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The Perfect Refer a Friend Email Recipe (With 11 Examples)

Posted by Sandra Petrova | May 14, 2021

Let me guess: 

After much consideration, you've finally selected the most suitable referral program incentive to offer to your existing customers.

But how do you spread the good word about your customer referral program ?

That's easy: you send out a well-designed and thought-out refer-a-friend email.

In fact, informing your customers about your referral campaign in a friendly and creative way is the simplest way to promote your referral program and, ultimately, increase your sales.

Yes, refer-a-friend emails can be an effective tool in any tech startup's arsenal, but how do you craft the perfect one?

In this post, you'll:

  • Learn how to put together an effective refer-a-friend email
  • See examples of some great referral emails tech startups like to use

Let's get started!

What is a Refer-a-Friend Email? 

A refer-a-friend email is simply an email that a company sends out to their customers to inform them of their referral program.

Generally, these emails let customers know what type of reward they'll get in exchange for referring the brand to their friends and family. They can also include any conditions the customer should be aware of, call-to-actions, and enticing visuals.

In short, refer-a-friend emails are the perfect way for your company to:

  • Engage your customers as well as reach out to new prospects.
  • Retain your current customers, giving them the incentive of getting something in return for their referral.
  • Get a wealth of data about your open rate, click rate, etc.

Now bear with me as we go through the top three tips for how to craft your perfect refer-a-friend email.

3 Tips for How to Put Together an Effective Refer-a-Friend Email

  1. Craft an enticing subject line

Here's a fact: the headline is the first thing someone will read when they receive your email. That's why you have to make sure it's catchy and enticing.

Failing to do so can result in a low open rate.

Let's look at two examples:

Example #1: WE HAVE GREAT NEWS! 🥳🥳🥳🥳🥳

Example #2: Stephanie, $30 for you, 30% off for your friends

Which example got your attention?

It's the second one, you guessed well. It's short, it's on-point, and there's a number that attracts your attention. Plus, it's got that personal element. The first one is plain, and the emojis and all caps make it look spammy.

Take a look at some additional best practices to craft the best referral email subject line:

  • Keep it short . A good headline should be clear and to the point. You want it to draw people's attention, but you don't need it to go on forever. Use no more than nine words or 60 characters.

  • Use numbers . Numbers are a good-old tactic for triggering people to read your content. By using a number in the headline, you're instantly hooking the reader's interest.

  • Use power words . They can trigger a psychological or emotional response, making them a fantastic way to get people's attention.

  • Add some emojis . Adding one or two emojis can add a playful element to your subject line. But make sure you don't overuse them, just like in the example above. If you do it right, you can increase your open rate by 29% , as some studies have found.

  • Personalize your subject lines . Consider including the recipient's name in the subject line. Personalization is shown to increase open rates for most users. In fact, a study has found that personalized subject lines have 29% higher open rates than non-personalized subject lines.

  1. Include the basics of your referral program

I don't know if I've mentioned this enough, but here it goes again:

People's attention spans are shrinking by the minute – and we have the information age to blame.

Chances are you're struggling to remain focused while reading this article.

In other words, if your customers took the time to open your email, they'd want to know all the main facts right away – no muss, no fuss.

Inform them why you're sending an email (to invite them to join your referral program) and what you're offering in return (your referral program incentive).

It might be a good strategy to offer more details about the referral program, such as:

  • Is it a one-sided program where only the referrer receives a reward, or is it a two-sided program where both the referrer and the referee are rewarded?

  • How long will the offer stand? Is it a one-time referral, one-month referral, or an ongoing referral program?

  • Is it a tiered program? Does the referrer's reward increase with each referral? 

Keep in mind that the goal of the refer-a-friend email is to convince your customer to join your referral program – nothing more, nothing less.

Your customers may have some questions, but you can always create a referral program landing page to give further information.

  1. Write a clear call-to-action

You succeeded in capturing the customer's attention, and now it's time to convince them to spread the good word.

And how do you do that?

By crafting a great call-to-action (CTA)!

When it comes to CTAs in a refer-a-friend email, you have two options:

  • Take the customer to a different page once they click on the CTA button with more details about how the program works.
  • Give the customer a unique referral code to send to their friends and family right from the email.

Regardless of whether you go with the first or second option, a CTA is a critical component that leads the customer to the next step in the process.

Here are some tips for creating email CTAs that your readers can’t help but click:

  • Pay attention to visual cues . Make sure your button stands out by using white space effectively and contrasts the colors on the rest of the page. If necessary, frame the button to increase the contrast. Make the CTA button large enough to be seen but not overwhelming.

  • Place it above the fold . Customers shouldn't scroll down on the page to find the CTA button. Instead, it should be one of the first things they see. For that reason, you should place it above the fold where it's visible and makes sense. Adding more than one CTA button is also a common practice, especially if your email is longer.

  • Keep it short . Two or three words is best but no more than five or six.

  • Be sure to use actionable words to compel the customer to click . They're called calls to action, after all. You may want to avoid overused words like "enter," "click here," or "submit." Instead, opt for calls to action like "refer your friends," "share your unique referral link," "invite friends and get 20%," etc.

  • Create a sense of urgency . Even a tiny thing like adding the word "now" can increase your conversion rate. For example, you can say "join now" or "get 20% off this weekend only."

Bonus Tips for Writing Refer a Friend Emails

  • Entice your customers with a cool image or GIF that's on-brand . Did you know that people are highly visual creatures? We respond to and process visual data better than any other type of data. The human brain can process images 60,000 times faster than text! Whether you use an image of your product or a gif that shows what customers are getting with your referral program, the goal of the visuals is to capture the customer's attention.

  • Personalize your email . Here's another refer-a-friend marketing idea: speak to customers like they're your friends. Interact with your audience and customers in a way that feels personal and human. Personalization is more than just inserting the customer's name into the email. It also involves sending the right message to the right person at the right time.

  • Make it easy for people to refer. A good referral email makes it easy for customers to share your brand with others. If a customer has to jump from one page to another just to send a referral, they’ll likely get frustrated and give up. In the email, you want to include a link to the customer's referral form or a referral link they can send to others directly without any added steps.

11 Examples of Referral Email Designs to Get You Inspired

Digit (B2C) 

Digit is an app that automates your finances. In short, it tracks what comes in and out of your bank to determine how much you can save. What's more, it moves small amounts each 
day to help you reach your short and long-term savings goals.

Why we like this refer-a-friend email example:  

  • It has a clear call-to-action "refer your friends, boost your savings" that tempts people to take action.
  • It gives people the option to invite friends through a unique referral link, email, Facebook, or Twitter.
  • It lets people know it's a one-sided referral program where the referrer gets $5 for every friend they refer.
  • The email features an account update, where customers can see how much money the app has helped them save, which can motivate them to keep using the app.

Postable (B2C) 

Postable is a card service app that makes sending snail mail as easy as sending an email. People can choose to send cards for all kinds of occasions, including graduation, birthdays, and weddings. Postable will print, stuff, stamp, address, and mail all of your cards directly to everyone for you.

Why we like this refer-a-friend email example:  

  • The short headline tells the customer exactly what they're going to get for referring a friend ($5 for each referral).
  • A simple call-to-action takes the customer to a different page that explains the referral program in more detail.
  • The GIF is visually appealing and fun. It also shows customers what they're getting.
  • Their choice of yellow color is very impactful – it increases cheerfulness and warmth.

Coinbase (B2C)

Coinbase is an app that makes it easy to buy and sell cryptocurrency. It's the largest cryptocurrency trading platform in the U.S. It lets users trade more than 50 cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin, ethereum, and litecoin.

Why we like this refer-a-friend email example:  

  • The headline really catches your attention. For every referral, Coinbase will give customers a free coin. That seems like a great opportunity customers wouldn't want to miss.
  • The short text beneath the headline further explains how the referral program works. It tells customers that it's a two-sided program where both parties get $10 of free Bitcoin.
  • The first call-to-action button is right above the fold, nicely designed in blue, so it contrasts the rest of the page. There's a second CTA at the end of the email.
  • The email also explains the referral process by breaking it down into three simple steps, with attractive icons and readable copy.

Treehouse (B2C) 

Treehouse is an e-learning technology platform that offers online courses and workshops in tech-related subjects like web design, web development, and mobile development.

Why we like this refer-a-friend email example:  

  • It contains a personal greeting element ("Hi Matthew") which dramatically improves customer experience and makes it more likely for the customer to read the email.
  • It starts the email with a question, "Did you know you can get a free account if you refer 5 friends," which engages the customer.
  • A powerful "share the love" copy that can make customers feel good about themselves.
  • It introduces a tiered referral program where the referrer gets 20% off for every friend who joins. If five friends join, the referrer's account will be totally free. The referees also get a 50% discount.

Digital Ocean (B2C)

Digital Ocean is a professional cloud hosting provider geared towards advanced users, offering a myriad of customizable and combinable options.

Why we like this refer-a-friend email example:  

  • The headline clearly explains the double-sided referral reward (the referrer gives $10 to the referee and gets $25 in return).
  • The email includes an ocean-themed GIF (Digital Ocean – get it?) that's consistent with the brand and further highlights what the customer will get.
  • Customers are left with a choice: they can either share their unique referral link or click the CTA button to invite their friends from Digital Ocean's dashboard.

Webflow (B2B and B2C) 

Webflow is a website builder that lets designers build professional, custom websites in a completely visual canvas with no code.

Why we like this refer-a-friend email example:  

  • The referral email gets right to the point with an enticing offer ("get beta access faster").
  • The referral program incentive is very tempting (beta access for people who refer the most friends). Even better, it's a milestone incentive, meaning the more people the customer refers, the faster they will get access.
  • Giving early access to customers is a great strategy that has helped companies gain new users fast.
  • The customer's unique referral link is included in the email, which they can simply copy and paste. Social sharing is also possible from within the email.

Thumbtack (B2B and B2C) 

Thumbtack is an online marketplace that connects local professionals with people who need their services for projects.

Why we like this refer-a-friend email example:  

  • It contains a personal greeting element ("Hi Matthew") which greatly improves customer experience and engages the customer.
  • The email copy is on-point and clearly explains the benefits and conditions of the referral program – all in a fun and engaging way.
  • The CTA button contrasts the rest of the page, making it impossible for the customer not to notice it.

Setapp (B2C) 

Setapp is a subscription-based service app that provides access to curated Mac and iOS apps.

Why we like this refer-a-friend email example:  

  • A fantastic thing about this email is the timing. The company smartly sends the email to the customer while they're in the middle of their trial period. By simply referring their friends to Setapp, the referrer can extend their free trial to half a year.
  • The copy of the email clearly explains the conditions of the referral program, which is a limit of six referrals that can get the referrer six months of Setapp.
  • The CTA button is placed above the fold, making it incredibly easy for the customer to see it and take action. It also nicely contrasts the rest of the page. There's a second CTA button at the bottom of the page.
  • There's a short text below the fold that further explains how the referral program works. It features cool icons and easy-to-follow guidelines.

Airbnb (B2C)

Airbnb is an online marketplace connecting people who want to rent out their homes with people who want to rent a place in a specific area.

Why we like this refer-a-friend email example:  

  • The headline appeals to customers by inviting them to share their love of travel (intrinsic reward).
  • By using three short sentences, Airbnb gives all the details the customers should know about the referral program.
  • It's a simple reward system where the referrer earns $30 when the referee makes their first trip. The email informs the customer that it's a two-sided program where their friend also receives a reward ($30 in free travel credit).
  • The CTA button is on-brand and in contrast with the rest of the elements.

Finimize (B2C)

Finimize is an app that aims to help users become financially literate. It connects them with opinions and financial news to make smarter investing decisions and help secure their long-term financial future.

Why we like this refer-a-friend email example:  

  • The company starts the email by thanking the user for being a loyal reader.
  • The email is personal, speaking to the reader directly as if the reader is their friend. This approach can make the reader feel more valued, and it also builds trust and assurance.
  • What's more, the email lists all the referral program incentives the reader can win by joining the program. Even better, there's a myriad of impressive rewards, from access to premium content to brand swag.
  • The email doesn't leave the reader wondering what they're supposed to do. It clearly explains the conditions of the referral program, and readers can easily get their referral form by following the link in the email.

GasBuddy (B2C)

GasBuddy is a gas price app that lets you find and report gas prices.

Why we like this refer-a-friend email example:  

  • The email catches the eye with a playful GIF that features a neon heart light. Inside the heart, there's a catchy copy that reads, "share the love & the savings." 
  • The "Special Offer" headline is as clear as it gets.
  • It contains two enticing call-to-action buttons: "Share now" and "Read on."

Key Takeaways 

If you want to increase your referral rate, the three main tips for creating a successful refer-a-friend email are as follows:

  • Craft an enticing subject line that will lure people to open your refer-a friend email.
  • Next, include the basics of your referral program in order to educate new customers about what it is and why they should sign up (i.e., brand swag).
  • Finally, make sure there's a clear call to action (or two) so that those receiving this email know exactly what's expected from them.

Simply follow these three tips and your emails should be successful!

Ready to take the next step? GrowSurf makes it easy to get started with a referral program for a tech startup, and the first 14 days are free!

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