The Best Referral Emails Are Ones People Want to Engage With

referral email

This article is a guest post from Campaign Monitor

A compelling referral email is the fastest way to build an army of loyal customers – but actually creating that email is tough work.

These days, it takes way more than a snappy subject line to captivate your customers, especially with competing brands vying for their attention (and precious dollars).

Referral emails get your name in front of your customer base in real time and simultaneously incentivize them to pull in their friends and family – aka bring you new sales leads.

But it’s not magic. It takes strategic planning, copywriting, and designing to create referral emails that beat the competition.

So, let’s break down the psychology that makes referral emails so effective and then dig into three best practices to help you boost your referral game.

Great Emails: Referral Marketing’s Secret Ingredient

What Makes Referral Emails So Powerful?

There’s a reason why endorsements are such a big deal in the marketing world. A decade ago, all it took was a famous athlete or actor backing your brand to get people to stop and take notice.

These days, consumer needs have shifted, particularly when it comes to millennials and Gen Z. Younger generations of consumers are much more likely to listen to a friend or family member’s recommendation over an advertisement – aka social proof.

In a recent study, 93% of survey respondents were willing to trust a brand recommended by a friend or family member, while only 38% were willing to trust an ad for that same brand.

If that wasn’t enough, study after study shows us that both B2B and D2C brands that utilize referrals see massive returns.

Referral emails tap into the kind of consumer trust that can only be built via word of mouth and supercharge the message with rewards and incentives.

A good email tells new potential customers that they can trust your brand because it’s the same place their friends are already shopping. Sharing an exclusive offer – like a first-time customer discount or one-time-only incentive – creates a sense of urgency and makes it more likely the referred person will click.

3 Best Practices To Craft Compelling Referral Emails

The goal of a successful referral email is to encourage your customers to hype your brand with their friends and family.

At the very least, you’ll want to make sure to thank your customers for their loyalty and support, remind them about any upcoming sales or exclusive discounts, and ask them to share their referral codes with their networks.

Beyond these basic pointers, we’ve got three best practices, coupled with strong e-commerce email examples, to optimize your referral emails for a 2023 audience.

Get Straight to the Point

According to Litmus, about 51% of readers will delete an email after about two seconds.

Don’t waste those precious seconds with fluff. Tell your customers straightaway what your email is about and what action you want them to take.

Surreal’s referral email gets straight to the point without being boring.


The email pulls you in right away with a strong header (Who doesn’t want to read an email that starts with “We’re bribing you”?) and an eye-catching image, then dives into the special offer: Convince a friend to buy Surreal’s product, and the reader will earn money toward their next purchase. Then, the company follows the offer with a tappable call-to-action button that encourages readers to invite friends immediately.

Even though this email is short and direct, it’s still imbued with the company’s playful brand identity.

General Referral Guide_Featured Image

Referral Marketing – The Best Practices You Need to Know

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Shine a Spotlight on Happy Customers

As we said earlier, people are more likely to become customers when they’ve seen social proof that your brand is trustworthy.

A lot of companies rely on positive reviews from websites like Google and Twitter, and for a good reason: 94% of consumers say a negative review has influenced them to shop elsewhere.

If your brand gets a ton of positive reviews, why not weave that social proof directly into your customer referral email campaign?

Take a look at Harry’s referral email. The company found a way to cleverly include positive word of mouth directly from happy customers. The email encourages customers to “give your friends this feeling” and then quotes real reviews from Twitter.


The average customer review today is 65% shorter than in 2010, or around 200 characters – about the length of a tweet. That’s good news for brands that want to place positive customer reviews in their referral emails, like Harry’s.

Optimize Your Email for Mobile Shoppers

Mobile commerce, or m-commerce, is a fast-growing opportunity.

By 2024, it’s projected that over 187 million people will have embraced the trend and made a purchase through their smart device. Plus, 79% of consumers will delete an email that’s not optimized for mobile. Clearly, it’s time to make sure your referral emails are mobile-friendly.

Most modern email marketing platforms have mobile optimization built in. They include features like tappable referral links, single-column layouts, and mobile-friendly fonts.

Lumina‘s referral emails are a clear-cut example of what great mobile optimization looks like.


Straightaway, you can see this email is a single column, which makes it easy on a mobile reader’s eyes. It also features a large header and clickable images and breaks down the most important information a reader needs to know in a short, digestible chunk of text.

Don’t Be Afraid To Experiment With Your Referral Email Marketing Strategy

There’s no “perfect” algorithm or formula when it comes to referral emails. That’s because it all goes back to your brand’s unique brand identity and goals.

Feel free to play around and experiment with copy and creative to learn what your customers best respond to, such as:

  • A/B testing GIFs versus static imagery
  • Testing different calls to action (CTAs)
  • Pushing different referral rewards to different audience segments

The best way to manage referral emails is with a growth marketing tool like Extole. Our tool is designed for top companies across B2B and D2C to build scalable customer-led loyalty programs.

Request a demo to learn more.

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