Back to Blog

11 Best Referral Marketing Ideas and Examples To Increase Sales

April 15, 2021
11 Best Referral Marketing Ideas and Examples To Increase Sales

There’s no debate: When it comes to acquiring customers, referral marketing is one of the most effective strategies. Why? Because it relies on the time-tested psychology of word-of-mouth.

Whether you’re building a Stripe-based referral program, SaaS referral marketing program, ecommerce referral program, or any other online business, you need to come up with creative referral marketing ideas to maximize its results. We compiled this list of the 11 best referral marketing ideas and examples to help you create your referral marketing system. Use them as inspiration to build a unique and exciting referral system.

Related: Learn what makes referral marketing different from affiliate marketing.

1. Leverage Social Gifting

Social gifting is a unique referral marketing idea because it doesn’t reward the referrer with anything at all. The entire reward goes to the referred friend.

Subscription boxes are known for using this method. They often offer their customers a code that gives a free box to their friends.

Try the World used this referral marketing method for their anniversary. They let each customer send a free box to three of their friends. The referrer didn’t get anything except the satisfaction of a happy friend.

This is an excellent referral marketing strategy. The friend is delighted to receive a gift from the referrer, the referrer gets the satisfaction (and credit) of giving a gift, and the brand gets an opportunity to convert someone into a customer.

This technique is especially useful for brands who are confident that people will buy their product once they become aware of it.

2. Reward Referrers with a Mystery Gift

In referral marketing, typically, it’s smart to be specific with your rewards. Your users want to know exactly what they’ll get for their referrals. But depending on your customer, that might not be necessary. They may enjoy a little mystery.

MeUndies offers customers a free mysterious gift with their order if they share the brand with their friends. Plus, their friends get a 20% coupon.

The beauty of sending a mystery gift is that you can throw anything in the box. You don’t have to prepare a special item just for the promotion. You can send anything you have on hand that your customer will like and that you’re willing to give away.

3. Reward Referrers with a Charity Donation

Charity donation is a referral marketing idea that depends on your type of customer. That said, some people are more motivated by contributions to causes than rewards for themselves. If you donate to a worthy charity on their behalf, they might be more likely to join your referral marketing program and refer their friends.

Naturally, the charity you choose will need to align with your business and your customer’s values. For instance, if you run an ecommerce store that sells pet accessories, you could donate to an animal rights organization or a group of pet shelters.

4. Create a Referral Contest

Referral marketing contests are more common than you think. You can invite people to become contestants by creating a video, or you can create a widget that rewards contestants with entries for completing tasks such as signing up for your email list or sharing your website on social media.

Here’s how to implement this referral marketing strategy. Basically, you need to set up a widget (there are plenty of paid and free apps/plugins available) for contestants to enter the contest. The widget rewards the contestant with entries into the competition for completing basic tasks. The more tasks they complete, the more chances they have to win.

Huckberry’s ran a popular referral contest that awarded the top referrer $1,000 to spend at their store (which didn’t cost them $1,000 – we’ll explain more about this in a minute.)

Typically, these types of referral contests focus on ways to refer more people to the race and brand. For instance, you would give an entry for sharing on Facebook, an entry for sharing on Twitter, an entry for sharing via email, etc.

You can also drive brand engagement (and thus loyalty) by giving out entries for tasks like commenting on an Instagram post, downloading a lead magnet, subscribing to your email list, etc.

5. Reward Referrers with Store or Subscription Credit

Giving store or subscription credit is one of the most common referral marketing ideas. Here’s why.

First, it preserves your margins. It doesn’t actually cost you $20 to give someone $20 in credit. You only pay the price for acquiring or creating the product. So if someone uses that $20 to buy a t-shirt at your retail price, you only lose the cost of the shirt (which is presumably less than your retail price).

This referral marketing technique is especially useful for subscription tools and paid programs like courses. A free month of access may cost you pennies, or nothing at all, even though the customer feels like they’re saving a lot of money.

Second, credit drives repeat purchasing behavior. When they use their credit to make additional purchases, they reinforce their loyalty and build trust with your brand, which makes future purchases even easier.

7. Reward Referrers with an Upgraded Product or Service

Instead of giving your customers something new, give them a better version of something they already have (or just bought). For instance, you could upgrade them to the premium tier of your SaaS tool, tack on an additional hour of consulting time, or ship them extra laces for the shoes they just bought.

The best example of this technique is Dropbox. Dropbox referral program gives customers with additional storage space. Customer could earn 500 MB of space for each successful referral (up to 16 GB). This method fueled their meteoric growth from 100,000 to 4 million users in just about a year. 

Just like rewarding someone with store/subscription credit, this technique is usually cost-effective because your costs are less than the retail value of the reward.

Just like rewarding someone with store/subscription credit, this technique is usually cost-effective because your costs are less than the retail value of the reward.

8. Reduce Referrers Friction

Make referring a friend super easy for your customers. If they have to take more than three steps, or if they have to make any complex decisions, they probably won’t bother.

Here’s a few ways to reduce friction in your referral marketing program:

  • Don’t hide your refer-a-friend feature somewhere your customers won’t find. Instead, feature them on your homepage or pricing page.
  • Populate the referral messages so your customers can just click “send” without spending time crafting their own copy.
  • Keep any emails you send (to the referrer or the referred party) short and simple.
  • Automatically track their rewards so they don’t have to.

The best way to reduce friction in your referral marketing campaigns is to use a referral marketing tool designed to make the whole process easy—for you and your users/customers.

9. Optimize the Referral Program Headline

Your referral offer’s headline is the most visible part of the program. It should be simple, specific, catchy, and memorable. Most importantly, it should clearly explain the value of the referral program.

Here’s a bad referral program headline: “Mandy’s Makeup Refer-a-Friend Program”

Sure, that headline is accurate, but it doesn’t tell people why they should bother and certainly isn’t compelling.

Here are a few examples of great referral marketing headlines:

  • “Earn $20 just by sharing”
  • “Give $50 to a friend and get $50 for yourself”
  • “Invite your friends and earn a free ride”
  • “Get $25 when your friends sign up”
  • “Tell your friends about us and you both get $20”
  • “You get $10 for every friend you sign up”
  • “Share your purchase and we’ll include a free gift”

10. Make Your Referral Marketing Program Discoverable

Your referral marketing program isn’t just a way to leverage your existing customers. It’s also a selling point for new customers considering using or buying your products. If their decision comes down to you or your competitor, they may choose your business because they want access to your referral program.

So, it’s important to make your referral program’s landing page discoverable. It's best when users can access it without logging into their accounts. For instance, link your referral marketing page from your top or footer web navigation. You could also mention it on your homepage. Make sure to write a blog post about the program, too.

Here are a few more places you should mention your referral marketing program:

  • Your email signature
  • Your newsletter
  • Your “thank you for purchasing” page
  • Your “thank you for subscribing” page
  • Invoices, recipients, and flyers
  • Social media posts

11. Retarget Your Customers

Retargeting is the practice of tracking people who visit a page on your website and promoting to them on another medium—usually social media platforms. It’s worth the time and cost to retarget these people because you know they’re at least somewhat interested in your program. If your customers view your referral page but don’t take any steps, you can give them another opportunity to refer a friend.


You can also use retargeting to connect with people who were referred by your customers, but didn’t sign up or buy.

Launch a Robust Referral Marketing Program with Rewardful

The best referral marketing idea we can give you is this: Build the referral marketing program your customers want to share. You’ll have to dig deep into your customers’ personalities and mindsets to create the program that resonates most with them.

Hopefully, these referral marketing ideas and examples have inspired you to design a program your customers love. Do you have an e-commerce website? Here are nine examples of e-commerce referral marketing programs.

Start your referral marketing program with Rewardful—easy-to-install and use affiliate and referral management software. Sign up now and get a 14-day free trial!

Affiliate Marketing Software

Rewardful Team

Explore affiliate and referral marketing insights with Rewardful. Access our articles, guides and the latest company updates.

Share on social media: 

Turn your biggest fans
into your best marketers.

Rewardful is a simple way for companies to setup affiliate and referral programs with Stripe. Just connect your account and let us track referrals, discounts and commissions for you!
Or learn more about Rewardful
"Transistor wouldn't be where it's at today if it wasn't for Rewardful"

Unlock your best new revenue channel today.

Get up and running in just a few minutes, with zero risk.
Try Rewardful free for 14-days
Used by many of the fastest growing companies in the world

More from the Blog

Affiliate Marketing

How AI Tools Use Rewardful for Affiliate Marketing

How can Rewardful fuel such growth in their AI affiliate programs? Let’s unveil the strategies behind their success, giving you a roadmap to replicate for your own AI business.


Rewardful Launches Coupon Code Tracking Feature

In case you missed it, on June 26, we launched an exciting new feature for all businesses using Rewardful for affiliate management: Coupon Code Tracking for affiliate programs.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate Conversion Tracking: 2024 Guide for SaaS

Follow this guide to track affiliate conversions with precision. Learn best practices, tools, and techniques to optimize your SaaS affiliate program tracking.