This post was contributed by Kevin Yun of GrowSurf.

Email is still the most intimate form of communication on the web.

In fact, 83% of consumers worldwide prefer email when communicating with brands.

Emails are not only a great way to connect with your customers, but they also can be effective in encouraging them to spread the word about your business through referrals.

While referral emails are a powerful marketing tool to bring in new customers, there’s always room for improvement when it comes to converting your leads into successful referrals.

How do you introduce your referral program without being too pushy? How do you ask your subscribers for help without complicating the customer experience? And how do you create referral emails that drive results?

In this blog post, you’ll learn how to create referral emails that encourage your subscribers to share.

1. Make your subject line stand out

Email communication is an influential way to reach and connect with your audience. That said, getting them to open your referral emails can be a challenge. Did you know that the average email open rate across all industries is 16.22%?

referral emails

Source: Smart Insights

Your email subject line has a lot to do with whether your subscribers will open your referral email. Create a subject line that’s boring or irrelevant to their needs and your referral email will remain unread.

Let’s go over some best practices for writing email subject lines that make your referral emails irresistible.

Keep it simple and straightforward

Don’t try to get too fancy. Use simple words and get to the point.

In this digital age, do you think your audience has the mental bandwidth to decipher your literary brilliance? If you want to write referral emails that get opened, drop the Shakespearean act and write in plain language.

As Steve Woodruff wrote in Clarity Wins: Get Heard. Get Referred:

“Clarity is that 20/20 focus that cuts through the fog and lets you stand out from the noise. Clarity fuels effective marketing and selling.”

Make it relevant to your audience

Your subject line also needs to be relevant to their needs. If you don’t communicate something that they want or need, why should they bother?

So, get to know your subscribers on a deeper level. See what information and insights you have about them—their gender, age, interests, shopping habits, or income level—to communicate something that will resonate with them.

Be specific

Being specific and descriptive is helpful in your subject lines. Better yet, include numbers.

Numbers grab your subscribers’ attention. Not only because they look different from letters, but also because they make people want to know more.

An eye-tracking study by usability expert Jakob Nielsen explains why readers are drawn to numbers: “Because numbers represent facts, which is something users typically relish.”

So don’t just write: “Tell a friend, Earn a reward.”

Try: “Tell a friend, Earn $20.”

Appeal to your subscribers’ emotions

If you want your referral emails to get opened, you have to tug at your subscribers’ emotions.

Many psychological studies show that our decisions are driven by emotions, not logic.

But if you want to appeal to your subscribers’ emotions and compel them to open your email (and refer your brand to others), you need to understand their pain points and address them in your subject line.

Don’t know where to start? You can always use powerful emotional triggers such as curiosity, empathy, and FOMO.

referral emails
Source: Yesware

2. Segment your email lists

The worst thing you can do in your referral email marketing campaign is to throw all your email communication at the wall and hoping something will stick.

There’s a better way.

Send your referral emails to the right people by segmenting your email list.

By segmenting your email lists into categories based on common characteristics such as age, gender, interests, income, and motivations, every email you send becomes more personalized and relevant— increasing your referral conversions.

3. Show the rewards

Your subscribers won’t do what you want them to do unless you provide some benefit to their lives.

If you want your referral emails to spur them to action, you need to answer the question: “What’s in it for the subscriber?”

But you don’t just tell them what’s up for grabs. You need to show them.

referral emails
Source: GIPHY

Studies confirm that 90% of all information transmitted to the brain is visual.

Postable knows exactly how to show people the money.  In the email below, the waving animation and the smiley face are a nice touch.

referral emails
Source: Really Good Emails

4. Tell them how it works and be clear about it

If you want your subscribers to spread the word about your brand, you need to tell them how the referral program works. And you need to be clear about it.

In today’s data-driven world, consumers want to know more about a product or service (or a referral program, for that matter) before making a purchase decision.

A Conductor study says that 131% of consumers are more likely to buy from a brand after consuming educational content. Sonya Pelia, CMO at Cira Apps Ltd, adds her insight:

“Confusion causes hesitation and hesitation can easily turn into no purchase at all. You want to reassure the customer that your product solves their problem and that you’ll be there to support them in the event that they get confused at a later stage.”

Use email design to your advantage

How your referral email looks is just as important as how it reads. If you want your subscribers to absorb and retain your information, make sure your email design is carefully crafted to inspire engagement.

Here are a few email design tips that will help you:

  • Make your text highly readable. Don’t get too fancy with your font. Stick with classic fonts like Arial, Calibri, and Times New Roman. Take it easy with the italics and bold font.
  • Use contrasting colors to make your calls to action stand out.
  • Make intelligent use of white space to give your email content room to breathe. This tactic helps your subscribers’ eyes move through the text (and images) easily.

5. Use powerful CTAs

At this point, your subscriber is more likely to get onboard your referral program and earn your rewards.

If you want them to share your product or service with their friends, you need to add a direct call to action that tells them what to do next.

Seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it? But you’ll be shocked how difficult it can be sometimes to find the “Refer a Friend” button in a referral email.

Again, words matter. So make sure that your CTA gets straight to the point. Don’t leave room for ambiguity and misinterpretation.

Here are some best practices to help you create a powerful call to action:

  • Remind subscribers about the benefits that await them.
  • Use numbers.
  • Use power words like “free,” “save,” “get,” or “want” to get clicks.
  • Speak directly to them.

Here are some examples:

  • Give $20, Get $20.
  • Invite your friends and get up to 100% OFF.
  • Buddy up! Save your friends $20.
  • Share the love, get 20% off!

A clear, strong call to action won’t do your referral program any good if your subscribers can’t find it. You have to make that CTA button pop, so they won’t miss it—even if they tried.

Here are some tips to make your CTA button easy to spot:

  • Use contrasting colors.
  • Use white space for visuals breaks.
  • Keep it above the fold if the content of your email is simple and doesn’t require too much explanation.
  • Keep it below the fold if your referral program requires more explanation.

And this is important: If you want your referral CTAs to generate higher conversions, make sure they’re taking your subscribers to a page or a pop-up window that gives them relevant and personalized information.

A referral marketing software like GrowSurf makes it easy to set up a referral program and comes with referrer landing pages out of the box.

Here’s an example referrer page where an embedded CTA button would take a subscriber:

referral emails

6. Time your referral emails

If you want your referral emails to drive more referrals, you must send them to your subscribers at the right moments—right when your subscribers are most happy with your products or services (there are exceptions, but we’ll get into them in a bit).

After all, the whole point of a referral program is to get your loyal customers to recommend your business.

In that context, it doesn’t make sense to ask your recipients for referrals when they haven’t had the chance to experience the value of your products or services yet.

Let’s say you downloaded a productivity app. The moment you sign up and download the app, you receive an email asking you to refer the app to your friends in exchange for some reward.

Sounds pushy if you ask me.

Besides, asking for referrals this early might give subscribers the impression that you’re just in it for the money, not to give them a positive customer experience.

Here are ideal scenarios where it’s best to send referral emails:

  • After the user has achieved a significant milestone while using your product
  • After they have given you a positive NPS rating
  • Following a successful customer service call
  • After a repeat purchase
  • After a user’s free trial has expired (you can offer free months of a premium membership in exchange for referrals)

There are exceptions to the above rule. The right time to send referral emails depends on the nature of your product or service.

For products or services where value is quickly confirmed, it makes sense to ask for a referral right after a purchase.

Here’s a post-purchase referral email by Casper, a retail company that sells mattresses and bedsheets.

referral emails

Source: Really Good Emails

In the Casper example, asking the customer for referrals following a purchase feels natural. Why? Because the customer is likely happy with the purchase already even if the sheets haven’t arrived at her doorstep yet.

7. Test and optimize your emails

Email marketing is an inexact science. While best practices can boost your referrals, you can never tell for sure which referral emails will give you the biggest wins.

So how do you maximize your referral opportunities using email?

One proven method is to test different versions of your referral emails on a small sample size of your subscribers (or segments of subscribers). You can split test (or A/B test) your referral emails.

What is split testing?

ActiveCampaign defines email A/B testing as follows:

“Email A/B testing (also known as split testing) measures response rate to different variations of the same email. Multiple variations of one email are sent to a small number of total recipients to gauge opens and clicks, helping decide which version to use for a larger email campaign.”

Here’s a simple graphic that explains how it works:

referral emails

The great thing about email split testing is that it allows you to experiment with all elements of your email, including:

  • Subject lines
  • Email body
  • Images
  • CTAs

Email A/B testing can help you improve your open rates, click-through rates, conversions (including referral conversions), and ultimately, your revenue.

Split testing has never been more effective. Thanks to robust platforms like ActiveCampaign, you can compare up to five emails at a time (hence the term “A/B/C/D/E” testing), allowing you to test different combinations of the subject line, email body, images, and call to action.

Do you want to know how Morning Brew achieved a daily unique open rate of around 45%?

The brand tested each email subject line five different ways before sending emails to their entire list. To learn how that works, check out this Twitter thread by Morning Brew writer Toby Howell.

referral emails

Source: Twitter

You can start split testing your email campaigns today. You will gain invaluable data and insights that will improve your referral email campaigns over time.

Final Word

Customers are the best salespeople you could ask for. People are more likely to trust the opinions of those they like and know.

Send them engaging referral emails that make them feel their business is appreciated and valued. Once you do, they’ll be more than willing to tell their friends about your brand.