To understand why telecoms marketers have turned towards referral or member-get-member programmes, we first need to look at the daunting challenges they face.
On the one hand, the demand for mobile, fixed line and broadband services never ceases to stop growing. Users now just expect the highest-possible quality streaming to their fixed and mobile devices, with all the huge capex requirements in fibre networks, 5G etc. that necessitates.
On the other hand, ARPUS are under constant pressure from fierce price competition. This is particularly true in saturated markets like India, Spain and Italy. But telecoms companies across the globe have seen disruption to traditional revenue streams, especially from players like Whatsapp, Viber, Zoom and Google Meet who monetise Internet traffic without having to pay for the costs of building and maintaining any infrastructure.
To top it all, customer acquisition costs (‘CAC’) – which were estimated a few years go to be as much as US$315 per new customer – keep growing, due to the spiralling costs of paid search and paid social media. Meanwhile, traditional advertising delivers increasingly slighter returns due to ad blockers, banner blindness, spam filters, widespread consumer distrust of advertising and societal changes, such as millennials often not owning terrestrial TVs.
Finally, customers are becoming less loyal and more willing to switch brands for a better deal, because, on the face of it, telecoms brands have become the nearest thing there is to a commodity in the technology space. Consumers can simply get the same data and voice services, as well as the same phones, routers, connectivity and coverage etc. from just about any of the players.
So, how can a commodity industry facing huge capex investment requirements, increasing customer acquisition costs, reduced customer loyalty and declining ARPUs hope to compete?
Well, the answer is to focus on service quality and customer satisfaction, and then use the positive word of mouth those things create as an acquisition tool by implementing referral programs.
To show just how referral or member-get-member marketing has become the go-to tool for the telecoms industry, we have compiled a list of 32 examples of referral schemes across leading telecoms brands offering mobile (pre-paid and post-paid), fixed and broadband and streaming services for you to compare:
1. T-Mobile US
Founded in 1999, T-Mobile is the US subsidiary of the German telecommunications company, Deutsche Telekom AG. In April 2020, T-Mobile acquired Sprint to become the third largest telecoms business in the United States by revenue. Positioning itself as an Uncarrier, in 2013 T-Mobile decided to re-invent the old, broken customer service model for good by listening to customers and fixing their pain points, which makes them a perfect candidate for referrals from satisfied customers.
The T-Mobile refer-a-friend programme, which covers all its plans, currently offers referrers $50 for every friend who joins, up to a maximum of $500/year.
VOXI was launched by its parent company, Vodafone, in August 2017 as the UK’s first dedicated youth offering, targeting people aged 25 and under, with 30 day 4G plans at £10, £15 and £20 per month.
VOXI’s friends with benefits programme offers varying values of Amazon gift cards as rewards, depending on the plan each referred friend chooses. These are only paid out if the friend remains a customer for at least two months. At the end of that two month period, both the friend and the referrer get a gift card equal to the value of the plan chosen by the friend.
3. EE Pay As You Go
EE was created in 2010 by the merger of the UK operations of T-Mobile and Orange, and in 2016 was acquired by BT. Today, EE is the largest mobile network operator in the United Kingdom with 29.2 million customers. Shortly after its creation, EE launched its popular Pay As You Go (‘PAYG’) service which now offers SIM card packs for up to £30 per month with unlimited minutes and calls, data rollover and free data boosts every three months.
EE’s refer-a-friend programme offers a £10 Amazon Gift Card for both the referrer and the friend, provided that the friend is not an existing EE customer and subscribes to a package worth at least £10 per month.
Giffgaff, wholly owned by Telefonica, was founded in 2009 as an MVNO on Telefonica’s UK Network, O2. A unique aspect of giffgaff is that it doesn’t consider itself as having customers as such, but only members who act as customer service representatives, marketers, advisers and even sales people. Because of this, referrals have been a key part of giffgaff’s growth strategy right from launch.
Referrers earn a £5 payback for each friend they introduce via the Share the love referral programme. This can be converted to cash (via PayPal), used as a phone bill credit or donated to charity. Any customer who achieves 15 referrals becomes a Super Recruiter and is rewarded with up to £22 per new recruit, instead of £5.
5. BT Broadband
BT is the UK’s largest provider of fixed-line, broadband and mobile services. It launched its first ever broadband service in 2000 and today has over 9 million subscribers.
BT Broadband’s refer-a-friend programme was launched in December 2019, and offers rewards worth £50 to every friend and referrer for each successful referral. As long as the friend does not cancel during the cooling off period, and has paid one bill in full, the reward is sent to both parties within 45 days of the referral.
6. Vodafone X
Vodafone X, Vodafone Group’s Irish youth brand, was launched in 2017 and offers perks such as unlimited data and weekend calls, plus unique access to free online courses and creative studio spaces.
Vodafone X’s refer-a-friend programme offers both customers and friends a €20 voucher for each account that is activated and maintained by the referred-in friend, with a choice of vouchers from either Amazon, Deliveroo or Penneys (Primark Ireland).
7. Mint Mobile
Mint Mobile is a US low-cost prepaid mobile phone service. It offers unlimited international calling and text plans with data packages of three, six or 12 months paid up front. Operating on T-Mobile’s network, it’s often associated with its part-owner, the Canadian actor Ryan Reynolds.
The Mint Mobile refer-a-friend programme offers a US$15 renewal credit to both the referrer and the friend, with rewards increasing with each additional friend referred – so anyone who refer five friends gets a US$240 renewal credit, which is the equivalent of a whole year of the 8GB/mo plan for free.
SMARTY, owned by Three UK, was launched in 2017 as a SIM-only network under the motto ‘simple, straightforward and honest’. The network offers six monthly data plans, with a provision that any unused data is bought back as a credit against future purchases, and support is provided online-only. Targeting a mostly young and socially connected audience, SMARTY realised that referrals would be a key part of its customer acquisition strategy from day one.
SMARTY’s refer-a-friend programme offers both the referrer and the friend a £10 bill credit for each valid referral. So a customer who successfully refers 12 friends gets a whole year free.
“Successfully launching a brand like SMARTY relies on getting the basics right. In today’s market, a firstrate referral programme is one of those essential basics – and that’s exactly what we have thanks to the Buyapowa platform.”
Vodafone UK is the British arm of the celebrated multinational telecoms company. It operates refer-a-friend programmes for both its Vodafone Pay monthly phone plan and all Pay monthly SIM-only plans costing over £10 a month.
Both the customer who refers a friend to join Vodafone and the referred friend receive a £25 Amazon gift card for each successful referral. The gift card is only sent after both the referrer and friend have paid two bills within 90 days of purchase.
“We utilise the referral platform in several different ways, resulting in lower acquisition costs for us, smoother user journeys and value for the customer.”
10. Wind Hellas
Wind Hellas, founded in 1992, is the third largest mobile provider in Greece. While subscriber numbers aren’t reported publicly, the Greek Government says Wind Hellas has 15-25% of active mobile subscribers in the country. Its referral scheme was launched in 2019.
Wind Hellas’ referral programme offers 12GB of data for both the referred-in friend and referrer for a successful referral. To receive the reward, a referred-in friend must remain a customer for a minimum of 30 days and use at least €10 of credit.
Visible is a US MVNO based in Denver, Colorado, that uses Verizon’s 4G LTE Network. It offers unlimited data, messages and minutes for one simple price of US$40 a month, with no annual contract or hidden fees.
Visible’s referral programme differs from a typical referral scheme. Called Party Pay, referrers can refer-a-friend to join their party and, after the first month, each member of that customer’s party will pay less each month thereafter. For example, a customers who adds three friends to his or her party will see the monthly cost for all four people drop by US$15 from US$40 to US$25 a month.
12. Red Bull Mobile
Red Bull Mobile, an MVNO owned by the Austrian energy drinks company, Red Bull, offers a range of both prepaid and postpaid mobile contracts to its customers. The brand currently operates across Austria, Belgium and Poland.
Red Bull Mobile’s Invite-a-Friend programme is found within the Red Bull Mobile app under the ‘More’ menu and offers 1GB of free data to both the referrer and their referred-in friends.
13. Vodafone Ziggo
Vodafone Ziggo, a joint venture between Liberty Global and Vodafone in the Netherlands, was launched in December 2016. The company provides a total of 9.7 million services to its customers, with almost 4 million television subscriptions, over 3 million internet subscriptions and 2.5 million fixed and mobile telephone services subscriptions.
Vodafone Ziggo’s refer-a-friend program provides both the referrer and their referred-in friends with a Coolblue Credit of €50 for every confirmed new Red Pro order.
14. EE Flex
EE’s Flex plan gives customers complete freedom to switch between a number of contract-free, monthly plans, each offering different allowances of minutes, texts and data. Unused data rolls over and customers can change, pause or stop their plans whenever they want.
The EE Flex refer-a-friend programme offers rewards worth £10 to both the referrer and friend. One of the ways this programme differs from many other referral programmes is that anyone who doesn’t already have a Flex Plan can be referred, including existing customers of other EE products and services.
Koodo is a Canadian mobile brand, launched by Telus in 2009, that targets younger customers with lower cost offers for postpaid, prepaid, and wireless home phone services. Unlike its parent company, Koodo does not require a fixed term contract.
When a customer refers a friend to Koodo, both the friend and referrer receive a C$25 credit towards their bills, up to a maximum of C$300 each year.
16. Assurance Wireless
Assurance Wireless, now part of the T-Mobile family after its acquisition of Sprint, is a subsidized telephone service set up by the federal Lifeline Assistance program – a government benefit program supported by the federal Universal Service Fund. Eligible low-income customers are able to access a free phone, including free monthly data, unlimited texting and free monthly minutes.
Assurance Wireless’s referral program is only available in the United States, but offers referrers a US$10 Amazon gift card for every household that referrers successfully introduce.
17. BT Mobile
BT Mobile was launched in March 2015 by BT Consumer as an MVNO on the EE network. Since then, BT acquired EE – which became a sister company. In 2021, BT decided to retire the BT Mobile brand and focus on EE as its consumer mobile offering.
The BT Mobile’s refer-a-friend programme, when active, offered rewards worth £25 to both referrer and friend for valid referrals. The gift card was sent 45 days after the friend joined BT, provided that both the referrer and the friend had paid at least one bill in that period and the cooling off period had passed.
“The Buyapowa platform made it really easy for us to launch a successful referral scheme that’s flexible and delivers a great experience for our customers.”
48 was launched in 2012 by Three Ireland, part of the CK Hutchison Group, as Ireland’s first youth-focused digital mobile brand. Offering SIM-only plans, it principally targets generation Z, but accepts customers in any demographic group, and allows customers to “Carry, Save, Swap, Donate or Borrow” data. In other words, unused data can be rolled over into the next month, saved for later, or donated to charity. Unused calling minutes can be swapped for data, and customers can even borrow data from the next month. All of these actions are managed directly via the 48 app.
New joiners to the 48 fam get 1GB free data plus, if they’ve been referred by a friend, an additional €10 Just Eat gift card. Referrers also get a €10 Just Eat gift card for every friend they introduce.
Rogers, one of Canada’s leading telecoms and media companies, was founded 1960. It provides wireless and residential telecoms and media to Canadian consumers and businesses.
The Rogers refer-a-friend programme offers a C$50 bill credit to both the referrer and referred friend, and referrers can earn up to C$300 in bill credits a year by referring multiple friends.
Xplora is a new, family-safe mobile 4G service operated by Telenor across Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. It aims to introduce children and young people to mobile telecoms in a safe environment, where they can develop good digital habits. Providing services to over 40,000 families across Scandinavia, Xplora also offers IOT and consumer electronics such as smart watches.
Xplora’s refer-a-friend programme is only open to customers, but provides the referrer with 300 NOK 30 days after a successful referral, while referred-in friends receive a 300 NOK discount on a smart watch purchase.
21. Tesco Mobile
Tesco Mobile is an MVNO operated by the leading British retailer Tesco on the O2 network. It began as a low cost ‘no fills’ network in 2003, but steadily enhanced its proposition. By 2018, it reported having 5 million customers in the UK.
Tesco Mobile’s recommend a friend programme offers £20 off the monthly bill for every referrer and referred friend. Referrers can refer family members too, even if they are on the same account, and customers also get access to Tesco’s Family Perks.
22. Telus Mobility
Telus Mobility, a division of Telus Communications, is Canada’s third largest wireless largest cellphone provider. In 2019, Telus Mobility was reported to have 9.9m subscribers.
The Telus Mobility refer-a-friend programme allows customers to invite friends,and receive a C$50 bill credit for each successful referral. Referrers can earn up to C$200 credit in any year.
23. Vodafone Gigafast
Vodafone Gigafast is Vodafone UK’s full fibre broadband offering, which provides plans with average download speeds from 100Mbps to 900Mbps. Vodafone Gigafast is currently being rolled out across the UK, city by city.
Gigafast’s refer-a-friend programme rewards both the referrer and the referred-in customer with a £25 Amazon gift card, provided the friend makes a purchase and pays their bill for at least two months. When these conditions are met, the gift card is paid out within three months of the service being successfully installed.
24. Lebara Mobile Saudi Arabia
Lebara Mobile KSA is an MVNO that operates in Saudi Arabia and is part of the international telecommunications group, Lebara – which specialises in SIM-Only and Pay-as-you-go mobile services.
Lebara Mobile KSA’s refer-a-friend programme is only available through its app and provides an account credit of SR25 to both the referrer and referred-in friend for each successful referral.
As mentioned above, EE is the largest British mobile network operator and internet service provider, and is part of the BT Group. EE also operates a referral programme for its pay monthly telecoms services.
Available only to logged in and verified EE customers, the EE refer-a-friend programme offers rewards worth £25 to the referrer and each friend they refer, provided the friend pays their bill in full for at least two months.
26. Bark Mobile
Bark Mobile is a prepaid national wireless service provider, founded in 2009, that mostly serves customers in northwestern North Carolina.
For every friend introduced via the Buddy referral programme, Bark Mobile provides a reward of a US$15 bill credit for both friend and referrer. Up to a maximum of US$300 credit can be earned in any year from referrals. To qualify, accounts must be activated within 30 days of referral and remain active for at least 30 days thereafter.
Founded in 1997, Plusnet is a British quad-play internet service provider that offers broadband, landline, IPTV and mobile services. In 2007, Plusnet was acquired by BT, but it continues to be run as a separate business. Since 2018, it’s been part of BT’s Consumer Division.
Plusnet’s recommend a friend programme gives both friends and referrers £1.25 off their monthly payments for each successful referral. There’s no limit to the number of referrers a customer can make and, if a customer earns more credits than his or her monthly bill, Plusnet pays them the difference.
28. Freedom Mobile
Freedom Mobile is a Canadian wireless telecoms company owned by Shaw Communications. Headquartered in Toronto, it has 1.8 million active subscribers in urban areas of Toronto, Alberta and British Columbia, making it Canada’s fourth largest mobile network operator.
Freedom Mobile’s referral programme provides a C$25 service credit to both the referrer and the friend when the friend signs up. A customer can earn up to C$250 in service credits per year.
29. Carolina West
Headquartered in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, Carolina West Wireless provides data and mobile services to customers in eleven western NC counties. The company was founded in 1991, and is owned by a partnership consisting of Skyline Telephone and Surry Telephone.
Carolina West’s share referral programme offers a US$25 bill credit to both the friend and referrer for each successful referral. Referrers are able to earn up to US$500 per year.
Launched in 2018, Yoodo is an independent digital mobile service owned and operated by Celcom Axiata Bhd in Malaysia. It offers a fully customisable mobile service, aiming for complete transparency, flexibility and customer convenience.
31. Talk Talk
TalkTalk Telecom Group plc is a company which provides television, telecoms, Internet access and mobile network services to businesses and consumers in the UK.
Talk Talk currently runs a refer-a-friend programme for its Ultra Fibre Optic (UFO) product, which gives the referrer a month’s free credit for each friend they refer. A referrer can earn up to six months credit.
32. Red Pocket Mobile
Red Pocket Mobile is a United States MVNO set up in 2006 that uses the networks of AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon to provide low cost text, talk and data contracts that start from US$10 a month.
Red Pocket Mobile’s referral programme can only be accessed by customers from their Red Pocket Mobile account area. For every successful introduction, referrers can earn up to US$25 in credit towards their next plan payment, with a maximum of US$500 per year. Referred-in friends, meanwhile, receive US $25 off of their first month of service for any plan that is US$30 or more, and US$7.50 off for any plan below US$30.
If you have a referral programme, or are thinking of launching one, then we would be happy to talk with you. We’re always interested in hearing your experience and in sharing best practice. Of course, if you think your programme should be on this list, let us know and we can add it to the article.