How To Keep Your Referral Program Top-of-Mind: 7 Steps

Visakan Veerasamy
Visakan Veerasamy
April 8, 2017
2 min read
How To Keep Your Referral Program Top-of-Mind: 7 Steps

In this article

Referral programs are one of the best tools at your disposal for encouraging your customers to tell their friends about your business.

But what do you do when they forget?

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Happy customers who say they'll refer you... often won't.

When it comes to building a successful business, having a strong product and happy customers are critical– but they're still not quite enough.

They might love your product, buy it often, and even say they will refer you to their friends.

Unfortunately, it turns out that there's a very high chance they won't go through with it.

[caption id="attachment_19710" align="aligncenter" width="600"]

Referral Rates Expectation vs Reality

Results from a Texas Tech study shows that 83% of customers say they are willing to refer a brand to their friends, but only 29% of them actually do so.[/caption]

1. So why aren't customers referring as much as they say they would?

i. Most of them simply forget to – we all forget almost half of whatever we see after just 20 minutes.

Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve RC

In 1885, German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus wanted to know how fast we forget things, so he ran an experiment to test the limits of memory retention.

According to his findings we forget 40% of any new information in just 20 minutes, and only remember about 30% by the end of the day.

He also hypothesized that our rate of forgetting can be influenced by:

  • How meaningful, complex or memorable that information is;
  • How that information is being represented in your head (concrete ideas like a birthday party are easier to visualize than abstract concepts like fairness);
  • Physiological factors such as stress or fatigue.

To counter our astonishing rate of forgetting, Ebbinghaus recommended that we occasionally review the materials we've learnt, as each repetition would reduce the rate of forgetting.

But remember, it isn't our customers' jobs to repeatedly review our products over and over again. So if we want to be remembered, we have to do that work for them.

ii. We're too overloaded with information to take action.


Consumers are bombarded with marketing messages today, now more than ever.

While the exact average figure varies wildly between studies (from hundreds to tens of thousands), we can all agree that that's way, way too much information.

We're not evolved to handle so much information. We have all sorts of cognitive biases (such as the Availibility heuristic, and Recency bias) that make it very difficult for us to manage this overload effectively.

2. Here are some tips to encourage referrals by keeping your referral program top-of-mind:

i. Make sure you have a Wow product to begin with.


If your product isn't significantly, substantially better than the alternatives in the marketplace, there is literally no reason for a stranger to remember your product. This can be a bitter pill to swallow for anybody who's spent months or years of their lives working on a product, but it's true.

Your product has to do a job for them that's better than anything else. If it does that, they'll remember it. If they don't, they won't.

How do you tell if you have a Wow product?

A great way to tell if your customers love your product enough to refer it is to literally ask them. Net Promoter Score surveys are a well-established, effective way of doing this.

Further reading: Check out How To Get Word-of-Mouth: 40+ Successful Examples To Learn From for an extensive guide on how to make sure you’re on the right track.

ii. Utilizing memorable messaging to ensure customers will remember you.


Even if you have a Wow product, if your product is hard to remember or to pronounce, an excited fan might struggle to find it when trying to tell a friend about it.

When you're competing with countless other brands and products for your customers' attention, you need to make your brand as memorable as possible.

[caption id="attachment_17603" align="aligncenter" width="600"]

Ministry of Supply's Kickstarter campaign for their ATLAS sock

Ministry of Supply's Kickstarter campaign for their ATLAS sock[/caption]

Here's a fun example: Clothing label Ministry Of Supply created a cutting-edge pair of socks that people loved, with all sorts of cool features. In particularly, they emphasized the fact that the socks were "pressure-mapping".

Their customers, however, were telling their friends about "coffee socks"– the socks had coffee grounds in them that made them odor-resistant.

Once Ministry of Supply realized this, they switched their messaging and found that they got many, many more word-of-mouth referrals.

90+ Examples of Made to Stick Principles in Action

Chip and Dan Heath, authors of bestselling book 'Made to Stick', highlighted 6 key ways to make your messages 'stick' in your audience's heads:

  1. Simple – Strip your brand/message down to their core elements, so it’s easier to absorb.
  2. Unexpected – Shatter your customers’ expectations with something counter-intuitive, then delight them with great value.
  3. Concrete – Use concrete terms that appeal to the senses so people will remember it better.
  4. Credible – Show that your stuff really works, and people will trust you more.
  5. Emotional – Appeal to the heart, not the mind.
  6. Stories – Use stories to communicate your most important messages.

To learn more about the concepts, check out our Made to Stick infographic and our mega-list of over 90 examples of Made To Stick Principles in Marketing.

iii. Feature your referral calls-to-action prominently on your site and other touchpoints

Always feature referral program prominently

Consider the inverse of the famous adage, "out of sight, out of mind".

If you want to keep something on people's minds, it makes sense to have it prominently displayed in their field of vision. Here are some examples that we like.

Wool Overs:

Woolovers Referral program on homepage outline


Amuze homepage referral program CTA 2

Read more: 10 Examples of Prominent Referral Program Calls-to-Action

iv. Use post-purchase popups to nudge people to share right away, before they forget.

ReferralCandy post-purchase popup widget

We already know that people are remarkably forgetful and bombarded with information all the time.

It follows, then, that the best time to get somebody to take action is when they're primed to do it: when they're in the appropriate emotional state, and when there's the right cue and context.

When it comes to saying or doing nice things about a brand, customers are much likelier to do it at specific trigger moments:

  1. Immediately after making a purchase
  2. Immediately after receiving the purchase, and
  3. Specific instances when the product helps them solve a problem

Of those 3 instances, the first is the one you have the most control over as a retailer. They're still on your site, so you can hit them with a post-purchase popup asking for a referral. The purchase acts as a Foot-in-the-Door: if they're willing to buy it, they should be willing to refer it!

v. Send reminder referral emails so your customers won't forget about you.

Sample ReferralCandy reminder emails

The duration from which a customer places an order to receiving it can vary any time from a week to sometimes even a month.

During that time, there might be plenty of missed opportunities for them to bring up your brand in conversations because they forgot to do so.

By sending them periodic reminder emails, you refresh your customers' memory, keeping your brand top-of-mind.

When it comes to keeping your brand top-of-mind, there's a pretty thin line between refreshing their memory and spamming them. For instance, sending reminder emails daily probably isn't a good move.

Don't be needy. Focus on your customer's experience. What's in it for them?

Rather than email them for the sole purpose of asking for a referral, could you send them something interesting and relevant to their interests, and ask for a referral along the way?

vi. Social media – be interesting, useful and relevant, not needy


This evokes the familiarity principle, also known as the Mere-exposure effect– the more often your customers encounter your referral program, the likelier they are to keep it in mind, and recognize when they're in a situation where they could delight their friends with a referral.

Social media is an especially good place to ask for referrals, because your customers might have just been interacting with somebody who might also be a good fit for your product.

Further reading: We've put together infographics about content marketing that translate very well to planning social media content for your users. Check out 24 Juicy Tips for Ecommerce Content Marketing from Inbound Marketing Pros [Infographic] and 7 Ways To Achieve Content Marketing Breakthroughs, According To Experts [Infographic].

vii. Use periodic offers with variable rewards


Uber does this very well: During crunch times like New Year's Eve or even Valentine's Day, Uber is known to double its regular referral reward– so Give $10 Get $10 becomes Give $20 Get $20.

There are a lot of studies about the effectiveness of variable rewards in habit-formation. Facebook, email, freemium games and slot machines are all believed to be addictive particularly because of the intermittent + variable nature of their rewards.

But put simply: it's worth increasing the value of your rewards once in a while (for a limited time only!) to nudge your customers to make that referral they'd "always been meaning to but never quite got around to".

Further Reading:

Visakan Veerasamy
Visakan Veerasamy

Visa is ReferralCandy's former Blog Editor [2013–2018]. He also co-founded, a fashion ecommerce label selling witty t-shirts. He's mildly Internet-famous for his elaborate Twitter threads. He hopes to enjoy a glass of scotch onboard a commercial space flight someday.

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