24 October 2023

How to master referral email marketing design for maximum impact

Akshita Sharma
Akshita Sharma Content creator
Table of contents
  1. Understanding the basics of email design for referral campaigns
  2. Designing eye-catching referral email templates
  3. Best practices for building an effective referral email template
  4. A/B testing and analyzing your referral email designs
  5. Wrapping up
Understanding the basics of email design for referral campaigns

While it's tempting to constantly chase the latest email marketing trends to rope in new customers, experienced marketers know the power of tapping into their existing user base. Picture this: your happy customers becoming enthusiastic advocates, promoting your brand to their friends and connections. 

That's the essence of referral email marketing. This strategy focuses on promoting referral programs through tailored emails, and it is becoming increasingly popular among eCommerce and DTC brands. Why wouldn't it? A Nielsen Trust study has revealed that people trust their friends' recommendations more than anything else.

But here's the catch: a good referral email is not just about coming up with the perfect offer; it's about ensuring that your email finds its way into your customers' inboxes, grabs their attention, and compels them to take action. In this article, we'll explore the basics of referral email marketing design, along with some referral email examples and tips to help you make the most out of this strategy.

Understanding the basics of email design for referral campaigns

If you're looking to create referral emails that pack a punch and drive maximum impact, there are some key elements to keep in mind.

1. Email subject line

The subject line of your referral email might seem like a small detail, but it is this small detail that decides the fate of your email. Your customers should instantly understand what's on offer. There's no room for ambiguity here. You have to be upfront about the referral offer, making sure that the subject line convinces them to open the email. Maybe something like — “Score a sweet 15% discount on your next purchase and give your bestie a chance to save as well! 🛍️”

Remember these few tips when crafting the subject line:

  • short and sweet often does the trick. Aim for a concise subject line of 5-10 words;
  • personalizing subject lines can increase email open rates by 29%. Add the recipient's name to the subject line;
  • add numbers to your subject line. They grab attention, are easier to scan, and break up the text;
  • using relevant emojis is another good way to grab your recipients' attention;
  • keep it professional and approachable, and never use all caps.

Example: Grove Collaborative

Referral email for loyal customers

(Source: Milled)

This referral email had the subject line "Your $15 offer is expiring." It creates a sense of urgency while also fulfilling the essential criteria of a good subject line.

2. Personalized email copy

So, you've got your subscribers to open your email with an impactful subject line. Now what? The email content has to be just as compelling. And personalization matters here too. The thing is, people are simply more inclined to engage with emails that feel tailor-made for them. 

Starting it with their name is a great idea, but true personalization is about making the content relevant to them. Let's say you have an eCommerce website, and a customer just purchased a jacket from your website. Instead of vaguely asking for a referral, you can invite them to share that specific purchase with friends.

You might also like

ways-to-personalize-your-ecommerce-email-marketing-campaigns6 ways to boost your eCommerce sales with personalized email marketing

Example: The Skimm

Personalized referral email for existing customers

(Source: ReallyGoodEmails)

This referral email takes personalization to a whole new level. It states the date the subscriber joined the platform and the number of referrals already made.

3. Clear and actionable CTA

After your email copy captures the reader's interest, the next step is turning that interest into action. That's where the CTA comes in. At its core, a CTA is like a digital nudge, urging your customers to take that next step. 

It could be a CTA button directing them to your referral program's details, or it could simply be a unique referral link for the recipient. Whatever the case, make sure it jumps out to the readers. 

You might also like

Email Call to Action Best Practices

Here are some tips to ensure that:

  • position the CTA where the readers will see it instantly — right above the fold. But if you think they'll need a little more coaxing, drop it at the end of your email too;
  • use bold, contrasting colors and maybe even visual cues to highlight the CTA;
  • make the CTA time-sensitive, using words like 'now,' 'today,' and 'before it ends,' to create a sense of urgency;
  • the CTA should be more than a decorative element. It should captivate and encourage action.

Example: Rocksbox

Referral program email

(Source: ReallyGoodEmails)

In this referral email, there are two CTA buttons, one at the top and another at the bottom. It has nice, contrasting colors, and the one at the bottom is accompanied by the phrase "It's a win-win," telling the recipient the benefit of participating in the referral program.

4. Responsive design

Have you ever stumbled upon an email on your phone that had tiny fonts or strangely stretched images? That's precisely what you want to avoid. When you're designing your referral emails, it's important to ensure that they stand out on every device, be it a desktop, tablet, or smartphone. 

With almost 42% of emails being opened through mobile devices, a “mobile-first” design has become the need of the hour. 

Ensure that your referral emails have a responsive design with these helpful tips:

  • to ensure better readability, go for single-column layouts that are ideally 600-640px wide;
  • font size is important. Anything smaller than 13px can ruin your email design, making it difficult for recipients to read;
  • keep the most important content right on top;
  • on mobile devices, only the first 25-30 characters from your subject line will be visible; Remember it when crafting your subject line.
  • keep the CTA buttons at least 44 x 44 px, allowing for easier clickability.

Example: Outdoor Voices

Referral email example _ Personal referral link

(Source: Email from Outdoor Voices)

This referral email checks all the boxes of a responsive email design. It has a clean layout, prominently showcasing its hero image and brand name. The CTA is clearly visible, and the font size also looks like it is just right.

You might also like

Responsive_Email_Layout___Cover_ImageHow to Create a Responsive Email Layout

Designing eye-catching referral email templates

If you want to grab the attention of your audience with referral email marketing, the key is in the design. Everything from your email copy to the visuals has to be spot on. So, here are some tips to create eye-catching email templates.

1. Use persuasive copywriting techniques

To design compelling email templates that encourage action in your referral campaign, you need to know some basics about persuasive copywriting. We've already discussed the importance of attention-grabbing email subject lines, personalized email copy, and effective CTAs. 

Here's how you can make them more persuasive:

  • trigger FOMO: Try to create a sense of urgency in both your subject line and your email copy. Nobody wants to feel like they've been left behind;
  • sound bites: Sound bites are these little snippets of email text that are made up of two main things: repetition and rhyme. Not only do they sound good, but they also help make your message more memorable;
  • inverted pyramid model: Put the most crucial information upfront. It begins with the conclusion, then presents supporting details, and wraps up with general information;
  • 80-20 rule: Use the second person about 80% of the time and limit the use of the first person to about 20%. The second-person approach makes the reader the center of attention.

Tools to help:

  • Narrato AI

An AI content creation platform that offers a bunch of AI tools to help with impactful email writing. From subject line generator to email copy generator, the platform covers all bases when it comes to creating perfect, professional referral emails. 

This AI copywriting platform also includes a “Promotion or Offer Email” template that could be particularly helpful for your referral emails. But there are others for event promotions, newsletters, and more as well.

Narrato AI _ Referral program incentives

Apart from the AI email writer, Narrato offers over 100+ AI tools and templates for content creation. This includes AI blog writer, AI product description generator, AI social media content generator, AI ad copy generator, and more. 

The platform also has dedicated templates for content generation in popular copywriting frameworks like AIDA, BAB, and PAS. With this tool, you can write high-converting referral emails even if you're not an expert copywriter.

  • Lyne

This nifty tool uses AI to personalize your emails, making sure each prospect gets content that's tailored to them.

Lyne is a powerful tool that enables high-volume senders to create professional referral emails effortlessly. With the ability to personalize up to 12 different elements in your email, it takes personalization to a whole new level. Additionally, Lyne offers AI-powered Icebreakers, helping you establish genuine connections with your recipients.

Lyne _ Referral program page

2. Choose the right color scheme

Selecting the perfect color scheme for your referral email templates is more than just an aesthetic choice; it's a strategic decision that can significantly impact your campaign's effectiveness. 

Think about your brand identity and the emotions and associations different colors evoke. For example, blue often conveys trust and professionalism, while vibrant reds can signify urgency. Use a consistent color palette across all your emails, and when it comes to your CTA buttons, don't be afraid to choose a color that really stands out.

Tools to help:

  • Stripo

We offer 1400+ beautiful, ready-to-use email templates (including some referral emails) that you can edit using the drag-and-drop email template builder. You can also use a brand kit generator, where you can set guidelines for design styles, images, and all your brand assets to ensure consistency across the board.

Stripo editor for referral emails

  • Khroma

This is an AI-powered color palette generator that creates endless palettes tailored specifically to your preferences.

One of its most impressive features is its personalized algorithm, which allows you to train Khroma's neural network to fine-tune the color selections even further.

Khroma _ Color selections for mass referral emails

3. Incorporate compelling visuals

Visuals are a powerful tool to capture attention, convey your message, and encourage action. Use original, authentic images that represent your brand and the real people behind it. You can create custom graphics or even use GIFs, but the idea is to avoid using stock images. 

Create a visual hierarchy to guide the reader's eye from the most crucial elements. This could be in the form of an icon next to bullet points or an arrow pointing to the CTA. Lastly, make sure there is a perfect balance between text and visuals to ensure your message shines through.

Tools to help:

  • Canva

If you plan to add custom graphics to your referral email template, Canva could be of great help. It offers a huge library of graphic elements, videos, and more for building any kind of graphic you want. There are also thousands of email header templates that you can easily edit and add to your referral email design.

The drag-and-drop editor makes it easier to adjust any element in the design. With AI features like Magic Design, Text-to-Image, and Magic Write, you can wrap up the designing process even quicker.

Canva _ Create referral emails

  • Figma

This design tool could be a great option if you want to co-create referral email visuals with your design team.

Using Figma, you can design visuals for different devices using pre-loaded frames, adjust layers, create vectors, customize fonts, and do a lot more. Figma also lets you standardize different components, styles, and other variables.

Figma _ Design appealing visuals

Best practices for building an effective referral email template

A successful referral email is one that not only looks great but also gets results. Here are some tips for building an effective referral email template.

1. Keeping it simple and clutter-free

When you're designing your referral email template, remember that less is more. Resist the urge to fill it with excessive content, images, and flashy elements. A clean and simple layout is visually appealing and easier for your recipients to digest.

Example: Goby

Simple and clutter-free referral email

(Source: ReallyGoodEmails)

This referral email template has a clean and minimalistic design, featuring a single color scheme with all text perfectly centered.

Pro tip: Prioritize your message and call-to-action. Focus on the one thing you want your readers to do.

2. Designing for scannability

Most people skim the text. They don't always read every word. If you're presenting your readers with paragraphs of text, chances are that they'll skip your email. To make sure your referral email doesn't get lost in the shuffle, create an easily scannable design. Break up the text with subheadings and bullet points. If you're adding paragraphs, keep them short.

Example: Coinbase

Designing emails for scannability

(Source: ReallyGoodEmails)

Even though this referral email might seem a little text-heavy, it does a great job of designing the email to make it scannable. Short, to-the-point sentences effectively explain the referral process, and the opening paragraph is only two sentences long.

Pro tip: Make sure to highlight the important details such as the referral offer, perks, and how to jump in. Keep it simple for readers to locate the crucial details.

3. Leveraging whitespace effectively

Give your content some room to "breathe" by adding sufficient whitespace to the email design template. Although called whitespace, it is not necessarily white. It is the empty space around your content that creates a visual hierarchy and helps draw attention to the essential elements — the main message and CTA.

Example: Casper

Leveraging whitespace effectively

(Source: ReallyGoodEmails)

With minimal text and sufficient spaces between all elements, this referral email is a good example of the effective use of whitespaces.

Pro tip: When designing your referral email, add generous margins and padding. It creates a sense of spaciousness that is pleasing to the eye and also makes the text less overwhelming.

4. Using brand elements

Your referral email should be an extension of your brand. Use colors, fonts, and images that match your brand identity. This helps with brand recognition and recall.

Example: Digital Ocean

Using brand elements in emails

(Source: ReallyGoodEmails)

This referral email template captures the recipients' interest with an image that aligns perfectly with the brand's ocean theme, while also highlighting the referral offer. The color scheme and font also tie in with the one used on their website.

Pro tip: Ensure consistency in your email templates by developing a style guide that incorporates brand colors, logo usage, and font choices. More importantly, stick to it with all your content.

5. Incorporating brand voice and personality

Every brand has a unique voice and personality. Make sure it shines through in your email copy. Whether your brand is fun and quirky or professional and authoritative, your email should mirror the tone you want to convey.

Example: Betterment

Incorporating brand voice and personality

(Source: ReallyGoodEmails)

This referral email from Betterment showcases their brand personality by using humor and relatable scenarios to make the topic a little more engaging for readers. The witty copy encourages referrals in a friendly manner.

Pro tip: When writing the email copy for your referral marketing campaign, think about your brand's personality. Write in a way that feels like a conversation with a friend rather than a formal corporate-speak. Use the language your audience uses and relates to.

A/B testing and analyzing your referral email designs

A/B testing is the key to creating a referral email marketing campaign that stands out. You can test every aspect to ensure it is optimized for success, from the placement of CTAs and wording in email copy to the graphics used. Through this testing process, you can fine-tune your email design and ultimately get the best returns on your investment.

Here's an in-depth guide on the best practices and tools for email A/B testing that you might find useful.

Key metrics to track and analyze

When you're performing A/B testing on referral emails, it's important to track and analyze some key metrics to determine which version of the email is more effective at driving referrals. These can include:

  • click-through rate (CTR): Indicates the percentage of recipients who interacted with the email by clicking on one or more links;
  • conversion rate: Refers to the percentage of recipients who took the desired action, such as signing up, making a purchase, or making a referral;
  • referral rate: The email's effectiveness in generating successful referrals;
  • open rate: Indicates the percentage of recipients who opened the email;
  • bounce rate: Percentage of undelivered emails due to invalid email addresses or other issues;
  • engagement metrics: These metrics can be about scrolling behavior, time spent reading the email, and interactions with images or interactive elements.

You might also like

how-can-the-effectiveness-of-email-advertising-campaigns-be-measured-directlyHow can the effectiveness of email advertising campaigns be measured directly?

Wrapping up

That's a wrap on our guide to mastering referral email marketing design. We've explored everything from the fundamentals of email personalization and crafting subject lines and CTA to the more nuanced concepts of maintaining brand consistency and mobile optimization. 

But here's the kicker — mastering referral email marketing design isn't a one-and-done deal. It's about constantly learning, adapting, and iterating your email designs to ensure that they resonate with your audience and remain effective. Because, in the end, mastering referral email marketing design is, in reality, about mastering the art of engaging with people!

So next time you sit down to craft that referral email, incorporate the tips and tricks you've picked up here.

Design professional referral emails with Stripo
Was this article helpful?
Tell us your thoughts
Thanks for your feedback!
Stripo editor
Simplify email production process.
Stripo plugin
Integrate Stripo drag-n-drop editor to your web application.
Order a Custom Template
Our team can design and code it for you. Just fill in the brief and we'll get back to you shortly.

Stripo editor

For email marketing teams and solo email creators.

Stripo plugin

For products that could benefit from an integrated white-label email builder.