How we built a fully automated referral program without using code

Logan Brown
Aug 21, 2020 · 5 min read

Before we begin:

First things, first. Your core product is the best referral tool you have. In our case, it’s our daily email newsletter which natively gets forwarded to friends and family of our current subscriber base daily.

Make it easy for people who are forwarded your newsletter to subscribe within your newsletter. A big, bold subscribe button at the bottom or top should suffice!

Subscribe button found at the bottom of each of our daily email newsletters.

Our Referral Tech Stack

Mailchimp: Although Mailchimp gets a bad rap for being rudimentary and basic, it’s affordable enough for most and big enough to integrate with all sorts of third party applications, easily.

Kickoff Labs: Instead of paying a developer to build out a referral program for us from scratch, we decided to use a tool called Kickoff Labs to host our landing pages, manage all communication, and track referral counts for our subscribers.

Kickoff Labs allows us to easily do the following:

  • Build custom landing pages for each of our markets using their WYSIWYG editor (HTML options available for those who know how to code)

Printful: Printful makes it easy for brands (like yours and ours) to create custom gear and swag on demand. Yep, you heard that right. You don’t have to spend thousands of dollars upfront and fill your living room with boxes of t-shirts, mugs, and tote bags. Printful’s on-demand technology makes every single product you sell, as you sell it, then ships it to your customers.

This was a huge game-changer for us as we operate in seven different cities, all with different brands. Without Printful, we’d have to produce and pay for t-shirts, mugs, hats, etc. for every single brand. Not to mention the cost of hiring a team to fulfill it all.

Shopify: For less than a Benjamin per month and a couple of hours of work, you can build, own and maintain an online store to sell all of the new swag you just designed in Printful.

While we’re on the subject of Printful and swag, you and your company may be struggling with whether you should make shirts, mugs, etc. with your brand on it or something else. Although there is marketing value in having evangelists wear your brand, we made a deliberate decision to not create branded swag as our referral prizes. We recognized that we were in a position to deliver custom swag that represents the cities our readers call home, not necessarily our brand. But as our brands are adopted by more and more people in each city, they become synonymous — when you think of Greenville, SC, you think of GVLtoday.

Christmas 2019 ad, built for our GVLtoday newsletter product.

Putting it all together

Subscribers are added to our list through two primary services:

A) Kickoff Labs: When a subscriber signs up through our Kickoff Labs landing page, their info (email, name, share URL) is sent directly to our ESP (Mailchimp). This cohort of subscribers will also be introduced to our referral program immediately, via the subscription success page.

We set up a sub-domain structure for each of our landing pages to ensure visitors felt like the page was both trustworthy and really us.
I.e. vs

NOOGAtoday Referral Success Landing Page

B) Mailchimp: When a subscriber signs up through our primary website, their information is sent directly to Mailchimp. However, to make the experience as seamless as possible and not take visitors away from what they’re reading, we do not push new subscribers to a success page. This means we need to introduce them to the referral program in the next best way — the welcome email.

When a subscriber joins our list, we like to think they’re in peak hype mode. They’ve just read a badass article from us, received a forwarded newsletter, or found us through divine intervention. Now’s the time to get them sharing with friends. In addition to introducing ourselves, we also take time in our welcome email to define the referral program, how it works, and what’s in it for them. In our case, we hook them up with that exclusive swag we were telling you about above.

It’s worth noting that we also dedicate a section of our newsletter to remind our subscribers that our referral program exists because let’s face it; nobody has a 100% open rate on their companies' welcome email.

To make it even easier for a subscriber to join the program, we use an email merge link to bridge the gap between Mailchimp and KickoffLabs so our subscribers are sent directly to the rewards success landing page where they’ll find their unique share link. This cuts down on any potential friction that could inadvertently be caused when using multiple pieces of tech.

Dedicated referral section in the GVLtoday newsletter to keep referrals and the rewards, top of mind for readers.

Now it’s time to start sending the referrers (those who actively refer friends) some rewards (custom swag).

To make this happen, we link up Mailchimp, KickoffLabs, Shopify, and Printful so that they work together like a well-oiled machine.

As new subscribers sign up through the referrer’s share URL, KickoffLabs sends them automated email campaigns to continue building the hype as they get closer to a reward tier. Finally, once they meet the requirement of a reward tier they’re sent an email with a unique promo code inside.

These unique promo codes are built directly in Shopify, correlate to a specific product (reward) in our store, and are distributed one by one through KickoffLab’s automated drip campaign service.

The referrer receives their one-time use code as well as a link to the product (reward) they just earned and can now checkout on the website free of charge.

Automated reward email with merge tags that populate with unique fields directly correlated with the subscriber it’s sent to.

Within 10–14 days, they’re rocking their new mug, t-shirt, or hat and their friends are asking how they can get one too.

And the referral loop continues!

Now it’s time for you to go and make your new referral program.

Have questions, ideas, or just want to pick my brain? Find me on Twitter or Linkedin. Thanks for reading ✌️.

6AM City

6AM is engaging local communities by creating new ways to…

6AM City

6AM is engaging local communities by creating new ways to consume, participate, and share local content. We do newsletters in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida. (And more, soon!)

Logan Brown

Written by

Growth Marketing 6AMcity | Greenville, SC

6AM City

6AM is engaging local communities by creating new ways to consume, participate, and share local content. We do newsletters in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida. (And more, soon!)