How to write the perfect referral email

How to write the perfect referral email

It’s hard to write โ€” not just a referral email, but really, any type of writing.
Emails are hard; blog articles are hard, fiction writing is hard, screenplays are hard.
God, looking at an empty screen, not knowing how to start a sentence is hell.
Before diving into what makes a great referral email, we first have to understand what makes a great email overall.
I’ve spent the last five years writing emails of any kind- some of them performing great, some of them performing really bad.
In my mind, it all comes down to these elements:
  1. Knowing who’s going to read your email and adjust your tone of voice accordingly.
  2. A great subject line that baits for opens, without deceiving the reader.
  3. Carefully crafted main body.
  4. A strong call-to-action, that’s consistent with the promise laid in the subject line.
  5. Timing.
As you understand, when talking about emails, it all comes down to copywriting. The principles described above apply to any kind of email, but writing an email that asks for referrals is a bit of a specialized occasion; innit?
Let’s see how you can leverage those principles to craft a referral marketing email that does what its name suggests; brings referrals.
referral marketing guide

Why give time to write a referral email?

If it’s good enough for e-commerce businesses, it’s probably suitable for any type of business.
There are five reasons for crafting a referral email:
  1. People are used to receiving email promotions.
  2. An email is harder to avoid than an ad.
  3. You can make it personalized.
  4. It’s cheap.
  5. You can measure its performance.
According to Hubspot, 99% of consumers use email every single day. This percentage is very high enough to overlook. It means that people are looking in their inboxes for the next thing to buy, or the following action to take.
You have an opportunity to be seen.
Although inboxes tend to be full, your potential reader doesn’t have the option to just scroll past your email (unlike a Facebook ad).
They either have to open it or delete it.
That’s why you need a strong subject line- more on that further down the article.

How to write in the right tone.

Let’s do an experiment.
Think of 2 individuals you know that live similar lives; they have a similar job, about the same age, etc.
Now go and ask your friends what they think of them. They will tell you things like “Oh, she’s hilarious”, or “She’s too serious sometimes”.
Maybe it’s a stupid experiment, but the point is that people make assumptions about other individuals based on the way they communicate their inner world.
The same happens with brands.
A brand’s tone of voice is crucial because it’s one of the first things that people are going to remember about it.
That being said, you have to:
  • Define your brand’s tone of voice.
  • Make sure it fits your products and customer persona.
  • Keep it consistent across your assets (website, product descriptions, social posting, emails).
  • Try not to overdo it. Sometimes a clever wordplay undermines the natural flow of your copy.
Many brands are totally killing it with voice, tone & style, but one of my favorites is Cards Against Humanity. Just look at this hilarious email.
Cards Against Humanity (almost) referral email. It"s really hilarious.
Cards Against Humanity is an excellent case because their copy is aligned with what their products represent. Their customers buy these products because of their raw and dark sense of humor.

Killer subject lines for referral emails.

I can’t stretch enough the importance of a great subject line for your referral emails- or any email.
Having a killer subject line- as I mentioned above, is your chance to cut through the noise.
Basically, a bad subject line decreases the chances of people opening your emails, hence less of the recipients will take the desired action.
In the case of a referral email, that means that people will make fewer referrals. That’s against the whole point of running a referral marketing campaign (duh!).
When crafting your email’s subject line, you should keep in mind a few things:
  • Keep the length as short as possible (3-7 words). You want the entire subject line to be visible on mobile devices.
  • Get to the point right away. It’s important that the recipient understands that your email asks for referrals and that you’re willing to reward them.
If you want to create an opportunity for more attention-grabbing subject lines, you can include emojis in them. If you’re subscribed to our newsletter, you know that we use them a lot.
Keeping the aforementioned in mind, your referral email subject line could be something like this:
  • ๐Ÿ’ฐ Give $20, get $20.
  • ๐Ÿค‘ Invite friends, get a 10% discount.
  • ๐Ÿ’ธ Get your next order with a discount.
You get the point.

Your space is limited, so make your main body count.

Let’s assume that you crafted the perfect subject line for your referral email. That means that people open it like crazy.
But is a good open-rate enough?
It’s just the beginning, fam. Now you need people to bring referrals.
When you’re crafting your email, you have two styling options:
  • Create a text-only email.
  • Design a stylish email full of visuals.
Buffer used a text-only email asking for referrals. It’s a simple and quick solution.
Buffer"s referral email. It"s a text-only email with a button call to action.
On the other hand, Webflow took a step further and added an image and some styling to their referral emails.
Webflow"s referral email. It includes a header image, sharing options, and the referral url
As you can see, the messaging is clear and gives the recipient a full overview of the benefits.
Successful referrals= earlier access.
Another great feat of Webflow’s referral email is the multiple sharing options offered. The recipients of the email can either copy their unique link and share it with their network or share directly to their social media accounts.
Btw, Webflow runs a referral campaign similar to the one that Robihood run and gathered 1 million users before launch.
If you want to run a similar campaign, we have a template inspired by Robinhood. It’s great for creating pre-launch buzz for any new product.
If your referral campaign offers multi-tiered rewards, like Harry’s did to gather 100K emails, you should definitely check Equal Parts’ referral email.
Equal Parts referral email. This is a custom made email for a milestone campaign.
Apart from the unique URL for direct sharing, the email includes another Calls-to-action; A button and hyperlink text.
Including your CTAs in more than one location inside your emails, ensures that the reader is not going to miss it.
It’s important to note that your CTAs should make clear what’s the desired action that you want the user to take.
e.g. “Invite Friends”
Also, they added all the rewards along with the number of successful emails required to attain them. Since the email is custom-made, they manage to make the design both beautiful and meaningful.
Offering multiple rewards allows you to get the maximum amount of referrals from users; hence it’s a great way to run a pre-launch campaign or re-engage with past customers.
If you want to run a similar campaign, you can use our Milestone referral template.

Referral email main body checklist.

  • Craft a clear message.
  • Present the rewards for successful referrals.
  • Include the conditions under which people get rewarded.
  • Add the user’s unique URL for direct sharing.
  • Insert multiple Calls-to-action that capture the desired action that you want the user to take.

Know when to ask for referrals.

“Actions fall into place because of universal timing and when combined with synchronicity, bring those events into your awareness to seize your attention.” – Tony Fahkry.
Knowing when you ask for referrals is of equal importance to how you ask for them.
Imagine having a horrible experience with a service/product, and then being asked to share about it with your friends. You get my point.
You should integrate your request for referral in moments that your users are happy and excited.
This moment could be when they subscribe to your newsletter as Morning Brew did by adding a referral section at the bottom of their welcome email (as in all of their emails.)
Morning Brew"s integrated a referral section in all of their emails.
If you run an eCommerce business, a sweet moment for introducing your referral campaign is when you send your customer the “Thank you for your purchase” email.

Before you go.

Writing emails requesting referrals is an art form itself.
To maximize your results, you must test various subject lines, CTA copies, and messaging. You should also make sure that your rewards are really working for your audience.
Although there is no recipe for success, before sending your email, make sure you:
  1. Used the right tone of voice.
  2. Have a killer subject line.
  3. Communicate a clear message about the rewards and the conditions under which people get rewarded.
  4. Have multiple Calls-to-action.
  5. Send your email at the right time.
I’m interested to see your results ๐Ÿ™‚
Keep being awesome.
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