Buyapowa Masterclass: Why no brand is too big for referral

The popular belief is that referral marketing is a sledgehammer, something you deploy to get masses of new customer acquisitions in one big slam. But, here at Buyapowa, we know it can be much more surgical than that – less a sledgehammer and more of a scalpel; something you can deploy in very specific ways to achieve very specific goals.

We’ll take you through two use cases where referral can be used with surgical precision. But, bear with us, this is going to involve some role-playing here.

Now, imagine you’re the Chief Marketing Officer for a large brand. Just about everyone who’s ever going to shop with you has already done so, and everybody else still knows you. But, with 83% of customers expecting a refer-a-friend programme of some kind, what is going to happen when a customer arrives with a question about yours? Unfortunately, given the ubiquity and popularity of refer-a-friend schemes — from titans like Tesla, Uber, Dropbox, and Airbnb — the answer “we’re too big for referral” isn’t a satisfactory one.

And there’s a very good reason why this answer doesn’t cut it: referral is not only there for new customer acquisition.

Of course, referral does work wonders when it comes to acquisition, but that’s not where referral begins and ends. In fact, when deployed and positioned cleverly, you can get incredibly surgical with referral and supercharge all manner of different customer behaviours.

For now, let’s just focus on two: targeting and acquiring specific types of customers and promoting specific categories or products. And, to illustrate exactly how referral can work in these areas, let’s keep pretending you’re that same CMO of a big-time retailer.


General acquisition might not be your top priority, but how is your company doing among other customer personas, like younger consumers? Are you their go-to store, or are they shopping elsewhere? Are they buying from niche, specialist boutique retailers or disruptive newcomers?

Well, like any other demographic or behavioural segment, referral’s the proven way to get more of them. And that’s because referral is the ultimate lookalike marketing channel. By ‘lookalike marketing,’ we mean our friends and peers tend to look broadly like we do. They’re often similar demographically and geographically, they have comparable budgets and spending habits, and, most crucially, they tend to be interested in and purchase the same kinds of things. Which makes sense, doesn’t it? How often have you made a purchase or subscribed to a service, watched a movie or read a book — all based on the recommendation of a trusted friend or family member?

Referral leverages those connections your existing customers have with these identical potential customers, and it turns their passion for your brand into a marketing channel.

As a result, if you use a referral platform to incentivize very specific segments of your customer database to get their friends shopping, you can be sure that any newly acquired customers are highly likely to fall into that very same segment. That’s exactly what a client of ours is doing with their own refer-a-friend campaign, where they’re using the Buyapowa platform to get young students on their network to refer their friends, acquiring huge numbers of younger customers as a result.

And this is something that any brand or retailer can do to grow priority segments, whether they’re defined by age, gender, spending habits or any other mission-critical factor.


Here’s just another way in which referral can be used surgically. And it’s important, especially if you’re a large brand or retailer and acquiring new customers isn’t your priority. If you are that large brand or retailer, then it’s safe to assume that consumers have shopped with you in the past or at least know of your brand. However, the opportunity for referral comes from your happy customers telling their friends about new products they’ve discovered, categories of products they’ve enjoyed, or maybe even under-represented categories that may be struggling via more traditional channels.

Let’s run some hypotheticals. Say you’re the CMO of a clothing retailer. You offer sleek and stylish clothing, but how many know you also offer beauty products? Or, let’s say you’re a bank. Customers trust you with their savings and financial security, but how many know you also offer travel insurance? Or, let’s say you’re a telecom. You provide great plans with exceptional coverage, but how many know you also offer free subscription services to Netflix or Spotify?

Three are enough examples. But I could do this all day. In the end, however, the answer to how can you market those under-represented product categories or individual items is simple: referral.

And, that’s exactly what a big telecom client of ours did (sorry, we’re not naming names). They began using their refer-a-friend programme to promote specific smartphone devices. After working with them already and helping them acquire lots of new customers using the classic refer-a-friend programme approach, they wanted to get more surgical. So, they invited existing customers not just to get their friends signing up, but also to get them purchasing a specific Samsung smartphone when they do. And, because they can control the margins on this limited range of products more closely, they can even offer specific rewards and incentives when customers and their friends achieve these very precise referrals. It was perfect, and it demonstrated just how it can be both the sledgehammer in acquiring new customers and the scalpel in executing very specific strategies.

There’s an honourable mention here for referral marketing that nevertheless deserves some attention: public perception. What if everyone knew you, but unfortunately for all the wrong reasons? Now, you’ve transformed and want to change people’s perceptions of your brand. How are you going to do that? People aren’t going to believe you or your advertising. But they will believe their friends who say “that brand has changed. It’s not like it was before. It’s great now!” Aside from acquiring new customers, referral marketing can be used to sway hesitant ones too. Think about a faulty product, like the Samsung Note 7 in 2016, or a poor advertising campaign, like Pepsi in 2017, or a bad launch, like Microsoft’s Xbox One in 2013. While the actual transformation and rebuilding of trust are up to you and those customers, referral marketing can help start that conversation.

Don’t worry if the sledgehammer approach is what you’re after: more new customers, no matter what they look like or what they purchase when they shop. Referral still remains the number one tool to achieve that. But, if you think you’re too big for referral, this surgical approach is something you really should consider. Because big is good. But big can always be bigger.

Stay tuned for more Buyapowa Masterclasses: bite-sized explorations of how referral can be used in unlimited ways, with often surprising results.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in using referral in the surgical way described above, just get in touch and we’ll help you explore the possibilities.

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