral email.
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The email talks straight to its customers with a powerful opening line and establishes a relatable tone right of the bat. Harry's adopts an altruistic approach by offering two free razors to the referred friend—generosity that allures new prospects.

The email subtly elevates the products by emphasizing the experience of shaving with Harry's. It uses a catchy, action-oriented CTA in bright orange, urging customers to "Choose your friends," adds an appealing element to prompt immediate engagement.


Who could design referral emails better than the company that itself excels in addressing and mailing designer greeting cards?

Postable’s referral email.
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Postable proves that it’s not about the visuals all the time, if you make the right offer. It’s a clean, concise email that uses vibrant yellow palette to capture reader’s attention. With only 22 words communicating the enterity of the offer, it hardly every overwhelms the readers. The GIF, though simple and subtle in design, craves attention of recipient obliging them to take action.


Casper, an ecommerce bedding store, has made quite an impression in the market for designing impressive email copies.

Casper’s referral email.
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Casper’s post-purchase email poses a simple question to engage its customers “So, how did you sleep?” The subtle and caring tone establishes a deeper connection with the custoemr right from the start. But without anything leading the convo, it jumps straight to its "Give $50, Get $50" offer. With no fancy words, it communicates to customers exactly what needs to be done.

Closing Note

The pace at which current business infrastructure is transforming, marketers are compelled to do more with less. To win favor with their audience on top of the competitors, it’s imperative to open up more personalized selling methods while staying on budget.

A combination of email and referral marketing marks a perfect sales strategy—highest ROI and customer lifetime value—without falling heavy on the pocket. However, the strategy only pays out well, when implemented effectively. Walk thorugh the entire article to learn how to run a referral marketing email campaign or call to share your burden.


What incentives work best in a referral email marketing campaign?

The most effective incentives vary, but popular choices include discounts, exclusive access, loyalty points, or freebies. The key is to align incentives with your target audience's preferences and make them appealing enough to motivate customers to refer their friends.

When is the best time to send reminder emails in a referral campaign?

The timing of reminder emails is crucial. Keep the customer behavior and sales cycle in mind before reminding them about your referral program. Send emails when customers are less likely to be engaged in some other activity.

How can I track the success of my referral email campaign?

Start by monitoring key performance indicators (KPIs) of the campaign like open rates, click-through rates, conversion rates, and the number of successful referrals. Make sure to implement an automated tracking tool to tap in every lead made thorugh the unique referral links.

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