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How to Run An Effective Referral Program for Food Businesses

Melinda Curle
Melinda Curle
August 21, 2018
2 min read
How to Run An Effective Referral Program for Food Businesses

Food referral programs can make or break your business. When you are running a restaurant, a meal delivery service business, a subscription box service for snacks or healthy foods or any other food-related business, referral programs help bring in new customers and encourage repeat customers.

Effective referral programs have a targeted promotion, use incentives that fit their customers and have strong advocates.

This holds true too for food referral programs. Each food-related business is unique, which means that you need to discover what your customers love about your business and get them talking about that. There is no sense in applying a one-size-fits-all approach, however, if you know all the components, you can put together a successful program.

How to Create a Referral Program for your Food Business

In this post, we'll discuss some ideas on how to set up and create a great referral program for F&B businesses. Once you've set it up, you'll want to let it run for a bit, and then come back and analyse how it performed in order to make the right tweaks. Click to jump to either section, or keep reading to see the steps.

food marketing referral program - Naturebox

First and foremost, you'll want to create a referral program and run it for a while to determine its efficacy.

  • If your business is online, you can use a referral program such as Referral Candy.
  • Almost all businesses can benefit from reaching out & working with influencers
  • If it's a brick-and-mortar store offer special deals with people in the neighbourhood, or even offer a restaurant punch card

It is up to you which ones you start with, but here are some tips to improve your success with your referral program.

Steps to Creating a Great Referral Program

1. A Simple but Great Headline

Quickly gaining the attention of your customers and potential customers through a catchy headline is a great strategy. If you can gain their attention with one short sentence and explain the benefit of joining at the same time your customers are likely to take action. A catchy headline intrigues customers and when they are intrigued, they are more likely to learn more and share it with their friends.

food referral program

LoveWithFood uses a snappy Give $10, Get $10

Here are some sample headlines to get you started…

Some great examples of good headlines get to the point quickly, use numbers and explain the benefits of joining. Here are a few examples of great headlines:

  • Share with your friends and get $10
  • Refer and You Shall Receive
  • Let's Help Each Other Out - Give $100 and get $100 for yourself. It's how we say Thanks!
  • Share the Love, Spread the Love and get $25 when your friends sign up
  • Share the Love Spread the love, and get $25 when your friends sign up
  • Help us Help You Invite your friends and earn a free ride
  • Call on your friends to help, you both can earn $10
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2. Strike Up a Conversation with Customers - and then Promote the Program

Referral programs get quickly forgotten about when the customers aren't actively making purchases or if the rewards are constantly the same. Finding reasons to promote your customer referral program gives your referring partners additional reasons to share their referral links.

The calendar gives you plenty of reasons to create campaigns and run promotions because it is smattered with holidays. You can create referral bonuses with Thanksgiving themes, Christmas themes, Valentine's Day themes. The list goes on and on! Use these holidays to promote your referral program.

How to use holidays to promote your referral program…

One example of using a holiday to promote your referral marketing program is a Valentine's Day "Spread the Love" program. You can give a discount to customers and their friends during the entire month of February.

Don't feel confined by the regular holidays in the calendar, either. You can create your own special customer appreciation days and celebrate them on a yearly basis. Consider celebrating a business milestone, an anniversary. Then tie your business celebration in with your referral program promotion. In the example below, NatureBox used the Superbowl as a reason to create a promotion.

food referral program - Naturebox

Dunkin' Donuts ties in with sports teams to offer discounts and promotions

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3. Create Landing Page with a FAQ for your Referral Program

Your landing page design for your referral program should be professional looking. Make sure that it doesn't seem to overcrowded. You want to ensure that you aren't bombarding customers with large blocks of text to read. This can lead them to losing interest and moving on without signing up. They most likely won't read the details anyway, so you want to be as succinct as possible. If at all possible, you want to be explaining the fundamentals of your referral program in the headline.

Create a dedicated FAQ page…

How do you cover all the details and important facts? That's simple. Add in a FAQ section. This allows you to be more descriptive and explain the program further. It will also cover all the common questions that your customers may be asking. You can cover questions like when and how the rewards are given. Plus, creating a targeted FAQ is also one tactic to acquire new customers.

create faq to acquire customers
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4. Great imagery can help you create excitement.

As you are creating your referral program, you want to generate excitement and enthusiasm for it. Therefore, you should include eye-catching images of your food and drinks!

Pictures of food are highly likely to be shared online. Most importantly, great images will do the talking for you. They will tempt your customers and tantalize them.

Whether you are using the images to explain the referral process or you simply want to show off one of the rewards that they can earn, it is highly likely that it will create intrigue and interest in your program.

Another benefit of having great images is that they break up the text on the page (much like what we're doing here!). Customers are more likely to stay engaged on websites with great images as opposed to pages with a huge block of text.

Taster - Delicious Food Photography

food referral program - youfoodz

Good food photography is a cornerstone of effective F&B marketing

Sharing images of online food business is very effective. Meal prep kits, snacks, meat deliver services can benefit from sharing pictures of their products as people will visualise having that type of food on their table.

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5. Launch a refer-a-friend program

Having an effective "Refer a friend" program is a great way to give back to your customers and have them do some of the heavy lifting of marketing for you. You can reward your referrers as they share their link on social media or when their friends make purchases from your online store. This helps your customers feel appreciated and it helps you to generate some new business and acquire new customers.

If your reward is great enough, your loyal customers will be excited to share their purchases with their friends. It creates a win-win situation where everyone feels great. When customers know they are appreciated and want to earn rewards, they become more engaged in your brand.

How to reward your advocate and their friends…

In the example below, freego, a gluten-free company, rewards the referrers and the friends who get referred with ten pounds to spend at

food referral program - freego
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6. Make it discoverable (links, emails)

A referral program is worthless if your customers are unaware of it. You should have a dedicated referral program area on your website. In addition to this, you need to make the program discoverable to any customer. When the customers visit your website can they easily see it? Is it in your menu? In the example below, we can see that Atlas proudly displays its referral program along with their shopping cart. It is easily discoverable.

food referral program - atlas

In addition to prominently displaying it on your website, consider what your customers have access to. Are they on Facebook and twitter or are you able to connect with them better through emails? Do you send out "thank you" emails to your customers after they make a purchase from your ecommerce store? This may be a great time to notify them of your referral program. Do you manage a blog along with your store? Creating a blog post about the program is a great way to spread the word. You should start with the most effective methods of communicating with your customers and then utilize all the channels of communication as an opportunity to share your program.

Best places to promote your referral link…

Here are other great places to mention or add a link to your referral program.

  1. Email Body/Images
  2. Email Signature Newsletter
  3. Thank You Page
  4. Purchase Confirmation
  5. Page Invoices
  6. Fliers (or other items that you physically send to your customers)
  7. Side Menus (or ad space on your website)
  8. Blog
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7. Establish Partnerships with Influencers

Engaging other people in promoting your referral program can take a bit of effort, but it is well worth it.

How to find micro-influencers and review sites

You'll want to partner up with YouTubers or bloggers that have an audience that would love your products. For example, if your business is focused on the vegan movement, you can partner up with vegan YouTubers by sending them products in-kind for their review or work with them further by providing some sort of compensation for helping to promote your brand.

naturebox sponsorship

Blogger Jo My Gosh combined a review, a giveaway contest and shared a referral coupon code in the same blog

The larger the subscriber base, the more people a review of your site will reach. Influencers with larger audiences may charge greater amounts of money. You may want to start with smaller bloggers and YouTubers to test the waters with your referral program first.

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Analyzing Your Referral Program

It is always important to analyze and determine what promotions are working, which ones you need to continue and which ones you should dump. Here are some great steps to analyze whether your food-related business referral program is working.

1. Analyze Your Customer

You should make sure that your messaging is right for your audience. Even in food businesses, there are ideal customers, picky eaters and people who don't want anything to do with you! (Think vegans vs. carnivores) Make sure that you are targeting and attracting the right customer. More than 65% of marketers say that referral marketing attracts loyal, satisfied and profitable customers. This tends to happen when you encourage referrals from your existing loyal, satisfied and profitable customers. Making these customers the primary target of your program that promotes referrals. Figure out what is important to them and how you can reward them effectively for sharing your business and giving you referrals.

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2. Design and User Experience is Important for Food Referral Programs

Some programs are so complicated, you never make any progress with them or even bother. I have seen social media campaigns that wanted me to complete ten different steps to earn a discount. If it isn't simple, your customer likely won't do it. To guarantee success, make the program easy to use. It must be crystal clear what the program is and what your customers will get out of it. The most successful referral marketing programs also include benefits and rewards both for the referrer and referee, simple sign up methods and simple eligibility criteria.

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3. Select Rewards Your Customers Will Value

Don't try to reward your customers with that product that didn't sell last month. It may be fine for a giveaway, but it may not be the best way to motivate your customers to share your business with their friends. You also want to keep your budget in mind. Not every company can give away deep discounts on their products. Make sure that you are rewarding your customers with something that you can afford. Examining your inventory for low-selling items that can be used as a giveaway is a strategy that won't eat too much away at your bottom line.

You should start by asking yourself, "What are my customers motivated by?" This will vary based on your ideal customers and their values. If they are most interested in saving money, a discount will be more important to them than a donation to a charitable cause in their name. With more high end customers, they may value a unique experience more.

food referral program - Youfoodz

YouFoodz literally offers Free Lunch as a reward - possibly why they succeeded in a competitive market

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4. Promote Your Food Referral Program

The most effective referral marketing programs provide a program that is easy to discover. Therefore, all the key touch-points that your customers have with your brand should feature information regarding your referral program. It should be on your website, social media pages and blog posts.

You should include bold calls to action on your homepage. This can be included on your top navigation, sidebar and even in your footer. Send out information about your referral programs in your email communications. Most importantly, you should email your customer list and your ambassador list the "refer a friend" offer and include some information about your referral program with all email communication.

In your blog posts, create a link to the offer. You can also look for guest blog opportunities and opportunities to promote the program.

Social media is a great place to promote your referral marketing program. On Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, you should announce your program on a regular basis, share and link back to the referral program page.

Press releases can create a buzz about your business. To promote your referral program, create a press release and promote the program in conjunction with a newsworthy item.

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5. Remarket Your Program

After your customers have signed up for your referral program and shown an interest in it, it's important to keep them engaged. Look for ways to remind them to participate in the program. It can be very helpful to periodically run promotions to offer additional incentives for referrers. You could add incremental rewards for referring different product lines or add-ons. Changing out the images and giving your marketing a fresh new look can generate interest as well.

referral program
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6. Measure and Tweak

Effective referral marketing systems provide metrics throughout the life cycle of the program to determine if they are worth doing. Therefore, you should be tracking your referral marketing program closely. Therefore, the metrics that you should track include the program's performance, providing opportunities for you to fine-tune certain elements of the system to improve your conversion rates. As you measure your referral marketing program, pay close attention to the following:

  • How many of your site visitors sign up to become referrers?
  • How many visitors make referrals?
  • How many referrals do they make?
  • What channels they are referring people through?
  • How many new customers sign up as a result of your program?
  • How many members continue to refer over time?
  • The cost per acquisition of your program
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How to Run An Effective Referral Program for your Food Business (featuring Naturebox, YouFoodz and more!)

An effective referral program is a powerful marketing strategy that works for every industry, from cars to software. With these tips, we're sure you'll be able to build a tantalising program that will make your customers come back for seconds!

Check out also:

Melinda Curle
Melinda Curle

Melinda is a blogger at ReferralCandy. She loves learning about internet marketing and maintaining her own fitness blog. She enjoys running, swimming, dancing and Pilates.

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