The marketing industry is filled with more tactics to consider than you can count and a host of strategic solutions positioned to address challenging pain points. Every once in awhile, the opportunity arises to hone in on a persistently untapped channel to create a new marketing category.

That’s how Ambassador pioneered the referral marketing automation space.

With online conversations about brands ramping up at an unprecedented pace, we realized the potential of scaling and tracking referrals and recommendations through unique personal sharing. We built an automated referral marketing platform that makes it easy for advocates of all types to evangelize brands and reward them for sharing news about them across networks.

Sure, referral marketing sounds like a great idea, but many companies are still learning how their brand can leverage this nascent marketing category to reach their goals.

How do I know if referral marketing is right for my company? Does referral marketing work for B2B brands? Who will be willing to recommend my product on social media?

Ambassador’s resident referral marketing experts sat down to talk about the origins of word-of-mouth and the bright future of referral marketing.

Who are our experts?


Jeff Epstein, CEO & Founder: Jeff leads the team that gives companies the tools to turbo-charge their referral programs and turn brand advocates into Ambassadors.

Claire Lockhart, Senior Onboarding Coach: Claire shares best practices and expertise to help companies get the most out of their referral programs.

Rich Adams, Enterprise Sales Manager: Rich demonstrates how referral marketing can help businesses to achieve their goals.

Kathryn Stickley, Marketing Operations Manager: Kathryn is dedicated to showing other marketers how to strategically harness the power of word-of-mouth.

What is referral marketing?

Jeff Epstein: Referral marketing revolves around driving referrals at scale, using specific incentives and messaging. Happy customers refer because they have an affinity for your product, service, or company. Referral marketing centers around people telling others about your products or services. These ambassadors are customers, affiliates, influencers, fans or other advocates, driving high-quality referrals thanks to things like personal relationships and incentives.

Claire Lockhart: Referral marketing is a way to encourage people who already love your product or service to refer their curious friends and family.

Rich Adams: Referral marketing gives your best customers, fans, and advocates the ability to refer others to your business and drive revenue through word-of-mouth.

Kathryn Stickley: Referral marketing allows businesses to increase their revenue through word-of-mouth and recommendations.

Is it the same as affiliate or influencer marketing?

JE: I would consider affiliate or influencer marketing to be branches under the referral marketing umbrella. The distinction with Ambassador comes from emphasizing the relationship that brands have with an influencer or affiliate.

CL: They’re all branches of referral marketing, but referral marketing is generally thought of as customer marketing. The great thing about our platform is that the technology is flexible enough to run affiliate and influencer programs as well.

RA: Referral marketing is really focused on your everyday customer, fan, or brand advocate. Referrers share their experience and the goodwill that they have with your brand. Though affiliates and influencers have different motivations than customers or fans. The end result is the same, they’re all referring your brand.

KS: Affiliates and influencers have different monetary motivations than a friend would have when referring a product or service to another friend. Referrers are motivated by the fact that they want someone that they know to experience something good. The most authentic recommendations come from people you know and trust.

Where does word-of-mouth come into play?

JE: If you think about the evolution of word-of-mouth, it has transitioned from a one-to-one relationship to a one-to-many interaction across mediums. The beauty of today’s word-of-mouth is that you don’t need to be standing next to the person anymore. You can interact digitally and reach many people with just one post or one comment.
CL: Referral marketing formalizes the process of telling your friends about something new that you tried or a product that you bought. Ambassador’s automated platform makes it easier to track the referral shares that your company gets on social media.

RA: Referral marketing is built on the old word-of-mouth principle of people having genuine conversations about brands that they like. Ambassador is the perfect way to track and monetize what’s already happening online. Referral programs give your audience more of an incentive to do what they already love doing in the first place — sharing your brand!

KS: Without word-of-mouth, there wouldn’t be referral marketing. Before we could send a link, we were sharing good news in person. Technology has brought significantly more one-to-one conversations online. For example, you can now refer a product to a friend who lives across the world. You no longer have to be face-to-face.

What’s the best way to tell if a company is ready for an automated referral marketing platform?

JE: I don’t think you need to be at a certain stage. Most companies know at some level that referrals are taking place. One obvious way to know if you’re ready for an automated referral program is if your current program is becoming unmanageable. Also, wanting to get more referrals probably isn’t enough. Businesses that are willing to put in effort and continue optimizing their programs tend to be the most successful.

CL: If you know that a good amount of your business comes from word-of-mouth, then you’re in the perfect position to adopt an automated referral program. Referral marketing programs are great for building up a community of passionate customers, fans, and other advocates and making them feel part of the family.

RA: Companies of all sizes and maturity levels have invested in marketing technology that can’t track or automate referral marketing. This is a huge lost opportunity cost for businesses. These are prime candidates for an automated platform that is proven and supported by experts dedicated to your success.

KS: It’s ideal that companies have a solid number of monthly transactions, a high customer lifetime value, a number of customers, or a product or service that is generating a tremendous amount of organic buzz. Many assume that a product or service has to be established to receive referrals. Not true. Established brands with new offerings and newer companies with unique, buzz-worthy products can do tremendously well with referral marketing.

How have companies used Ambassador to grow their business?

JE: Companies want to be able to measure impact from a specific marketing initiative. The beauty of Ambassador is that you can see your results through your marketing funnel, sales funnel, and purchases that are happening online. Plus, people who refer your company or brand tend to be more loyal down the road.
CL: I always tell businesses that asking customers and clients to go out and spread the word isn’t asking too much. Many more customers will refer your brand given the option to benefit from a win-win incentive solution that rewards referrals from new and existing customers.

RA: Companies are using Ambassador to power programs that are filling the sales pipeline with qualified leads. These referrals close faster, buy more, stay longer, and are more likely to refer your brand to others.

KS: Companies leverage Ambassador to upgrade from untrackable manual processes that don’t scale to a seamless and insightful automated experience.

What does a successful referral campaign look like?

JE: A successful campaign is hitting the objectives of what the company is looking for and driving some tangible result. One recent example of stellar referral engagement is our online mattress and sleep customers who have experienced over 14x ROI using our platform.
CL: Companies with successful referral campaigns make sure they understand their customers and offer rewards that are appealing to them. They have spent some time thinking about the motivations and preferences of their target market. They understand that they need to be in contact to remind customers to use this powerful tool.

RA: A successful referral campaign really bakes that referral piece into the entire marketing mix. This makes it easy for a website visitor, whether they’re a customer or not, to refer a friend or share outside of their network.

KS: A successful referral campaign includes an offer that motivates others to refer. The most important part is that the referral encourages an ongoing and rewarding relationship through emails, social sharing, and repeat transactions.

What excites you most about the future of referral marketing?

JE: Most companies are anecdotally excited and realize that referrals are a significant driver of new customers and value; they just don’t really know how to harness that. We’re on the bleeding edge of this new category that helps customers adopt best practices and automates outdated business processes.

CL: People are just starting to fully understand the power of referrals. It’s still a largely untapped field right now, so I’m excited by the potential that’s there. I want to see how quickly companies learn about referral marketing and recognize how it’s already helping businesses like theirs grow faster.

RA: Everybody is tired of banner ads and pop-up ads and people want to listen to the people who they know and trust. That’s family, peers, and colleagues. Ambassador’s platform allows brands to really monetize and extend their reach.

KS: Ambassador is building an extension to the traditional buyer channel. Referral marketing is truly an evangelist funnel and we are defining this new category that has the potential to help B2B and consumer brands all over the world meet their goals in a more cost-effective manner.

Referral Marketing Expertise

No matter what’s next for the marketing industry, stay ahead of the curve like a true expert using Ambassador. Trust us, an enriched and rewarding word-of-mouth experience will never go out of style.