KickoffLabs Blog:

How to Run a Referral Contest that Grows Your Brand

By Josh Ledgard

Dec 22nd, 2015


Are you ready to take your brand to the next level? Okay, that was really cheesy. Let me re-ask the question this way:

Would you like to build brand awareness, increase sales, or grow your email list so that you can nurture leads? If the answer is yes to any of those, then a referral contest is always the right strategy.

With a referral contest, you can use the power of social marketing to effectively grow your brand.

With a referral contest, you can use the power of social marketing to effectively grow your brand. Click To Tweet

There are two reasons why you will win also with a referral contest:

     1. It’s Word-of-Mouth Marketing. People trust other people, especially those within their personal circles. If you can successfully get a customer to evangelize your brand to their friends and family, you’ll have by-passed the “I don’t know you” hesitation.


     2. It’s Highly Targeted. The people who share your contest aren’t just going to spam their entire contact list– they’re going to send it to people who they know will be interested and likely to attend.

Referral marketing is so killer because people are actually tapping into their own resources. They’re connecting with people they know and that makes them automatically more trustworthy and influential.

Would you like a free list of what to check when creating your referral contest? Subscribe to receive this extra checklist.

How to Run an Epic Referral Contest

Now that you’re convinced that referral contests equal marketing magic, it’s time to create a strategy for running one that grows your brand.


Source the Right Referrers

When it comes to finding the perfect referrers, there are actually four places you can look:

Your Email List

Are you segmenting your email newsletters? If not, you’re overlooking potential superstars hiding in your list like Where’s Waldo?


Image Courtesy of Where’s Waldo? You’re welcome and good luck. I still haven’t found him.

So, how exactly should you segment your email list for best results? For starters, find the ones who always open your emails, always click through, and who’ve purchased from you in the past. Those are the most motivated people on your list.

Your Website Visitors

Some people aren’t subscribed to your email list but still visit your site regularly. Don’t forget to reach out to them. There’s three powerful ways you can do that:

  • Discuss it in your blog posts. If you have a blog, it’s the perfect opportunity to promote your current contest and get your readers excited about the prize.

  • Use a Hello Bar. If you’ve never heard of it, a Hello Bar is toolbar you can place at the top of your website to advertise your new contest.

Your Social Followers

You have a profile on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or another major social platform– now it’s time to reach out to your followers and let them know about your newest contest. Do that with a series of well-timed posts. We’ll discuss this strategy more later on in this guide.

Your Idols in the Industry

Reach out to influencers in your industry who speak to your target audience. If you can get an influencer to promote your contest, you will widen your reach and grow your brand recognition.

Find influencers through their social media accounts or websites. But don’t just hit them with your request out of the blue. Start by building a relationship with them by sharing their content on your social accounts, commenting on their blog posts, and tagging them in relevant posts of your own.

After you’ve started building a relationship (a process that can take weeks or months), you can safely ask them to share your contest with their audience. Send them a message or reach out to them by email.

Ideally, you’ll have a list of 25+ influencers that you can reach out to. Start early because this process takes the most time. However, it is worth it in the end.

Decide What You Want Most From the Contest

So, what would you like to get most from your contest? More sign ups, more customers, more community, greater brand awareness?

Now, consider which type contest can produce those results. Here’s an example:

More sign ups? Choose a giveaway with a random drawing.

More customers? Give a mini-prize (i.e. a promo coupon or free ebook) to everyone who signs up for your email list and then reward the referrer with extra entries towards a grand prize.

More community? Create a contest where your fans and followers generate the content (i.e. posting a video of why they love your product).

Greater brand awareness? Create a contest where the most voted-for participant wins. Participants must solicit friends and family to vote for them.

Make it Easy to Participate

The Internet has made us, shall we say, lazy?


The last thing your contest participants want to do is think up a non-scammy script to encourage their buddies to join in. That’s your job.

Create a script that they can email to their friends and share on their social media channels. Keep it short and sweet, but make sure that it points back to your contest.

Choose the Perfect Incentive

When it comes to prizes for referral contests, you have two major considerations:

Your Product

Give away your product. This may or may not work as a prize for your referrers because they may already be clients of yours. In that case, use your product as the enticing prize for those whom they refer, and then give them something else entirely (see #3).

Not Your Product

I’m a big fan of using your own product or service as the grand prize, but there are times when a free tablet, DSLR camera, latest gaming console, or other hot prize may be more appropriate. Whether you’re trying to attract a larger pool of contest participants or hoping to activate your current customers, a flashy prize can be amazing.

Make sure it’s related/relevant to your industry though… There’s no use giving away the hottest new bike to your community of knitters, unless you want this to happen:


When considering the value of the prize, remember this equation: If the average value of a customer is $100, and you award the one who brings you the most customers a $300 prize, you’ve actually made $700.

Give Away Different Rewards for Different Levels of Awesome

Aside from the one grand prize model, you can opt for different rewards when a participant reaches a specific amount of verified referrals. Create multiple reward levels so that you can keep your participants motivated to reach for the stars.

Promote the Heck Out of It on Social Media

Nothing gets fans in a frenzy like good old-fashioned competition. Social media is a surefire way to increase the excitement.


Create a leaderboard

A leaderboard shows participants where they stand in the competition. Include one for lengthy contests to keep interest and energy levels high. You can post this leaderboard on your social profiles like so:

selfie leaderboard

Image Courtesy of LuvIt Chocolate

You can also use our Custom Contest Scoring feature on a dedicated landing page that participants can visit.

What’s the big idea behind a leaderboard? It actually does three things:

It provides social proof. People can see that others are participating which makes them want to participate also.

It awakes the competitive beast inside of all of us. It prompts your contest entrants to share the news of their hot lead with their friends, followers, and fans.

It profiles superstar referrers. This quick hit of pride will have your lead participants re-posting results and sharing it with their circles.

Create a Dedicated Landing Page

You need a sales page for your contest, but not just one.

I recommend that you create two– one for your referrer and one for those they’ve referred. Here’s what to include on each:

The Landing Page for Referrer

Discuss the prize, hit ‘em with the stakes, and then give them the ways they can win. Since this is a referral contest, you’ll want to include:

  • Share buttons + a script
  • An easy entry submission form
  • A pinnable image
  • The Landing Page for Those They Refer

    On this page, introduce yourself, explain why you’re awesome and then provide the following:

  • A video
  • An introductory offer
  • A free ebook
  • A valuable resource
  • Testimonials and social proof
  • More swag…
  • Be sure to empower them to refer, too!

    No One’s A Loser

    What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but in your contest, everyone’s a winner. Even if they don’t win the grand prize, give them a consolation prize such as a special promo code or a super-secret ebook. This will make them feel good about joining your future contests.

    Final Thoughts

    Running a referral contest is a great way to grow your brand. Use these strategies to build a contest that delights your fans and brings new ones aboard.

    Would you like a free list of what to check when creating your referral contest? Subscribe to receive this extra checklist.

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