Referral Marketing for Event Promotion

Referral Marketing for Event Promotion

With the explosion of events across various industries, the challenge lies not just in creating standout experiences but also in ensuring they reach the right audience. 

This is where an often underutilized powerhouse—referral marketing—can help events get more, and higher quality attendance through their promotion.

We’ll explore the potential of referral marketing within event management and promotion, from understanding its benefits to creating an effective referral program for your event. 

We’ll also feature some events that successfully implemented referral strategies.

Whether you’re a seasoned event organizer or a first-time host, this exploration will equip you with the strategies you need to leverage the full scope of referral marketing and supercharge your event’s attendance, engagement, and success.


Why referral marketing makes sense in event promotion

Referral marketing, at its core, harnesses the power of word-of-mouth by incentivizing satisfied customers or attendees to spread the word about an event to their personal and professional networks.

It works by providing rewards or incentives, effectively turning existing event-goers into brand ambassadors. This strategy capitalizes on the trust and credibility that naturally exist within personal relationships, making the recommendations more impactful and likely to convert compared to traditional advertising methods.

When attendees are excited about an event, they don’t just show up—they want their friends to know about it. 

A referral program gives ticket purchasers a clear incentive to invite their friends to join the event too — it gets that last hesitation out of the way.

Unlike cold outreach or generic advertising, a referral suggests a personal endorsement, which is far more powerful in persuading others to participate.


Why Referral Marketing Works Wonders for Events

Referral programs work by more than just promoting the event—they deliver actual results. Here’s are the main reasons why:

  • Increases Word of Mouth
    Referral marketing taps into the power of word-of-mouth advertising, a phenomenon that sets off a virtuous cycle for events. This approach leverages the natural inclination of people to share their rewarding experiences with others, especially when incentivized or when they believe their network can benefit.

    Each attendee who becomes a proponent of your event carries the potential to not only bring in another attendee but also to initiate a series of subsequent referrals. This snowball effect magnifies your event’s visibility exponentially, transcending traditional advertising limitations.
  • Enhances Trust and Credibility
    Referral marketing proves particularly effective for events due to the inherent trust and credibility it carries. When someone recommends an event, their endorsement comes not as an impersonal advertisement but as advice from a trusted friend or colleague.

    By leveraging referrals, event organizers tap into pre-existing relationships and reputations, which naturally enhances the perceived value and reliability of the event being promoted. It’s this foundation of trust that enables referral marketing to drive remarkable results, transforming satisfied attendees into credible promoters of the event.
  • Builds Community
    Referral marketing also excels in event promotion due to its powerful role in community building. When attendees recommend an event to their friends, colleagues, or professional contacts, they’re not just filling seats; they’re helping to cultivate a community of like-minded individuals.

    This naturally occurring process of community growth starts with the shared interests or professional goals that bring attendees together in the first place. By leveraging referrals, organizers tap into existing networks, encouraging the formation of a cohesive group that extends beyond the event itself.

    This sense of belonging and community not only enhances the attendee experience but also fosters a network of individuals who are likely to support future events. In essence, leveraging referrals doesn’t just boost event attendance—it strategically builds an engaged and interconnected community, amplifying the impact and reach of the event through organic, meaningful connections.
  • Reduces marketing costs (lowers CAC)
    Referral marketing stands out for events primarily because it offers a cost-effective alternative to traditional advertising, delivering a higher return on investment (ROI). Traditional advertising avenues often entail significant expenditure without guaranteeing equivalent returns.

    In contrast, referrals naturally spread through word-of-mouth, requiring minimal investment from the event organizers. By incentivizing existing attendees to share their positive experiences, organizers tap into an organic marketing channel that costs far less than conventional ads but reaches potential attendees in a more personal and convincing manner.
  • Creates Pre-Event Hype
    Referral marketing effectively seeds the pre-event atmosphere with anticipation and excitement. When included in your prelaunch marketing strategies, it doesn’t just amplifies the event’s visibility but also builds a base of eager participants.

    This buzz can rapidly escalate, fueling a cycle of anticipation that draws more attention and potential attendees, thus translating into higher attendance rates and a palpable sense of excitement leading up to the event.
  • Increases Urgency and FOMO
    Referral marketing can play into the psychology of Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO). This phenomenon becomes especially potent for events with limited capacity, where exclusive invitations linked to referrals can provide that extra push for potential attendees to secure their spots.

    By leveraging the element of exclusivity and the social dynamics of referrals, event organizers can create a heightened sense of value. If the slots have already been filled and you plan on having another event after some time, you can even tell the referral that they just missed their chance for the current event and that they should sign up for the next one before slots run out.

    This is a good strategy for those who regularly run the same type of events.


Types of Events That Can Use Referral Marketing

Let’s consider the different types of events that stand to gain from savvy referral marketing strategies.

1. Concerts, festivals, and parties

Referral marketing’s impact on physical events is multi-faceted. Besides the obvious benefit of ticket sales for physical events, its ability to foster a community around your brand is invaluable.

Event-goers who feel personally invested in your event through a recommendation are more likely to become vocal ambassadors, extending your event’s lifespan long after the curtains draw.

The influence of an event is not just measured by the numbers that show up but also by the community it fosters. Referral marketing helps to create a sense of belonging and participation that traditional marketing often struggles to emulate.

After all, you wouldn’t want to go to a concert alone, right?

Referral Strategies Based on Entertainment Event Type

Each type of physical event requires a tailored approach to referral marketing. Below, we explore strategies suited for a variety of event types.

  • Concerts and Sporting Events
    Concerts and sports competitions are an expansive playground for referral marketing. Implementing strategies like ‘Refer a Friend and Win’ ticket deals, where existing ticket holders can win exclusive rewards can double your event’s audience with no additional effort.

    If tickets are too costly to be given out as rewards, we have seen events offer in-event rewards, such as credits for drinks, merch, or anything else of value during the event.
  • Music and Cultural Festivals
    Festivals are perhaps the epitome of communal events. Their sheer size accommodates a wealth of opportunities for social referrals. Introducing group discounts for festival passes encourages attendees to gather friends, thereby magnifying the festival’s essence.

    Additionally, creating “ambassador programs,” where fervent festival-goers are rewarded for bringing in a certain number of referrals, can yield a bounty of new attendees.
  • Fashion Shows
    Fashion shows epitomize exclusivity, a trait that referral marketing can capitalize on. Offering behind-the-scenes access or designer meet-and-greet opportunities for VIP guests who have a high referral rate transforms attendance into the highly-coveted ‘club.’

    Sharing personalized referral codes through trendy social platforms can add a modern twist to attendee recruitment.
  • Book Launch
    The literary world is often associated with solitude, but a book launch is a celebratory act that warrants a social spread. Feature ‘Author Q&A’ sessions or intimate readings for those who attend with a referral ticket can add an interactive dimension to the conventional book launch.
  • Charity Galas and Fundraisers
    The charitable spirit is often infectious. Encourage philanthropy with referral systems that donate a portion of the sale to the charity in the name of the referred attendee. Multi-tiered donations can be a way to scale the contribution based on the number of referrals, transforming the grassroots movement into a significant figure.

    For any other in-person events, your paying attendees could receive a unique QR code or link to share with friends, unlocking incentives like queue jumps or merchandise discounts for each successful referral.


2. Virtual Events: Webinars, Online Classes, Podcasts, and More

The wide, interconnected web of the internet has changed the face of event marketing—and this change is not merely cosmetic. The COVID-19 pandemic catapulted virtual events from a mere complement to in-person gatherings to an indispensable format. 

With an almost explosive expansion of virtual event platforms and audience engagement possibilities, it’s no surprise that almost everyone is running a virtual event these days.

Yet, with this surge in popularity comes an increased competition for attendees.

How can virtual events break through the digital noise and reach new audiences? The answer lies in amplifying digital word-of-mouth through referral programs.

Strategies for Different Types of Virtual Events

How you implement referral strategies, however, can greatly differ depending on the type of virtual event you are hosting.

Understanding the nuances of each virtual event style and tailoring your referral approach accordingly can result in more impactful campaigns. 

As such, we need to recognize the diverse forms these events can take. From webinars and conferences to product launches, each event category demands a specific approach to encourage and benefit from referrals.

  • Webinars and Podcasts
    Webinars and podcasts have emerged as educational staples in the virtual event sphere, offering content in a structured, digestible format. The intimate nature of these events fosters a sense of community among participants and provides an ideal environment for referral engagements.

    Exclusive sessions as an incentive: For this type of virtual event, a novel referral program could revolve around the concept of “Bringing the Expert Home.” This initiative would allow participants to unlock a series of exclusive one-on-one sessions with the speakers or hosts after referring a certain number of attendees.

    The more referrals a participant generates, the more personalized and in-depth these sessions could become, ranging from a private Q&A, to a tailored workshop, or even a co-hosted segment in an upcoming episode.

    Create a Referral Leaderboard: To further incentivize referrals, participants could gain access to a special “Referral Leaderboard,” where top referrers are highlighted and given early access to future events, behind-the-scenes content, or even input on topics for upcoming webinars or podcast episodes.

    This approach not only encourages referrals but also deepens the engagement by offering highly sought-after experiences that value the quality of connections over sheer quantity.
  • Virtual Conferences
    Virtual conferences are vast, multifaceted events that often mimic traditional in-person conferences, complete with keynotes, breakout sessions, and networking opportunities, all offered remotely.

    Referral campaigns for virtual conferences must also be multi-faceted and tailored to the different aspects of the event. Here are some tips:

    Utilize networking opportunities for referrals: Incorporate referral programs directly into the virtual networking platforms. When attendees make a valuable connection or set up a meeting, encourage them to extend an event invitation through the platform, linking the new contact to the conference and making them potential referrals.

    Incentivize group registrations through referrals: Offer group discounts and refer-a-group rewards. Participants who refer a complete group can unlock special content or access the VIP lounge. These incentives foster community building within groups and encourage a collective experience that extends the referral potential.
  • Online Workshops
    Online workshops are ideal for skill development and hands-on learning. The interactive nature of workshops provides a rich environment for referrals as participants share their experiences and learnings.

    Encourage referrals for hands-on learning experiences: Implement an immediate referral loop within the tools used during the workshop. Whether it’s a virtual whiteboard or collaborative document, attendees can share the event directly from the resources, making it part of the learning process.

    Tailor referral rewards for workshop attendees: Consider offering tiered rewards for the number of successful referrals, such as free resources, one-on-one sessions with instructors, or discounts on future classes. These tailored incentives underscore the value of the personal recommendation and encourage attendees to curate their audience.
  • Virtual Product Launches
    Virtual product launches serve to create buzz and drive sales for new offerings. Your referral program at this stage is about building anticipation and leveraging the exclusivity of being among the first to know.

    Here are some tactics you can apply:

    Pre-launch referral campaigns to build anticipation: Create a thematic contest or challenge that requires a series of referrals to unlock exclusive sneak peeks or early access. This approach not only generates excitement but also sets the tone for the level of engagement post-launch.

    Create shareable content for referral success:
    Develop interactive, shareable content that encourages existing customers to bring in new leads. This could be in the form of a fun quiz, a teaser video, or an interactive tool that showcases the product’s features. The more engaging and easily distributable the content, the higher the referral potential.
  • Virtual Networking Events
    Networking events are all about making meaningful connections. In the virtual realm, these connections can be facilitated and strengthened through strategic referral programs.

    Provide double-sided rewards: Offer dual rewards for connections that lead to collaborative options. This could mean rewarding both the connector and the connected, encouraging a symbiotic referral dynamic that fosters mutually beneficial relationships.

    Encouraging post-event referrals for continued engagement: Don’t limit referrals to the event itself. Encourage attendees to refer colleagues to join the community or upcoming events with a ‘membership growth’ referral campaign. This converts one-time engagements into ongoing relationships and keeps the networking momentum going.

In the virtual event space, the potential for referral marketing is vast and varied, as are the types of events one can host. Each event type presents its own unique opportunities for attendee engagement and acquisition through referrals.

The key to successful referral marketing in virtual events lies in understanding the goals of your event and the preferences of your audience. Experiment with different tactics across various virtual event styles, and analyze the results to refine your approach.

3. Business-Related In-Person Events

Businesses recognize the pivotal role that in-person events play in cultivating relationships, driving sales, and enhancing brand loyalty. However, with markets saturated and attention spans shortened, the task of drawing a crowd to real-world events has never been more challenging.

It is within this space that the strategic implementation of referral marketing can spell the difference between a sparsely attended function and a standing-room-only spectacle. Business professionals know that the right introduction can open doors that no amount of promotion can.

The physicality of these events offers prime opportunities for face-to-face interactions that can galvanize the referral process. Each touchpoint, from the initial invitation to the follow-up after the event, serves as a real-world connection that bolsters the relationship with the brand.

The lasting impact from these moments can boost initial attendance and lead to future referrals, keeping the momentum long after the event ends.

Types of In-Person Business Events and Referral Marketing Strategies

Each type of in-person event presents its own set of characteristics and objectives. Just like with entertainment-based events, it is crucial to understand the intricacies of promoting each event type to maximize your referral programs.

  • Conferences and Workshops
    Conferences and workshops are educational in nature, often featuring speakers of high repute and targeting a specific industry or field. Referral marketing can be executed through:
  • Early-bird referral discounts
  • Business-to-business referral programs
  • Special insights or Q&A sessions with speakers for those who refer a certain number of attendees
  • Branded content for sharing on social media platforms
  • Trade Shows and Expos
    Trade shows serve as a marketplace for professionals in a given industry. To leverage referral marketing, consider:
  • Offering exclusive access to new product unveilings for referees
  • Providing referral bonuses to businesses that create clusters of attendees around their supplier or distribution network
  • Setting up a social media ‘challenge’ encouraging photo sharing with predetermined hashtags for a chance to win premium packages.
  • Charity Galas and Fundraisers
    Charity events are deeply personal, often reflecting the values of the attendees. Referral strategies can involve:
  • Featuring the referrer’s name in event materials to acknowledge their contribution
  • Matching donations for referred attendees
  • Creating a community or leaderboard for fundraisers to track their impact.
  • Networking Events
    The primary goal of networking events is to foster new connections. Referral marketing can succeed by:
  • Providing an extended happy hour or networking session for referred groups
  • Offering group rates or additional entry passes for successful referrals
  • Personalized networking kits for both the referrer and referee.
  • Academic Symposia and Lectures
    Events aimed at intellectual discourse draw a niche crowd. Referral marketing in this context may include:
  • Pre-event article or paper submission opportunities for attendees referred by existing speakers
  • Academic credit or recognition for students who refer the most number of classmates
  • Exclusive question submission or participation initiatives during the event for referred contributors.
  • Product Launches and Brand Activations
    The excitement around new product launches can be leveraged for referrals by:

    • Creating referral leaderboards with substantial rewards for top advocates
    • Implementing a tiered reward system, with increasing perks for multiple successful referrals
    • Running an online voting contest to influentially polarize opinion and create anticipation.
  • Community Fairs and Markets
    These local events often emphasize community engagement, making referral strategies connecting local communities especially powerful:
  • Implementing a community-related theme for referral rewards
  • Showcasing local influencers who refer the most attendees
  • Offering early-entrant privileges for referrals and their referrers.

Each event type, when paired with savvy referral marketing, can unlock a plethora of potential attendees and generate buzz that reverberates long after the event.


How to Implement a Referral Program for Your Event

Turning the concept of referral marketing into a tangible program for your event involves careful planning and execution. Let’s simplify the process with the steps below:

Step 1: Define Your Goals and Incentives

Before you start reaching out, you need to set clear objectives for your referral program. 

Do you aim for attendee growth, increasing attendance to a specific segment, or maybe boosting early bird ticket sales? Ensure your incentives align with what your audience values.


Step 2: Choose the Right Referral Model/Template

There are various referral models to choose from, like single-sided incentives (the referrer gets a reward), double-sided incentives (both the referrer and the referee receive rewards), or mixed-models (where participation can vary).

The best model for you depends on your event’s structure, audience, and incentives.

Step 3: Decide on Tracking and Attribution Methods

Tracking the success of your referral program is essential. Use promo codes, custom tracking links, or dedicated landing pages to attribute referrals accurately.

The most popular option for tracking referrals and their success is the use of referral links.  These links are unique and trackable, allowing you to measure the impact of your referral program accurately. 

For more information on how this works, read our guide to referral links.

Step 4: Select the Appropriate Referral Marketing Tool

Choosing the right referral marketing tool is a critical step in the implementation of your event’s referral program. You should select a tool that simplifies the tracking of referrals and the distribution of rewards. 

Look for a platform that integrates seamlessly with your existing event management software, ensuring that attendees can easily share referral links across their social networks. 

A good referral marketing tool such as Viral Loops will offer clear analytics, showing you not only the number of referrals generated but also detailed insights into engagement rates and conversion. This data is invaluable for adjusting your strategy in real-time and maximizing the impact of your referral program. 

Additionally, ensure that the tool you choose supports the referral model you’ve decided on, whether it’s single-sided, double-sided, or a mixed model, to streamline the process for both you and your participants.

Read more: 11 Referral Marketing Software to Boost Sales (for Marketers)

Step 5: Create a Seamless Referral Experience

Make it easy for your attendees to refer others. This means providing shareable content, incorporating social sharing buttons, and keeping the referral process as simple as possible.

To streamline the referral process, consider implementing a user-friendly interface that guides attendees through the referral procedure with ease. 

For example, a music festival could integrate a referral option directly into its booking platform, allowing ticket purchasers to send a unique referral link to friends via email or social media with just a couple of clicks. Upon clicking the link, the friend would be taken to a customized landing page that highlights the benefits of attending the festival together, simplifying the decision-making process.

Another approach is to use QR codes for in-person events. Attendees can receive personalized QR codes on their event badges or through a mobile app, which they can share with peers interested in similar events. Scanning the QR code would seamlessly register the referral and offer immediate rewards or discounts, enhancing the experience for both the referrer and the newcomer.

These examples underscore the importance of making the referral process as streamlined and integrated as possible, ensuring that it feels like a natural extension of the event promotion rather than an additional task.

Step 6: Launch and Market Your Referral Program

Communicate your program through all available channels, from your event website and email campaigns to social media and word-of-mouth. Make sure your language is compelling and matches your audience, and the process to join is clear and straightforward.

This is just a quick instruction on how to set up a referral program for your event. For a complete and more comprehensive guide, refer to our Referral Marketing 101.


8 Examples of Referral Marketing in Event Promotion

Referral marketing, when done right, can be a game-changer for event organizers. 

It’s not just about selling tickets; it’s about creating a community that is engaged, loyal, and grows organically. This strategic approach is proving to be the linchpin for events that want to not just survive but thrive in the modern digital marketplace. 

Let’s take a deep dive into some standout events that have expertly harnessed the power of referral marketing to amplify their reach and enrich their attendee experience.

The TEDx Phenomenon: Going Viral with the Bring-a-Friend Strategy

TEDx is a global platform that hosts independently organized TED-style events. What started as a traditional word-of-mouth event has seamlessly integrated into the digital age by adopting a ‘bring-a-friend’ strategy. 

This simple yet impactful initiative encouraged attendees to purchase tickets for themselves and a friend, often at a discounted rate, and the effects were monumental.

The innate viral nature of TED Talks dovetailed perfectly with this referral system. By leveraging the inherent social currency of the TED brand and the aspirational nature of its content, TEDx pushed past the ‘click-share-for-discount’ trope. Instead, it unlocked the community-building potential of referral marketing, transforming it into an art form.

AdMaven’s Affiliate World Conference: Referrals Rewarded with Exclusivity

AdMaven, a leading advertising network, took the referral marketing game to new heights with its promotion of the Affiliate World Conference. 

The company offered a raffle-type incentive, with a high-ticket item—the elusive conference tickets—stipulated as the reward for successful referrals. The minimum requirement is for the referral to spend at least $100 in AdMaven for the referrer to get a raffle entry.

Participants were not just encouraged to bring in numbers but to ensure their referrals converted, upping the ante and the exclusivity of the reward. The strategy was an excellent example of leveraging scarcity and exclusivity to incentivize sharing.

It’s important to note that this is also a B2B type of referral since it was not the event host that ran this referral program, but a company that is in partnership with them and who is also an exhibitor at the event.

The Circles Conference Referral Program

Circles Conference, attended by creatives and graphic designers, exemplifies a different kind of referral program—one that blurs the line between networking and marketing. Any individual, whether they would attend the event or not, could earn by referring attendees and sponsors.

The conference embedded in the referral program is a networking opportunity. It wasn’t just about ticket sales but about fostering a robust network between attendees and sponsors, with rewards tied to the strength of those connections.

The Music Festival that Strikes a Chord

Harmony Tours, an event management company specializing in performing arts groups, has turned referrals into a key marketing instrument. Their referral program awards participants who successfully refer performing arts groups that end up performing at one of their events.

In this case, the enrichment of the event experience is two-fold. Not only does the referrer benefit, but also the overall quality and caliber of the event potentially elevate with the addition of recommended performers.


The Enchanting Sounds of Jacky Cheung: A Concert in Referral

The highly anticipated Jacky Cheung concert in Singapore exemplifies how referrals can be utilized for not just selling tickets, but crafting an inclusive and exclusive event experience. The event offered an opportunity for referrers to get Category 1 tickets (similar to VIP tickets) for successful referrals.

By adding a gamification element to the referral program through competitions, the event heightened buzz and excitement, turning the act of referring into a public endorsement and a form of social currency among fans.

Creating a Mosh Pit of Referrals: The Riot Fest Experience

Riot Fest, an annual punk rock music festival, transformed the ticket-selling process into a communal effort. It offered rewards for groups of friends who purchased tickets in bulk. This translated the organic act of friends attending together into a marketing engine.

The strategy didn’t just increase ticket sales but also the attendance rate, as people were more likely to follow through on commitments made in a social group setting.

NPRRA’s Conference Referral Initiative

The National Public Records Research Association (NPRRA) goes beyond the traditional ticket referral system. Their initiative encourages the referral of new members, who then attend the annual conference.

This strategic move focuses on the long-term growth and retention of their professional community, ensuring that new members are not just signed up, but fully immersed in the benefits of the conference, thereby increasing the likelihood of their returning.

Mustard Media Amplifies Camp Bestival Buzz with Viral Referral Marketing

Mustard Media, in their promotion of Camp Bestival, ingeniously incorporated referral marketing to create an unprecedented buzz around the event, culminating in a noteworthy increase of 30% in sign-ups.

By leveraging the Viral Loops platform, they crafted a campaign that not only engaged potential attendees but also motivated them to spread the word far and wide.

The focal point of their strategy revolved around the Tempting Giveaway referral template, a masterstroke in motivating participation. This template set the stage for a thrilling competition where the individual boasting the most referrals would be rewarded with a grand prize.

This approach not only amplified the event’s visibility but also added an element of excitement and exclusivity, encouraging participants to become active promoters of the festival, turning their network into a potent marketing channel.

Read more about Mustard Media’s pre-launch marketing strategies here.

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