Top Referral Campaigns of All Time: 4 Wildly Successful Companies Who Got it Right

Referral marketing is one of the most effective and yet most cost efficient ways to draw in a bigger client base, growing your company to new heights. From start-ups born in dingy garages to household names that you know by heart, these successful referral campaigns are more than enough reason to get started on one of your own today.


It is hard to believe that this data sharing powerhouse got its start just eight years ago. Crafted by MIT students Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi in search of a way to ditch the always-missing USB, the company quickly rose to dominate the file sharing industry with the help of a referral marketing campaign that rewarded existing customers and their referred friends with 50 additional MB of storage. Considering that many users rely on Dropbox for the storage of photographs and videos which can quickly eat away at storage limits, it is easy to see why this wildly popular referral strategy was so successful. To date, the company increased its customer base by an impressive 60%… and almost entirely on referrals – 35% of every new sign up coming from its referral program. Due to its rise in popularity, in 2011 Dropbox even landed a coveted mobile contract with Sony Ericsson, the company’s software coming stocked and preloaded on Japanese mobile phones all across the country.

Fun Facts: The company boasted of only 100,000 users in 2008. In a mere 15 months… those numbers grew to a whopping 4,000,000!

Amazon Prime

Even though this internationally recognizable brand can now afford to be more extravagant with their marketing campaign, its clear that its success comes from a finely crafted team of marketing experts who know how to take full advantage of referral incentives. With a clean, eye catching header and simple, page by page instructions, a $5 credit is the reward for drawing in new users. While the downside is that the customer’s friend will not receive the same perk, it is enough to get the ball rolling so to speak. It takes less than 30 seconds to invite a friend… and with the potential for a credit that makes the 30 seconds worth a customer’s effort.

Fun FactAmazon in its primitive stages was ran entirely out of Jeff Bezo’s garage. The founder has now expanded growth so dramatically that Amazon’s warehouse spacing is equivalent to 700 Madison Square Gardens. Impressive!


Founded in 2009, Zulily had a promising start thanks to its all-star team, many of which had previously helped to further grow companies such as and Lane Bryant. With such recognizable histories beneath their belt, co-founder Darrel Cavens knew that he wanted an easily shared and social platform. With incentives to earn and receive $15 credits between referrals and new customers, it is not any wonder that Zulily managed to grow large enough to rake in 2.4 billion dollars in the massive QVC merger that took place in 2015.

Fun Fact: Because vendors change daily on Zulily, returns are not applicable. Instead, if a customer has a faulty item then customer support not only refunds them for the item amount but asks that the customer give the item away to someone in need – making ship-back payments obsolete and giving back to the community all at once.


The campaign heard round the world, Paypal’s referral success would likely have been detrimental to companies who weren’t directly associated with cash flow platforms… but it worked out swimmingly for this now legendary payment powerhouse. While the campaign only lasted until Paypal met its target number of users, the company offered free money to new sign ups and those who gave successful referrals to friends. This power move sky rocketed Paypal to over 100,000,000 users and 7% to 10% of growth… DAILY. The COO went on to offer the same deal to merchants, once again stopping when targets were reached. This marketing decision just may be the real reason Paypal has become the household name that it is today.

Fun Fact: In 2015, Paypal introduced the launching of Paypal.Me, a new way to request money between users via links on their mobile devices.

With so many front runners housing such successful campaigns, it is clear that today’s forward-thinking company cannot afford to skimp out on referral marketing. Learning from the successes of other companies gets you well on your way to successes of your own. So what do you think… which campaign would you deem the top referral campaign of all time? We would love to hear your ideas!