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Ultimate guide to writing referral emails, with real-life examples

Mailbutler reveals its top tips for writing referral emails, from defining your audience to writing a great subject line to explaining incentives.

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    By James

    James has seven years' experience as a Content Marketer, bylines on Left Foot Forward, Submittable, and INOMICS, and a Master's in History. In his free time he likes to read, play guitar, and write for his personal blog.

    Every person is more prone to trusting their family, friends and even people they find on social media than brands and advertisements. Most of our decisions are influenced by online reviews, recommendations, testimonials and, most importantly, referrals.

    Referral marketing helps businesses achieve their marketing goals.

    For example, one study reveals that companies with referrals generate a 70% higher conversion rate. Not to mention that customers of all ages favor referrals:how to write a great referral emailSource: Extole

    Given the above, you should send referral emails to your existing customer base. At the end of this article, you will know what to keep in mind while writing referral emails. Let’s get started!

    Key takeaways

    • Know Your Audience: Understand who you’re sending emails to. Use social media and direct surveys to learn about their preferences.
    • Strong Subject Line: Make your email stand out with a compelling subject line. Keep it short, personalize it, and directly mention any incentives.
    • Be Concise: Keep the email short and to the point. Focus on the referral program and what action you want the reader to take.
    • Highlight Incentives: Clearly explain the benefits of the referral program. Mention what's in it for both the sender and the recipient.
    • Include a Call-to-Action (CTA): Directly ask your audience to take action with a clear and visible CTA, like referring a friend for a reward.

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    What are referral emails?

    Referral emails are used for various purposes in the business world. Their widespread use, however, is by brands that want to inform their existing customers about their referral programs.

    These emails are often direct and personal.

    Their mission is to establish strong and lasting relationships with loyal customers.

    A great way to promote your referral program is to encourage your audience to refer their friends and family to receive various incentives like special discounts.

    This obviously keeps your loyal customers happy while also attracting new consumers to your brand.

    According to research, 92% of consumers trust referrals they get from people they know.

    This means you and your team should get down to business. Think about which incentives you want to offer and follow our five tips on writing successful referral emails.

    Tips on writing referral emails

    Imagine a scenario in which you come up with an irresistible incentive, but your customers aren’t taking you upon it. What gives?

    One problem is that they might not open your referral email. The subject line doesn’t catch their attention and the email lands in their deleted items instead.

    Another problem is that they might not click on the link to use your special discount or offer.

    Although the incentive is attractive, your email lacks something to get them to take action.

    What should you do?

    You should write a referral email that attracts your customers’ attention and makes them want to use your offer.

    Here are five steps that can help you write killer referral emails.

    1. Define your audience

    A lot goes into making an email marketing strategy. You can’t send anything without creating a signature with an email signature generator or preparing an eye-catching design.

    But before you think of this, consider the following. Your marketing strategies won’t be successful if you don’t think about your audience. This is true for email marketing campaigns as well.

    The focus is and should always be on the customer. According to David Wachs, CEO of Handwrytten, ''Your job is to understand your customer's needs, interests and habits online. Only then can you make content that carries true value for your audience''

    If you don’t have a clear picture of who your target audience is, then your referral emails won’t be as effective. That is why you should sit down and define your target audience.

    These three tips can help you:

    • Don’t make assumptions. You won’t get far if you assume what your customers’ preferences are. Their needs change over time and your marketing approach should change as well.
    • Leverage social media. There is no better way to get to know your customers than on social media. You can learn their likes and dislikes on these platforms.
    • Ask customers directly. You can conduct surveys to understand your existing customer base. Ask them questions that will help you figure out who is purchasing from you and what their pain points are.

    When you know your audience, you can come up with incentives that appeal to them. As a result, you can grow your referral program.

    Personalize Your Approach

    Beyond just defining your audience, personalizing your referral emails can significantly enhance their effectiveness. Focus on celebrating your customers' satisfaction with your brand and extend this positivity to their close contacts.

    This approach not only makes your emails more engaging but also more relatable. Tailor your message to reflect the unique experiences and preferences of your customers, ensuring that each email feels like a direct conversation rather than a generic broadcast.

    2. Start with a strong subject line

    It all starts with a subject line. Let’s be honest, it is the first thing most of us notice when an email arrives.

    Statistics back this up. 47% of internet users open an email based solely on the subject line while 69% of them report email as spam after looking at it.

    This means that you must give your referral email subject lines some thought. Sending bland and ambiguous subject lines won’t help you grow your program.

    What can help you, however, are strong and attending-grabbing subject lines. They get straight to the point, revealing what your intentions are.

    Here is what to keep in mind when writing a subject line:

    1. Keep it short
    2. Personalize it by adding the recipient’s name
    3. Add a number such as those relating to discounts or credits
    4. Avoid excessive punctuation

    One example of a strong subject line comes from a brand called Front of the Pack:

    an example of how to write a strong subject line

    The brand clearly outlines what its email is about and reveals its incentive immediately.

    This is exactly what makes customers click on the email.

    Use the Business Letter Format

    While writing your referral email, it's crucial to stick to a professional business letter format. This not only shows your professionalism but also sets the right tone for your message.

    Start with a well-designed letterhead, include the recipient's contact details, and structure your content into short, easily digestible paragraphs.

    Finish up with your contact details and a business formal signature. This structured approach helps in making your email clear, professional, and respectful of the recipient's time and attention.

    3. Get straight to the point

    One mistake some brands make is sending long emails to their customers. According to Time, our attention span is only eight seconds. This means you must grab the attention of your recipients quickly.

    How do you do that? By sending short and concise referral emails.

    You must get straight to the point. Avoid adding information that isn't relevant. Don’t beat around the bush—your customers will stop reading the email and delete it.

    The best referral emails are those that have a clear focus.

    They have one goal—to get the recipient to participate in the referral program.

    Their copy aims to encourage action from the intended reader.

    With this in mind, remove any information that isn’t focused on that action.

    Edit your email until you deliver the message you want in a concise manner.

    The best emails have a clear focus and are designed to encourage a single action from the reader. Clear, concise content also makes it easier to read your emails.

    Just take a look at this referral email from MeUndies:

    referral email from MeUndies

    The above email gets straight to the point. The recipient knows what the incentive is just by looking at the title. If they need additional information, they can read the copy below.

    Why You Need to Maintain Professionalism and Formality

    In writing your referral emails, it's essential to strike a balance between friendliness and formality, especially if you share a common acquaintance with the recipient. Maintain a professional tone throughout the email, as this sets the stage for a respectful and serious business relationship.

    Start by mentioning your referrer, which helps the reader to quickly place the context of your email. Keep the content focused and concise, ideally within 150-250 words, and always end with a note of thanks. This shows appreciation for the recipient's time and leaves a lasting positive impression.

    4. Mention the referral incentive

    Let’s say your strong subject line gets customers to open your referral email.

    They now expect an explanation to see if they want to participate in your referral program. In other words, they want to find out more about the incentives you offer.

    We suggest that you include the basics of your program in the copy.

    Consider following these tips:

    • Explain what you want them to do, i.e. refer to their friends and family
    • Mention what your incentive is
    • Include how long the offer lasts

    Of course, if there are any other specifics, your customers should know that. Perhaps the referred friend also gets a reward or they must follow certain terms and conditions.

    If you don’t want to mislead your customers, inform them of the most important information.

    Don’t forget to show appreciation to those who participate in the program.

    You can do so by adding short thank you notes at the end of your email. This will personalize your message and help you build relationships with your customers.

    5. Include a call-to-action (CTA)

    The recipient opens your referral email and reads the content. Is that enough to get them to participate? It isn’t - your email also needs to have a call-to-action.

    The CTA is there to ensure your customers take a specific action. In this case, that action is to refer a friend and enjoy an attractive incentive.

    Your email’s CTA should include a link to a webpage that tells them more about your referral program.

    Alternatively, you can include their unique discount codes which they should send to friends and family.

    The point is, that the CTA is there to seal the deal. Just by clicking the button, your customers will be able to refer someone and make use of your offer.

    If you want to craft a killer CTA, have this in mind:

    • Ensure your CTA is visible and eye-catching
    • Come up with actionable text, i.e. use verbs like “Get my 20% discount now”
    • Create a sense of urgency to get customers to act quickly

    Take inspiration from Cleancult:

    include a call to action in your referral email

    Referral emails FAQs

    How do you write a referral message?

    When it comes to writing a referral email message, defining your target audience is the very first step you should take.

    You need to know your customer base’s pain points, needs, interests, and habits so you can come up with an incentive they won’t be able to resist.

    Then, you should craft an enticing subject line with information about the incentive (discount or credit).

    Next, you should write a concise email body by avoiding adding irrelevant information.

    When composing the body of the referral email message, you should explain what your incentive is and mention how long the offer lasts. Finally, you should create an eye-catching CTA that will get your readers to act fast.

    How do you write a business referral email?

    Writing a business-to-business referral email is very similar to writing a business-to-consumer one. Here’s what you should do:

    • Come up with an attention-grabbing subject line
    • Start the message by saying you’re happy to have them as a client
    • State the reason for your message (be clear about what you want your recipient to do, which is refer someone to you)
    • Don’t add too much information
    • Express your gratitude in advance

    What should the subject of a referral email be?

    The subject line of your referral email should be short and clear. It should let the recipient know what the message is all about, meaning you should include the word “refer” in it.

    Adding the referral incentive to the subject line is a smart idea, too. Here’s a great example of a referral email subject line:

    “Love Deel? Refer and earn up to $400!”


    It’s important to send referral emails if you want to attract new customers to your brand.

    People who already buy from you are your best advertisement. When they are satisfied with your brand, they are willing to share that with others. They just need a bit of incentive to do that.

    Think about which incentive you can offer to your loyal customers and start preparing referral emails!

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