Over the past year, the ReferralCandy blog has been analyzing and dissecting all sorts of word-of-mouth successes: Established brands, new ideas on Kickstarter, and everything in between.

We’ve read countless books and studies about the subject: Made to Stick, Tipping Point, Unleashing the Ideavirus, Contagious… you name it, we’ve probably read it.

We’ve learned a lot.

So we’ve decided to take everything that we’ve learned and put it all in a coherent narrative for your benefit.

Let’s dig into the examples!

(Click to jump to relevant section)

  • A: Make a Wow product – Create something worth talking about
    • A1: Unexpected Utility
    • A2: Meaningful Story
  • B: Seed the Wow  – Make sure it gets into the hands of people who’ll want to talk about it
    • Reach out to People 1-1
    • Reach out to Influencers
    • Piggyback off of events
    • Create your own events
    • Join a community
    • Create your own community
    • Leverage Scarcity, Exclusivity, FOMO
    • Publish Quality Content
  • C: Just Add Grease – Make it as easy as possible to people to do the talking
    • Tap into triggers
    • Align yourself with a relevant cause or tribe
    • Use referral programs
  • Recap of Links

A: Start with Wow

# Examples of Unexpected Utility: New Product Class

1: Apple iPhone

steve-jobs-iphone

Like the iPod before it, the iPhone broke into a new class of products.

It allowed people to do more with their mobile device than they were ever able to before. This made it immensely newsworthy, despite its initial flaws.

As of March 2015, over 700,000,000 iPhones have been sold.

Learn More: 8 Examples Of How Apple Generates Word-Of-Mouth All Over The World

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2: Dropbox

Prior to Dropbox, online storage was clunky, unwieldy and unreliable. Most people used thumbdrives or physical storage, and lived in fear of losing their data.
Dropbox allowed people to simply, easily access their files from everywhere– it was a game-changer worth talking about.

Today, Dropbox has over 400 million registered users and is valued at $10 billion dollars.

Learn more: How Referrals Built The $10 Billion Dropbox Empire

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3: Tesla Model S

tesla-model-s

Tesla’s Model S wasn’t the first electric car in a world driven by gasoline, but it was the first to become a status symbol: sexy, reliable, and safe. It’s been acknowledged by multiple motoring authorities to be an all-around superior vehicle.

The car earned its place in motoring history by earning the highest safety rating in America, while being rated by Consumer Reports as the “best car ever tested”.

Learn More: Tesla’s “$0 Marketing Budget” Is Great Marketing

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4: Lily

Lily Camera Drone

Drones with cameras have been around for some time, but Lily is noteworthy for being incredibly user-friendly. You wear a tracker, throw the drone in the air, and it’ll follow and film you as you perform all sorts of cool snowboarding tricks.

Lily has gotten a phenomenal amount of press attention before even being released, with delightful headlines like “Lily is your personal, flying stalker and we love it” and “Selfies and drones collide with Lily cam”.

Read more: 10 Companies that Generated Word-of-Mouth by Delivering Immense Practical Value

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# Examples of Unexpected Utility: Best-in-Class Products

5: The Coolest Cooler

coolest-cooler-features

Why would anybody want to talk about a cooler? It’s a box that you put your drinks in.

Well, the Coolest Cooler does much more than that– it’s got Bluetooth speakers, a blender, a USB charger, an LED lid light… and that’s not even half of it.

They raised $13 million dollars on Kickstarter–260 times their $50,000 target!

Learn more: Deciphering The Coolest Cooler: How A Tricked Out Cooler Box Climbed To The Top Of Kickstarter Through Word-Of-Mouth

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6: Under Armour

Under Armour I Will What I Want Misty Copeland Droga5

UA’s founder Kevin Plank was dissatisfied with the quality of moisture-wicking sweatshirts on the market.

So he used $17,000 of his own money to make 500 sweatshirts, and sent them to his former teammates who were now in the NFL. They loved it.

Today, UA has overtaken Adidas to be the 2nd highest-grossing sports brand in the world (after Nike.)

Learn More: 4 Ways How Under Armour Grew via Word-of-Mouth to Eventually Overtake Adidas

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7: Google Search

yahoo google comparison ReferralCandy

Google wasn’t the first search engine in the world. There were many.

But Google was the easiest to use, and consistently gave the best results. So people would tell their friends to use it, and once they used it, it stuck.

Today, Google’s at the heart of of a multi-billion dollar search advertising industry, which allows it to attempt all kinds of thrilling “impact a billion people” projects.

Learn more: 6 Ways Google Generated Word-of-Mouth For Their Products

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# Examples of Meaningful Storytelling

8: GoldieBlox

goldieblox-referrals

GoldieBlox isn’t pitched as just another toy marketed at girls.

Rather, it’s sold as a movement, a way of improving the world by correcting the gender inequality in engineering.

They raised over $285,000 on Kickstarter, smashing their $150,000 goal.

Learn more: Educational Toys Referral Program Examples: GoldieBlox

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9: Everlane

Everlane Transparent Pricing slim fit shirt

On the surface, Everlane sells classy, minimalist clothing.

But it’s not just about clothes, it’s about ‘Radical Transparency’. They share every bit of information about their costs and suppliers, which won them a loyal fanbase of conscientious consumers.

They reportedly earned $12 million revenue in 2013, and expected to triple the amount the following year.

Learn More: 5 Ways Fashion Retailer Everlane Earned Insane Word-of-Mouth

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10: TOMS

toms-shoes-blake-mycoskie

When you buy a pair of TOMS, you aren’t just buying a pair of shoes, you’re making the world a better place while you do it. Every pair you buy means somebody else gets a pair, too.

Today, they’re a $300m+ company that has given away over 45 million pairs of shoes to charity.

Learn more: How TOMS Shoes Built A Multi-Million-Dollar Movement With Word-of-Mouth (And Gave Away Millions Of Shoes)

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11: GoPro

GoPro HERO3 surf

GoPro isn’t just a camera, but a tool to inspire you to live your life as a thrilling adventure worth documenting. If you want to “Go Pro”… you get a GoPro.
GoPro’s sales have DOUBLED every year since 2012, selling nearly 10 million cameras in 2014.

Learn More: 3 Ways GoPro Became Synonymous with Action Cameras Thanks to Word-of-Mouth

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B: Seed Discovery

# Reach out to people 1-1

12: Bonobos

bonobos-andy-dunn

“We did trunk shows. We did pants parties. I took a duffel bag of pants wherever I went, including to weddings in LA and in Hawaii where I still get grief for being the guy hawking pants at brunch or over poolside mai-tai’s.” – Bonobos CEO Andy Dunn

In addition to its successful ecommerce presence, Bonobos’ pants are now stocked across the country in stores like Nordstrom. The company is set to grow even larger, recently raised $125 million in investments.

Learn more: Fashion Referral Program Examples – A List of 10 Snazzy Referral Programs in Fashion Ecommerce

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13: Pinterest

pinterest-ben-silbermann

“Instead of changing the product, I thought maybe I could just find people like me.” – Ben Silbermann

Pinterest acquired its early users by organizing meet-ups at local boutiques, taking pictures of attendees and engaging with bloggers to do invitation campaigns like “Pin It Forward.”

Fast forward to 2015, Pinterest has a user base of over 100 million users, which includes a whopping 42% of all female internet users in the USA.

Learn More: How Pinterest Grew From Being Stuck At 3,000 to 73 Million Users Using Word-Of-Mouth

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14: Coca-Cola

CokeFormula1

In 1888, when business mogul Asa Candler had just taken over Coca-Cola, it was a five-cent soda fountain drink that sold about nine glasses a day on average.

Candler gave away coupons for free Coca-Cola to consumers. He then gave free barrels of Coca-Cola syrup to stores reluctant to stock the drink. When customers with coupons flocked to those stores, store owners quickly returned as paying customers.

Today, it’s estimated that 1.7 billion servings of Coke are served every day.

Learn More: 9 Examples Of How Coca-Cola Generates Word-Of-Mouth (and Happiness!)

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# Target Influencers

15: Modcloth

ModCloth holiday Sweaters Scarcity ReferralCandy

Modcloth named its dresses after stars of the fashion blogosphere. This flattered influencers and made them look good, so they naturally were incentivized to share Modcloth with their audiences.

The company shipped 1.6 million orders in 2013, experiencing 37% growth from 2012.

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16: One Kings Lane

One Kings Lane blogger outreach

In its “Reflect Your Style” campaign, One Kings Lane invited bloggers to create a moodboard of their dream vanity with decorative accents. Hundreds of prolific home decor bloggers responded to the invite, helping One Kings Lane to dominate multiple home decor search terms on Google.

One Kings Lane is now set to become the king of home goods ecommerce with a recent valuation pinning the company at an impressive $912 million.

Learn More: What Successful Brands Know About Blogger Outreach: 6 Case Studies

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17: Tinder

Tinder party word of mouth ReferralCandy

In its early days, the modern dating app focused on college students. They wisely hired “college campus reps” and put them in charge of really penetrating the student populace.

These influencers would organize college parties, with guests either having to download the app to enter, or to find a date on Tinder before they were allowed in.
In just two years, dating app Tinder had acquired 50 million users– each of them logging into the app an average 11 times a day.

Learn More: How Tinder Obtained More Than 50 Million Users Through Word-of-Mouth

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# Piggyback off other events

18: Twitter at SXSW

One of the 60 inch plasma screens along the SXSW hallways.

Twitter is a behemoth now, but it really first took off in 2007 at SXSW, by streaming tweets about the conference on huge plasma screen TVs in the halls.
After the event, Twitter’s daily tweets exploded from 20,000 to 60,000 which began the momentum that’s snowballed into 500 million daily tweets.

Learn More: How 13 Successful Companies Fought For Their First Customers

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19: Pebble

Pebble Authority ReferralCandy

The Pebble Time was announced as just as the world was obsessing over the Apple Watch, cementing it as the top competitor to the main contender.
This resulted in the Pebble Time nabbing an incredible amount of press and raising $20.3 million during its Kickstarter campaign.

Learn More: How Pebble Sold A Million Watches With Word-Of-Mouth: 6 Tactics and Examples

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20: Samsung

Ellen Degeneres’s Oscar Selfie is the most retweeted tweet in history.

The photo was shot on a sponsored Samsung phone, which gave the brand millions of impressions in the following weeks.

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# Create your own events

21: Warby Parker

warby-parker-models-library

Warby Parker sells glasses. They badly wanted to capture the attention of the fashion editors at New York Fashion Week ’11, but couldn’t afford to participate.

So they sent out invites to a “secret show” at the New York Public Library. They had people in the seats, and swapped them with models right at showtime.

The editors were so impressed, they all wrote positive reviews of the brand, saying it effectively “stole the show”.

In March 2015, CNN Money reported that Warby Parker could be worth as much as $1.2 billion.

Learn More: How Warby Parker Earned Word-of-Mouth By Using Storytelling And Remarkable Experiences (8+ Examples)

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22: Red Bull Stratos

red-bull-stratos

Buying billboard space through sponsorships is too passé for an energetic brand like Red Bull. They get directly involved and organize hundreds events by themselves.

The Stratos Jump was the most epic of all: Over 8 million people watched the jump live as he took the leap.

Learn More: Building A Powerful Brand Through Earned Word-of-Mouth: 8 Reasons Why Red Bull Is Freaking Awesome

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23: Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show

victoria-secret-fashion-show-marketing

From its humble beginnings 18 years ago with a $120,000 budget, each year the show kicks it up a notch– establishing itself as the event for the world’s glitterati to be seen at.

Now every show has tens of millions of viewers worldwide glued to their screens.

Advertising revenue surpasses the cost of the show (in 2013, this was $16m to $12m), and tickets cost between $12,500 to $14,000.

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24: CrossFit

CrossFit community Divine CrossFit word of mouth ReferralCandy

The CrossFit Games is the Olympic games of CrossFit, where CrossFitters from all over the world compete for the prestigious title of the “first man or woman in the world”.

Debuting in 2007, the competition details are kept secret until the actual day. The secrecy prevents participants from training for specific events, so their overall fitness is put to the ultimate test.

CrossFit has since grown to become a worldwide sensation, from having 250 affiliate gyms in 2007 to over 9,000 in 2014.

Learn More: How CrossFit Became A Worldwide Craze Through Word-of-Mouth

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# Join Existing Communities

25: Beardbrand

Beardbrand Simple ReferralCandy

“Our urban beardsman connect with the brand and the image and are loyal to us. It’s been a riveting experience and we are happy to interact with our clients on a one to one basis.” – Eric Bandholz

Beardbrand united Beardsmen across the world under its banner and transformed from a $0 to a $120k/month business in just one year.

Learn more: Shopify Customer Acquisition Examples – 15 Marketing Insights From Successful Shopify Stores

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26: Etsy

etsy-craftster

Etsy’s founders used to run a web design shop and were working on getcrafty.com for one of their projects, when they discovered the need for a marketplace for handmade crafts.

So, while building Etsy, they reached out to the craft community on getcrafty.com and Craftster.org, which had an even larger userbase.
By the time they launched, they already had a lot of interest generated among the two platforms, and that helped get the required inventory and start off transactions on Etsy.

Etsy is now NASDAQ-listed company on the with a yearly revenue of $500 million.

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# Start Your Own Community

27: Black Milk’s Sharkies

Black Milk Star Wars Swimsuits word of mouth ReferralCandy

Black Milk sells all sorts of nylon leggings, and they have a very loyal following on social media. They call themselves “Sharkies”, after the shark emoticon on Facebook.

Black Milk is now a multi-million dollar business with 150 staff.

Learn more: 3 Ways Black Milk Clothing Created a Crazily-Loyal Fan Base Through Word-of-Mouth

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28: Threadless

The wonderful staff behind Threadless

Threadless is a T-shirt site that crowdsources its T-shirt designs.

It made its mark by rewarding designers handsomely, and became a rallying point and voice against the often exploitative methods of design crowdsourcing.
Threadless now has an estimated yearly revenue of over $30 million.

Learn more: 4 Ways T-Shirt Company Threadless Built a Fanatical Community Through Word-of-Mouth

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29: Lululemon

Staff in Lululemon stores are more like yoga buddies than sales staff – they’ll happily chat with customers about yoga and goal setting, while retail stores transform into yoga studios on weekends.

People build lasting relationships with one another, with the brand at the heart of it all.

Lululemon is now a publicly listed company with 302 stores and almost 3,000 employees.

Learn More: 4 Tactics Lululemon Uses to Leverage Word-of-Mouth For Their Brand

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# Leverage Scarcity, Exclusivity and ‘FOMO’

30: Gmail Invites

Gmail invite a friend pop up Google Word of Mouth

Gmail is now the most popular email service in the world, but before it earned its crown, Gmail relied on creating intrigue and scarcity through an invite-only system.

Users could only get on Gmail if they received an invite from a pre-existing user.

Invites were in such high demand some people resorted to buying them off eBay for over $200.

Learn More: 6 Ways Google Generated Word-of-Mouth For Their Products

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31: Facebook

The Facebook Social Currency Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy
Unlike its predecessors MySpace and Friendster, which were open to all, Facebook started as a service only for Ivy League students. It required a valid Ivy League email to access. In this early, exclusive form, curiosity about Facebook bubbled in college circles.

When the service expanded and allowed more users in, the initial hype contributed to a massive influx of new users– almost 1.5 billion active users today.

Learn More: What Did News Articles Say About Facebook In The Early 2000s?

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# Publish Quality Content

32: Blendtec

Blendtec WIll It Blend Credibility ReferralCandy

Blendtec’s “Will It Blend” was a series of web shorts where the Blendtec blender was put the test blending a variety of unusual objects (an iPhone, action figures, a brick, etc.)

The idea is a funny one, and lots of people are curious to watch expensive items like iPhones get blended up. But the star of the show is always the blender itself, and how its blades seem to be able to blend absolutely anything.

Blendtec’s “Will It Blend” videos have racked up 265 million views on Youtube and launched Blendtec blenders into kitchens across the globe.

Learn more: See For Yourself! 12 Examples of Credibility in Marketing

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33: Chipotle

Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 1.10.36 am

Chipotle has put great efforts into producing high-quality content to voice its support for sustainable farming, ranging from the cinema-ready campaign “Farmed And Dangerous” to “Back To The Start” screened during the Grammys.

Chipotle’s content has been incredibly well received, with campaigns creating up to 300 million PR impressions.

Learn More: 9 Examples Of How Chipotle’s Word-Of-Mouth Marketing Strategy Works Its Magic

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34: Pornhub

pornhub-state-statistics

Pornhub’s unique access to tantalizing data about the porn consumption habits of people around the world allowed them to collaborate with content channels to create an eye-opening view into Earth’s discreet preferences.

The Pornhub network is now the largest adult entertainment site with approximately 20 million unique visitors a day.

Learn More: 7 SFW Examples Of How Pornhub Generates Word-Of-Mouth

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35: Snapchat

snapchat-nyc-life

Every day, Snapchat shares “stories” from around the world– compilations of everyday Snapchat users’ Snaps from a particular region. You might see Mumbai, Moscow or Mecca through the eyes of dozens of locals, as they share their daily lives.

It’s a compelling, unscripted glimpse into what’s going on in the world. You never quite know what to expect tomorrow, so you log in again.
In just 4 years, Snapchat has grown to over 100 million daily users who send over 700 million snaps a day.

Learn more: How Snapchat Grew Into A $10b+ Social Media Behemoth Through Word-of-Mouth

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C: Just Add Grease

36: Tap into triggers.

Examples of Triggers Used in Marketing Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

If you can associate your product with some external stimuli, people will remember your product and share it more.

  • Rebecca Black’s Friday still gets a surge of search traffic every Friday.
  • A Japanese ad in the 1970s pitched KFC as a Christmas treat– and people in Japan still eat KFC on Christmas to this day.

Learn More: Gotta Get Down On Friday: 13 Examples of Triggers Used in Marketing

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37: Align yourself with a relevant cause or tribe.

Customer-Acquisition-Lessons-from-7-Great-Social-Movements-FI-5

If your product represents an idea or movement people care about, and it makes sense for your brand, lean into that.

Doc Marten’s made workman’s boots, but became a legendary brand after being co-opted by punk rock culture.

Learn More: Customer Acquisition Lessons from 7 Great Social Movements

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38: Leverage social currency and/or group dynamics.

15 Examples of Social Currency used in marketing Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

  • Ship Your Enemies Glitter was a “silly idea” that sold for $85,000 after it exploded in popularity.
  • Emoji Masks was a side-project that made over $50,000 in 60 days.

Learn More: Your Friends Will Be Sooo Impressed! 15 Examples of Social Currency Used in Marketing

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# Use Referral Programs

39: PayPal

paypal-referrals

PayPal effectively pioneered online referral marketing and its resounding success was what inspired Dropbox to do the same. They literally gave people money for getting their friends to sign up for a PayPal account. (It was Elon Musk’s idea, incidentally.)

In its heyday, PayPal’s referral program helped it to grow at 7-10% a day, catapulting its user base to over 100 million members.

Learn more: The Original #GrowthHackers: How PayPal Achieved 7-10% Daily Growth In The Early 2000s

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40: Airbnb

referrals-at-airbnb

Airbnb was founded in 2008 as “AirBed & Breakfast” to provide short-term living quarters for travellers. It’s grown tremendously since, expanding all over the world to over 50 million users in over 57,000 cities.

Fun Fact: A celebrity in China named Anthony single-handedly referred thousands of signups and hundreds of bookings in the first month of using Airbnb’s referral program.

Learn More: Growth, Referrals And Getting The Job Done: What Airbnb’s Growth Team Has Learnt

41: Leesa

leesa-referral-links-twitter

Leesa sells comfortable, affordable mattresses with a 100-night sleep guarantee.

They have over 3,000 advocates referring friends to their store, with one third of their total sales coming through their referral program.

Learn More: Referring Friends To A Good Night’s Sleep – Ecommerce Growth Lessons From Leesa

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42: GREATS

greats-referral-page

GREATS is a Brooklyn-based sneaker brand founded by industry veterans who were frustrated with the costs of an inefficient system. They discovered that selling directly to customers allowed them to sell their shoes for half the price in half the time.

Despite a relatively minimal marketing budget, GREATS gets a phenomenal amount of word-of-mouth through customer referrals online.

Learn More: Footwear Referral Program Examples: Greats

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Well, that’s a lot of links! Here’s all of them again, for convenience’s sake: