referral marketing

How authenticity breaks through the marketing noise

Marketers often ask me what causes referral marketing to be successful and more specifically what motivates a Customer to refer a product. The most obvious answer is satisfaction with the product or service purchased. Without that, you can’t expect someone to refer.

The next factor I mention often surprises Marketers. But in addition to customer satisfaction, it’s perhaps the most important factor in getting referrals. That factor is brand authenticity.

At its heart, authenticity is about practicing what you preach, being totally clear about who you are and what you do best. When a brand’s message gets out of sync with Customers’ actual experiences, the brand’s integrity and future persuasiveness suffer.

Customers are drawn toward brands with an original story, an engaging and powerful identity and an unwavering and visible commitment to deliver on their brand promise. Think of fast-growing brands like Google, Apple, Salesforce and Uber and you’ll realize they all have that level of authenticity at their core.

Authenticity speaks volumes. Brands that tell a genuine, honest story resonate with people. People believe in honest brands. That belief leads to their willingness to communicate with others about the brand and the product and yes, refer it to others.

When I say this to my marketing friends, the response I often get is “Sure, but I’m not Google or Salesforce– so what can I do to be more brand authentic and generate referrals through referral marketing?”

Here are three key considerations for generating referrals by staying true to your brand’s authenticity.

The when, how and what of keeping referral marketing authentic

1) When to ask: Make it a natural extension of the customer’s experience

Once you have engrained brand authenticity into your user experience, try to identify when the most effective time is to ask for a referral. One company that excels at asking for a referral is Lyft. Lyft incorporates authenticity at the core of their business by making sure their drivers keep true to their slogan, “My friend with a car.” Because of this, Lyft has identified the opportune time to ask riders to refer Lyft or even a specific Lyft driver–at the end of a pleasant ride. Once the ride is over and the rider rates the driver, the app gives the option of referring while the ride is still at the forefront of the rider’s mind.

But leveraging the user experience to generate referrals isn’t just relegated to the ecommerce world. If a primary element of your go-to-market model is a field sales team or an inside customer service team, you can ask for referrals in person. The key is doing it at the right time. Highly engaged field teams that deliver great value to Customers are absolutely part of your user experience. Therefore, why not have them ask for a referral after they have provided a positive experience to a Customer.

RingCentral is one brand that successfully extended their selling strategy to customer engagement in a brand authentic way to include their referral program.

Currently, RingCentral employs a relationship-focused selling approach. For RingCentral, this often pays off when pursuing a company that has more than one location. RingCentral noted that the relationship-focused selling approach opened the doors for a Client to test out their product in one location, and when it succeeds, fully implements RingCentral. This period of success also made these Customers highly likely to refer and open a door to other Customers by simply asking for a referral at the right time.

From this approach, a referral marketing program was a logical next step to take their relationship-focused sales approach to the next level.

To reproduce these two referral marketing successes, ask your Customers or Partners for referrals immediately after your service or product has had success or has created a positive experience.

2) How to ask: Be true to your brand’s voice and image

Along with knowing when to ask for a referral, understanding how to ask for a referral is equally important with referral marketing. An essential part of this is sticking to using brand authentic format, creative and voice.

Frontier Telecommunications is one company that has done an excellent job at extending their authentic brand creative and voice to include their referral marketing program. As an extension of the name Frontier, the company embeds their mascot, Frank the buffalo, into their brand and creative. The humorous voice and creative of Frank the buffalo was extended into their referral program.

frontierfrontier 1

Along with the above email and social media posts, Frontier included their brand voice and creative in their referral program through bill inserts and on the web. By sticking to their authentic brand creative and voice, the familiarity of the messaging and format contributed to the success of their referral marketing program.

DIRECTV is another brand that has become experts at understanding how to ask for referrals. Video is one of DIRECTV’s most popular vehicle for their promotional efforts. Their brand authentic creative is humorous and irreverent, so it was only natural that this brand authenticity format and voice extend to their referral program.


And since DIRECTV’s double reward strategy offers a $100 bill credits to the referral (prospect) and the Customer who referred, this format allows them to speak to both demographics at once and increase the number of new Customers generated by their referral program.

3) What to offer: Understand what customer’s value

Authenticity is also a key factor in determining how to reward for referrals. At Amplifinity, we’ve learned to first understand the relationship our brands have with their customers and what the customer values before recommending an incentive model that will drive referral behavior. There is considerable research on what motivates people to refer and the short answer is that there is no one right way. Monetary motivation, social sharing and ego can all play a role. But finding the right method starts with understanding your customers, their relationship with your brand, and what will cause them to make a referral during an interaction with others in your target market.

ADP is one company that has created brand authentic referral rewards. ADP knows that their Customers and Partners highly value their services and have developed their rewards from that knowledge. For each of the first three successful business referrals, ADP gives $100 off their services. On the fourth successful referral, ADP gives the business one-year free payroll, a highly valued reward for any customer or partner. Because the fourth referral reward is valued so highly, it engages Customers and Partners in a way that enhances their connection to ADP.

The trigger that causes us to refer a product is engaged when the reward is genuine and consistent with the relationship that we have with that product or service. To apply this practice to your referral program, find a reward that amplifies the benefits of your current relationship and you’ll greatly improve your results.

Bottom line – Referrals with brand authenticity leads to higher revenue growth

When you project brand authenticity in your referral marketing initiative your program will succeed because it’s recognizable and reflects the reputation that the rest of your brand projects.