Which Kind of Referral Email Template is Best?

by Tony Mariotti

July 13, 2015

We live in the age of social networks, so you might expect me to expound at length about how critical Facebook and Twitter are to making a referral marketing campaign successful.

Well, here's something you don't hear every day - Email is by far the most important referral channel. So let's not waste time. Here's what you need to know:

There are two main types of referral emails that you'll need to wrap your head around, each one equally deserving of your attention. By the end of this blog post, you'll be handling them both with élan and confidence. I promise.

The first type of referral email is the one a marketer (you) sends to everyone on a master email list that asks folks to refer their friends.

The second type of referral email is the one that referrers send to their friends to introduce them to your company.

Both types of emails contain core elements that can make or break their efficacy - subject lines, calls to action, and perhaps a little art work. Let’s dig in.

Between Brand and Referrer (The First Kind of Referral Email Template)

The best thing you can do when you launch a referral program is to let everyone within reach know you have one. Get the word out to your social followers via Twitter, Facebook, etc., but know that the most powerful vehicle for an announcement will be an email blast to folks in your list.

1. Program Announcement via Email

The first type of referral program email is sent from your company to people who will advocate on behalf of your brand and refer their friends. Simply drop a campaign using your email service provider (ESP) using their provided templates or perhaps a referral email template you’ve "coded and loaded" yourself.

Sending this type of referral program email covers your initial announcement, but you should know that it’s also extremely beneficial to schedule follow up reminders (subsequent email blasts) to your list from time to time, typically once every few months or once per quarter. You'll get the most bang for the buck if you keep adding some periodic, hi-test fuel to your referral program engine.

Here’s a really cool execution from The Tie Bar. This is an example of a standalone email reminding their fans and customers about their referral program. What's really cool and unique about this example is that this was woven into a "style resolutions" email series. Blending your referral program into a sequence like this is particularly clever.


2. Program Announcement via Your Referral Platform

Friendbuy is working on a feature right now that will help you "batch & blast" a referral program invitation to everyone on your master email list. It will give marketers the ability to send personal referral links (PURLs) all at once without needing to create a campaign within your ESP.

Our working title for this feature is PURL Jam.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on that...

3. Referral Program Invitation via Triggers or Events

PURL Jam will be a "batch and blast" feature.  But there’s also another way to get the word out that sidesteps your ESP - one where your referral platform sends announcement emails over time based on a web event or trigger.

This is PURL Jam's little brother PIE, or program invitation email. In the example below from Automatic, it is sent an hour after someone makes a purchase.

So PURL Jam sends an email to everyone at once and PIE is a continuous campaign sent one email at a time.

Automatic's PIE includes a personal URL (PURL) that users can immediately share to Facebook, Twitter, email, or even copy and paste into instant messaging clients.

program invitation email

Between Referrer and Friends (The Second Kind of Referral Email Template)

The second type of referral email that you'll want to know intimately is the kind sent between the referrer and their friend, published via a referral widget. This is where all the gold coins are minted. It's the heart of referral marketing.

1. Big Image

The advantage with this referral email template is that you have more upfront branding due to the real estate devoted to a big hero image.

Personally, I think there's a double edged sword here. You get that killer real estate for branding, but it feels less like pure friend-to-friend communication. That said, I do very much like how YogaWorks used their referral program to get the word out about a new retail location. Pretty cool. Here's how it looked:

yogaworks shared email template

2. Small Image

Perhaps this is the happy compromise between images and text. You get imagery and branding, but still keep the referrer's message in focus. Here's how MeUndies does it:

MeUndies Referral Email Template

3. Text-Only

I like this referral email option the most. Text-only preserves the credibility of person-to-person communication. The messages come across more as a personal recommendation, which lies at the very heart of why referral marketing works in the first place.

However, opinions are meant to be challenged. Drop me a note if you’ve A/B tested text-only vs. image-heavy referral email templates and have seen large performance improvements over good old-fashioned webmail-like emails.  Until I see data that says otherwise, this is my fallback position: Text-only is the best option.

Here's an example from Dollar Shave Club:

Plain Text Referral Email Template

4. Product Sharing

I like the idea of product sharing as a component of a referral program.  After all, products are the reason we're in business in the first place.

Here's a shared email that Warby Parker customers can send from the order confirmation page, right after they've purchased. Friendbuy dynamically pulls in the product they just bought and inserts it into the referral email template:

product referral email templateSo there you have it, a quick overview of referral email templates.  Drop a comment/note and tell us which one you like best or which one has worked best for you.

See how Tonal drives up to 7% of online revenue with a Friendbuy-powered referral program