Affiliate Network Insider — 19 May 2022
What Is a Referral Business Model
Marketing used to just be a case of a few well-placed adverts in the media and the odd promotional campaign. Since the advent of the digital era, however, things have gotten a lot more complicated. Marketing your business can be a minefield when it comes to deciding where to focus your resources or do SEO work, especially for a small business or startups with a limited budget.
While the era of digital marketing and ecommerce has brought new challenges such as hybrid working, it has also brought new opportunities, though it can be difficult for business owners to choose what their main marketing channels will be. There’s one form of marketing that has not changed drastically in the modern age and that’s word-of-mouth marketing. Personal recommendations have always been a strong way to expand reach.
Of course, how that word is spread has changed. Where customer experience used to be something discussed in conversations between friends and family, social media has opened those personal conversations to the world. People now have expectations of seeing online reviews and this is especially true of younger age groups who have mostly grown up with the internet.
Many businesses now look to referral campaigns to encourage customer loyalty and aim to elevate that loyalty to brand ambassador level, with those happy customers sharing their views as well as your brand’s content. So, just how does this referral marketing strategy work? What are the major benefits customer referral programs offer and how can you switch to using one effectively?
At its heart, referral marketing is about leveraging your best customers into brand advocates. In essence, it’s marketing tactics that add lots of new members to your marketing team. By utilizing positive reviews from satisfied customers, you look to expand your customer base and get new business. You may already be involved in relationship marketing and this is a natural relative of that.
You can look beyond just reviews and include the implementation of user-generated content (such as customers using your product) and any other media they post that is positive about your brand and products. Your ultimate goal is to have loyal customers make the step up to being viewed as brand advocates. You can also offer referral reward schemes for these advocates.
Now you know what a referral model means, but why should you choose it? Does it really offer tangible benefits that can have a positive impact on your most important metrics? Consider some of these referral statistics:
So the numbers back up the theory that referral programs can be of major benefit to businesses. Leading marketing professor, Dr. Jonah Berger (an expert on influence and word of mouth) identified six principles that underpin customer behavior when it comes to the power of influence. Let’s take a look.
You may already be partnering with other brands using a program such as Affise Reach, so you know that referrals can be helpful in marketing campaigns, but what are the actual benefits customer referrals offer to your organization?
Of course, if you don’t offer great products or services, then referrals will not be of much help. Assuming you do, then you want a sharing process that goes beyond the old friend and family model. You want your loyal customers singing your praises to all. To achieve that, you want to encourage as much sharing as possible.
This is where rewards enter the equation. By standardizing the way your customers share, and by offering an incentive program with clearly stated rewards, your loyal customers are more likely to share experiences and reviews. Sharing their reviews is something they may not always do, even when they are happy with your brand. The sort of rewards you can offer includes:
You want new customers but you don’t want to incur high CAC. With a referral program, you can bring new customers on board without breaking your budget. While there may be the price of rewards to consider, these are performance-based costs so are therefore much lower than traditional marketing costs.
When you consider that referred customers have higher LTVs (lifetime values) than traditionally acquired customers, this represents a win-win cost-effective situation for your business. You’re spending less to acquire those customers and they also spend more.
As mentioned, referred customers tend to spend more than their non-referred counterparts. You’re also more likely to retain these potential customers. That not only represents better value for your organization as a whole, it also means you can repeat the cycle and move these acquired customers towards being referrers and brand advocates themselves.
You may already be benefiting from partnering with other brands and businesses, so you can see that a referral model can be of immense benefit to your business. It can have a tangible effect on those all-important metrics such as customer retention, conversions & sales, LTV, and CAC. How do you go from liking the idea to creating one for your business?
Before you even consider what to do with your customers, take some time to examine your business. Are you offering quality goods and services with pricing that customers like? Are you already receiving positive reviews from previous or current customers? If the answer to both of those questions is “yes”, then you’re ready to consider creating a referral program.
Having your business offer high-quality products and services as well as high customer satisfaction is an essential foundation of any referral program. If your business makes a positive impact with your customers (and that can include things such as customer support), then they’re likely to positively promote your business, especially when that promotion is incentivized.
If you’re going to create a referral program, you need to be sure that your customers are at the core of it. That means ensuring that not only are your products exceptional, but that other aspects of your customer relations are of similar quality. The two most important areas in this regard are communication and customer experience.
Ensure that you can have good conversations with them. That could be via various communication channels such as social media from Facebook to Linkedin or direct emails. You also need to be sure that you can optimize the customer experience and this includes great customer service, an optimized and accessible website, eliminating any pain points, and offering an omnichannel experience.
The final part of preparing to create a referral program is to establish why you’re doing so and what your goals are. The most obvious goal is increased sales and revenue, but most referral programs look beyond those metrics and have additional goals identified. These can include:
Your goals may be any combination of those listed and will depend on your own priorities. The crucial thing is to have them listed so you have a clear idea of the route you’re taking. It also means you can analyze results and see if there is progress towards the goals you have set. Using software with robust integration and analytics abilities allows for analysis of your various metrics and can let you tweak aspects of your program where needed.
By now, you should have a clear idea of what you want to achieve and whether your current business model will support the creation of a referral program. You can now start building the framework of your referral program.
Even what your program looks like visually will be a factor in its success. While for some, your referral program may be the first time they’ve encountered your company, many will already know your brand. Keep messaging clearly aligned with your goals and keep the overall feel and design elements tied to your existing media.
You want people to notice your program so use catchy headlines and posts that attract their attention. Think of those headlines as saying what your program does in one sentence and what it offers for a successful referral. People should see what benefits are open to them as a new referral if they join your program and they should want to know more. Good headline examples are:
The more people that share, the more successful your program. That means you want to make the processes of joining the program and sharing content as easy as possible. Offer them as many ways to share as possible as this will increase the likelihood of them sharing content.
Most software options can help with this; they usually offer different ways of sharing such as social media or email. One important factor is to include a simple one-click referral link that lets people copy and paste with ease.
As well as making sharing as simple as possible, you want any messaging to be clear and consistent, so those people your customer refers you to can easily understand your messaging. A template can be helpful at this stage as it cuts down on any work by your team. However, make any messaging editable in case the referrer wants to add some text of their own. Consider these factors when it comes to your messaging:
It’s rare to get things right the first time. This means you need good analytics to track progress and see how your program affects your specified metrics. Analyze what works and what doesn’t and adjust as needed. Good software can help with this just as it can with exploratory testing techniques. Such software often comes with integrated analytics, referral tracking, A/B testing, and referral link distribution options.
Once you have set up your referral program, then you are ready for action. As you move forward, there are some ongoing factors to consider.
You want your existing customers to join the program, but how do you let them know? The best two methods for this are:
You’re not going to hand out the same reward to everyone. Decide on how you will distribute rewards and what the qualification criteria are. You also need to decide who gets any reward. There are two main types of incentive:
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