The planning and implementation of a profitable marketing strategy is one of the most important tasks that any business faces.  But it’s also one of the most challenging. 

Online, on TV and radio, and in traditional print media, potential customers for your products or services are constantly bombarded by advertising messages.  And there’s evidence that this over-exposure is leading to increased “banner blindness”.  So not only are they annoyed by this deluge of advertising; but increasingly they don’t even see it.  

Worse still, the cost of pay per click campaigns on Google, Bing, Facebook and other platforms is rising rapidly even as they become less effective.  

So it’s entirely logical that there should be an increasing interest in traditional “word of mouth” or referral marketing – that’s to say incentivizing your existing customers to bring you more business, typically through special offers, discounts, free gifts or the opportunity to enter competitions for attractive prizes.

Conversion rates vary widely according to the industry you’re in, but there’s little doubt that the cost of acquiring a customer by a referral campaign is much lower than that achieved by direct marketing.  After all, who are your prospects more likely to trust – their family, friends and other satisfied customers, or an anonymous business which has no existing relationship with them and no interest in them beyond the next sale?   

Referral marketing has some similarities with affiliate marketing, but there is a crucial difference.  If you set up an affiliate program you will be paying direct money commissions to independent business people who may or may not be customers for your product or service.  The great advantage from the point of view of the business owner is that the affiliate has to do most of the marketing work.  You will pay them only if and when they make a sale. 

The great disadvantage of referral marketing, by contrast, at least until recent years, is that it has been extraordinarily labor intensive, and therefore expensive.  But with the advance of social media and mobile technologies, there are now numerous apps which can help facilitate the process.

Here’s our list of the 24 best.  There are others of course, and some which focus more on some types of business than others, but we hope this will be a good starting point.

AdvocateHub http://influitive.com/ Claims Hootsuite, Hewlett Packard and Atlassian among its customers. Enrols and motivates customers as advocates for your business.  Demo on request.

AddShoppers http://www.addshoppers.com/ Contests, bonuses and viral marketing strategies.  Customized pricing depending on the particular needs of your business. 

Ambassador https://www.getambassador.com  In a 2016 survey conducted online by Harris Poll on behalf of Ambassador, 82% of Americans say they seek recommendations from friends and family when considering a purchase. Demo on request

Amplifinity http://amplifinity.com/ – 3 price points depending on the size of your business – free demo

Campaignedhttp://campaignedapp.com/ $25 per month 14 day free trial

CleverTap www.clevertap.com  2200 customers.  Free to use for less than a million engagements a month.  $250 a month for between 1 and 5 million.  $300 a month betwen 5 and 100 million.  Free trial available.

Expect Referrals http://expectreferrals.com/ $25 a month – 30 day free trial.  A snippet of code on your website gets your referral program started.  Mobile friendly and fully integrates with Facebook, Twitter and Mail Chimp.

Extole www.extole.com Used by major brands such as Microsoft, Virgin America, Staples and Vistaprint.  Free demo and extensive training resources on website.

Frederick http://www.hirefrederick.com/ Aimed particularly at smaller scale local businesses.  Offers a variety of automated marketing services, including referrals.  2 week free trial.

Genius Referrals www.geniusreferrals.com Referral marketing app that works with wordpress, prestashop, weebly, shopify or and any business website.  Free trial available.

Happy Grasshopper www.happygrasshopper.com/ Predominantly an e-mail follow-up service. Plans from $19 a month.

InviteBox http://invitebox.com/ Apply code snippet to your website to get started.  Integrates with WordPress, Shopify, Mail Chimp and other platforms.  Programs for $29, $59 and $199 a month depending on the size of your business – 14 day free trial

Invite Referralshttp://www.invitereferrals.com/ Mobile and PC friendly, integrates with all major social media platforms and e-mail services. Plans from $49 a month. 15 day free trial.

NextBee http://www.nextbee.com/ Social media, coupons and e-mail.  More than 300 customers worldwide, including Symantec, Adobe, ComCast and aquasana.  Demo on request.

Referral Candyhttp://www.referralcandy.com/ Plans from $25 a month – 30 day risk free trial

Referral Rock https://referralrock.com.  Fully automated referral and reward marketing including gift cards, pre-paid visa cards and coupons.  Plans from $125 a month

Referral SaaSquatch http://www.referralsaasquatch.com/ More oriented towards Fortune 100 companies.  Plans from $399 a month, but demo and individual consultation available on request.

Shopify https://apps.shopify.com If you haven’t yet set up a website for your business you need to think about Shopify.  Plans start from $29 a month and there are a number of referral marketing apps you can add, such as –

  • Friendbuy
  • LoyaltyLion
  • S Loyalty: Refer A Friend
  • Forewards
  • Referrify

Social Annex – Services include loyalty and referral programs, content marketing, user-generated content and visual commerce.  Extensive free training resources and tailored demo on request.

Social Twisthttps://www.socialtwist.com/ Referral marketing, social engagement and social media promotion.  Has worked with Barnes & Noble, BJ’s, KLM and Lacoste among other leading brands.

Spark http://rewardstream.com/ Geared towards e-commerce, telecoms and credit unions, Spark boasts Boost, Cricket, Virgin Mobile and Envision among its clients.  Customized pricing based on the specific needs of your business.

Wishpond – https://www.wishpond.com Services include landing pages, contests and promotions, lead databases and e-mail marketing.  Plans from $45 a month – 14 day free trial.

Woobox  https://woobox.com Sweepstakes, coupons and rewards, contests and promotions.  Claims to serve 3 million businesses around the world.  Some free social media apps.  Paid plans from $30 a month.

Editor’s Note: This blog post originally appeared in July 2013. It has been updated to reflect pricing & offering changes, as well as newly available tools and solutions.      

Looking for more Digital Agency assistance for your business? Find great Digital Agency partners in our Top Local Agency Marketplace!

Growth Marketing Manager at |

Andrew has serviced SEO clients across a variety of industries including large-scale e-commerce, retail, home services, and more. As Growth Marketing Manager for UpCity, he works every day to improve our Marketplace experience for agencies and business owners alike.