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Rohan MendirattaNov 3, 2000 1:45:00 AM12 min read

How to Create Email Campaigns That Generate Word of Mouth


Let’s be clear. You don’t need existing email lists to launch blockbuster email campaigns that generate word of mouth.

Harry’s — as you’ll see shortly — is a ready example you want to emulate. They started with 12 people on their mailing list.

And all 12 were their employees. Not even their marketing leads!

Whether you have a list or not, you’ll discover exactly how to use email to drive word of mouth marketing success for your brand leveraging email.

The Numbers Are In Your Favor!

You probably know the stats already and can throw them around without even thinking.

  • Your customers have a 92% chance of trusting recommendations from people they know; only 37% of them give search engine ads that level of trust.
  • A word-of-mouth recommendation from a trusted friend is 50 times (i.e., 5,000%) more likely to lead to a purchase.
  • Existing customers spend 67% more money on your business than new customers.
  • Customers gained via word-of-mouth would boost your profit margins by 25%.

And to crown it all, email converts more leads to buyers than any other marketing medium.

You might be thinking, “OK, Nicholas, enough with the stats. Where do I start?”

Start from where you stand right now — your email campaign launchpad.

Your Email Campaign Launchpad

I call the starting point of your word of mouth campaign your launchpad.

No list? No problem.

You can adapt your email campaign to fit your situation — whether you have a list or not. You can instantly build and profit from your list.

What you need is a carefully crafted email sequence.

Bryan Harris of VideoFruit shared Laura Elizabeth’s story on his website. In that case study, Laura’s email campaign to new subscribers generates over $2,000 in sales on average, on autopilot.

welcome sequence income statistic
Image Credit: VideoFruit

No, Laura’s story isn’t a word-of-mouth example.

The point is you can build an email list using a sequence of messages, even without subscribers in the beginning.

Albeit, in this case, you want to craft your email series to drive word of mouth marketing for your business.

Yes, your campaign can start small. But it doesn’t have to stay small. I’ll call these starting points “launchpads.”

Launchpads vary, depending on whether you have a list or not. And the size of your list, if you have one, influences your launchpad too.

You have three email campaign launchpads:

  1. Launching on your site
  2. Using on other people’s platforms
  3. Leveraging on your existing email list

Let’s explore these campaign launchpads.

Launch Your Email Campaign on Your Site

You can use this launchpad if your subscriber list is small or nonexistent. And you can also use it if you don’t want to pay other people to launch your campaign on their sites.

Here’s how Harry’s used their site as their launchpad.

Harry’s: Subscription Shaving Sticks that Rival Gillette

launching your email campaign

Starting with no email subscribers, Harry’s grew to 100,000 people on their list in just a week!

Here’s how they did it.

Step #1: Network and Leverage Your Closest Allies

Harry’s had only 12 employees when they started. And that includes the two founders — Jeff Raider and Andy Katz-Mayfield.

According to Jeff, they had spent some time gathering emails from people they know. Before their pre-launch week, founders of Harry’s talked to more than 100 people, in person. And every time they spoke to people at meetings and events about the project, they collect their email addresses.

It’s vital that you leverage your existing network.

Your closest allies might be the one who’d care enough to drive your message like it’s theirs. In Jeff’s words,

“More than 200 participants referred more than 50 of their friends, achieving the highest tier reward. These were largely people who were close to us with large followings or access to companies that sent out blasts on our behalf.”

Here’s the graph of how Harry’s word of mouth campaign performed.

Referral winners statistic
Image credit: The Tim Ferriss Show

Step #2: Put Your Network to Work

Harry’s created a two-page microsite. A landing page to collect email addresses.

The shaving startup’s employees sent out personalized email messages to everyone on their contacts list. They informed their targets of the launch and asked them to sign up on Harry’s landing page to get incentives.

putting your network to work
Image credit:

And a second page to invite word of mouth buzz. This page is also designed to generate a unique URL per email address automatically.

invite a friend email
Image credit:

If you’re tech-savvy or can get someone to help you, Harry’s avails their microsite’s codes on GitHub for free. You can even download the codes for this microsite from a link they provided on Tim Ferriss’s site, here.

Step #3: Protect Your Rewards

Of the 100,000 emails that came to Harry’s, 15% were duds. Some people tried to game the referral program. And the most targeted was the highest reward tier!

Harry’s had anticipated this would happen. To safeguard their promotion, they set up IP blocking. This arrangement prevented double entry from one IP.

And they also used SendGrid to weed out illegitimate email addresses.

What Worked for Harry’s and Why

what worked for Harry's and why

Although Harry’s had predicted the success of their campaign, they exceeded their best prediction in one day!

They’d hit 15,000 subscribers in one day.

number of referral signups by day
‌‌Image credit: The Tim Ferriss Show

Jeff gave out the exact template they used for the first email messages their employees used. Employees were to personalize that email message, but they followed that template to make things easy for everyone.

email template example

They also made it easy for their employees to pass their message to entire companies. And for that, Jeff also created a custom email template.

example of email template

Launch Your Campaign on People’s Platforms

This launchpad leverages on bloggers, paid traffic, and social media influencers. The goal here is to build a robust email list and then launch your campaign to that community you created.

If you have money to acquire subscribers, this is a great route to go.

Email converts better, and it goes well with word of mouth. You’re more likely to get 600% the click-through rate on a message you send by email than tweets.

And email is 40 times more effective for campaigns than social media fronts like Facebook or Twitter.

So it makes sense to build an email list first and then use that list to launch your word of mouth marketing.

How Pinterest Leveraged Other People’s Platforms

leveraging other people's platforms

Today Pinterest has many reasons to be loved, and that’s why 335 million people use it every month. But it wasn’t always that way.

Most of Pinterest's first adopters came from Des Moines. The hometown of the app’s founder, Ben Silbermann.

These early users had learned of the app from Silbermann’s family and friends. When Pinterest’s growth stalled at 3,000 users, Ben tried to grow its user base by finding regular users — people who like who enjoy the app.

Ben and his team looked to word of mouth marketing to scale their app. They organized meetups and turned attendees into their evangelists.

Here’s how you can leverage Pinterest’s word of mouth tactics.

Step #1: Create an Invite-Only Campaign

by invite-only campaign
Image Credit: TechCrunch

Pinterest used a campaign called Pin-It-Forward. The idea was to get bloggers to create Pinterest boards, and then invite their audiences to remix those boards using their invite links.

This campaign was so successful that when Pinterest officially launched in the UK in 2013, it used the same campaign from 2010. And to make the Brits feel at home, the app made UK English an option for users.

Step #2: Leverage Influencers to Collect Emails

Influencer marketing is easily one of the most profitable marketing channels you can explore. It gives you $6 for every $1 spend; very few things in marketing hand you outsized profits like that.

Pinterest knows this. They availed their invites-only Pin-It-Forward campaign through influential bloggers.

Participants whom these bloggers referred would signup with their email addresses. And then gain access to Pinterest to create their boards using elements from the influencer’s boards.

Step #3: Offer Badges to Bloggers to Win Attention to Your Campaign

Blogs that participated in the Pin-It-Forward campaign got badges that linked back to their Pin-It-Forward boards. This badges drove attention to the campaign and got Pinterest more signups.

badges to bloggers to win attention

What Worked for Pinterest and Why

The founder of Pinterest already found that DIY audiences enjoyed Pinterest back at home, so he doubled down on that audience.  

Pinterest had enjoyed word of mouth success with its grassroots effort back in Des Moines. So they continued that “grassroots” marketing using bloggers to get word of mouth for their app, online.

The Pin-It-Forward word of mouth campaign relied on images of DIY activities. This campaign continued what Ben was trying to achieve — get people like himself to onboard the app.

Pinterest also benefited from their users introducing friends and family.

In summary, you can take these lessons from Pinterest:

  1. Know your target audience or the people who use your solution the most and double down on attracting them.
  2. Reach that target audience via the platforms they hang out and through the people that influence their decisions.
  3. Design a campaign that your audience's influencers would love to share with their subscribers.
  4. Collect emails from those that engage with the campaign.
  5. Invite those that engage with the campaign to use your solution and share their experience with their friends and family.

Launch With Your Existing List

What’s better than having a sizable list of subscribers who want to hear from you?

Getting them to tell others about you!

And that’s what this is all about — generating buzz from people who already know about you.

Email and word-of-mouth is a match made in paradise for three reasons:

  1. More than 9 in every 10 people trust recommendations from people they know.
  2. People give their friend’s recommendation two times the attention they give other people’s.
  3. Customers who come from word of mouth campaigns spend up to 25% more money than everyone else.

See how Dropbox used email to generate word of mouth buzz.

Free Storage: How Dropbox Doubled Its User Base Quarterly

First, let’s talk about its success. Dropbox jumped from 100,000 to 4 million users in one year and three months. It quickly became a Unicorn, valued at over $10 billion.

In 2018 alone, the cloud storage behemoth earned almost $1.4 billion in revenue, a 26% year on year growth. The service has more than half a billion users, and 12.3 million of its users are paying customers.

In its early days, Dropbox grew like wildfire. It doubled its user base every three months. Thanks to their referral program.

But what made the referrals so potent?

The invite email!

Once you get your free storage space on Dropbox, they’d ask you to invite your friends to get even more space.

Here’s Dropbox’s step by step for the email campaign that generated their word of mouth buzz.

Step #1: Tell Your Subscribers How They’ll Benefit

Dropbox provides thorough information on the benefits that subscribers stand to gain. They created a page on how to get more space by inviting friends.

telling your subscribers how they will benefit by inviting friends

And the page had links explaining any part of the campaign that might be confusing to their readers. They removed all ambiguities to how this program works.

Step #2: Create a Signup Page

Existing product users can invite new subscribers to sign up here.

dropbox's signup page

Step #3: Invite New Subscribers to Earn More Rewards

This is where your word of mouth takes effect. Tell new subscribers to bring their friends onboard to earn even more rewards.

Dropbox lets you send invites via email to all your contacts on Gmail or Yahoo! Mail just by typing in the name of the contact.

inviting subscribers to win more rewards

And you can reach all your contacts on Gmail or Yahoo! Mail at once too.

inviting friends and family to dropbox

When your message reaches your targets, it’ll look like the image below. They see your name right from the email title. This encourages them to click.

And then they will also see your name and email in the body of the email. This confirms to them that the invite is from you.

email invitation example

Dropbox caps their reward for free accounts at 16GB, and 500 MB per referral. So one person can keep inviting new users until s/he earns all 16GB of free space.

dropbox capping space based on the type of account

What Worked for Dropbox and Why

Why did Dropbox’s email campaign work so well?

  1. The benefits were clear — no vague promises and processes.
  2. They had a help page to guide participants.
  3. All you need is your name and email to join.
  4. You don’t need to think about who to invite. You can link your Gmail or Yahoo! Mail to send invites to all your contacts in one click!
  5. Word of mouth continues: Dropbox sends a welcome message that with invite links in them.

Conditional Email Campaigns to Boost Word of Mouth Buzz

You can make these email campaigns run automatically too. So when your subscribers or customers take a particular action, it’d trigger an invite.

Casper Mattress leads and customers trigger email invites when trying out the high-end mattress. Apart from asking for reviews, Casper gives their leads or customers links to earn rewards if they tell people they know about the bed.

Casper's conditional email example

Airbnb uses this tactic too. Every time I use the service I get an email that says I can earn $40 if I refer hosts to them.

Airbnb's conditional email example

Mixing and Matching

You can use more than one launchpad depending on how much time, people, and money you have.

Although Harry’s didn’t use other people’s platforms for their email campaign, they could have done that too. According to Jeff, they deliberately wanted to keep their marketing as organic as it can get.

You can choose to use all three launch pads too.

  1. Get your friends, family, and community spread your word of mouth using email
  2. Pay bloggers and influencers to share your message and invite signups from their audiences
  3. Get your email subscribers and site visitors to generate word of mouth from people they know

You can mix and match your email campaigns to maximize your word of mouth buzz.

Happy sharing!

About the author

Nicholas Godwin is a writer for CandyBar and ReferralCandy.