Affiliate Marketing Vs Referral Marketing: Key Difference You Need To Know

affiliate marketing vs referral marketing

Affiliate marketing and referral marketing are two popular methods that businesses use to promote their products and services.

Although they share some similarities, they are different and have different approaches. Let’s take a look at the two and see how they operate individually.

What Is The Difference Between Affiliate Marketing And Referral Marketing?

The difference between affiliate marketing and referral marketing is: 

In affiliate marketing, you get paid when a customer purchases a product or service through your unique affiliate link.

Whereas, referral marketing is when you get paid for referring people to an affiliate product or program, regardless if they buy any products or services.

And if they do sign up for the program, you can sometimes get paid for that sign-up.

What Is Affiliate Marketing?

what is affiliate marketing and how does affiliate marketing work

Affiliate marketing is a process or a marketing strategy where you (an affiliate) promote a merchant’s (another individual or company’s) products or services and earn a commission for each sale or lead generated through your unique affiliate links.

In this model, you (the affiliate) act as a middleman between the merchant and the customer or consumer.

And this makes it possible for you to earn money on products or services without creating a product of your own.

How Does Affiliate Marketing Work?

Typically, the concept of how affiliate marketing works is quite simple:

Affiliate marketers sign up with an affiliate program as an affiliate. 

And as they sign up they’re provided with unique tracking links or codes (which is also known as an affiliate link) that they can share with their audience.

And when they share that link or code with their audience and they click on it and make a purchase or complete a desired action…

Such as submitting their email address, or filling out a form, the affiliate gets compensated which is termed as a commission.

How affiliate marketing work step by step

Pros And Cons Of Affiliate Marketing

In this section, I’m going to be sharing with you some advantages and disadvantages of affiliate marketing.


Leveraging the power of affiliate marketing can help businesses reach wider audiences and increase their product sales and revenue.

  • Increased sales: Affiliate marketing can be an effective way to drive additional sales for a business through the efforts of affiliates.
  • New customer acquisition: Affiliate marketing can help merchants or businesses reach new markets or customers through the influences and marketing efforts of affiliates.
  • Cost-effective: Affiliate marketing can be a cost-effective way for businesses to promote their products or services, as they only have to pay affiliates when a sale is made.
  • Brand exposure: Affiliate marketing can help businesses increase their brand awareness, as affiliates may promote their products or services to their audiences.


While there are many benefits businesses can derive from affiliate marketing, there are also some potential drawbacks to consider, so let’s take a look at a few of them:

  • High Competition: Affiliate marketing is very saturated and can be competitive, as there may be many businesses producing the same product as you, and this can make it hard to stand out.
  • Loss of control: Merchants or businesses may have less control over how their products or services are promoted by affiliates, which could potentially harm their brand image or value.
  • Costs: While affiliate marketing can be cost-effective, merchants or businesses may still need to invest in resources such as affiliate management software or pay high commission rates to top-performing affiliates.
  • Legal issues: Merchants or businesses may need to navigate legal issues such as complying with FTC guidelines for disclosing affiliate relationships or dealing with fraudulent affiliates.

What Is Referral Marketing?

Referral marketing is a marketing strategy or tactic that rewards existing customers to refer new customers to a business. 

In this type of marketing, the existing customers become advocates for the business and promote it to their friends, family, and colleagues.

Referrers are rewarded for their efforts with a one-time discount, service upgrade, or gift card.

The incentives are usually provided once the referred customer makes a purchase or completes a desired action, such as signing up for a subscription or filling out a form.

How Does Referral Marketing Work?

The concept of how referral marketing works is quite simple: You refer a product or service to another person (either your friends or family) and get a referral commission on a sale made through your referral links or recommendations.

Let’s take a look at the steps involved in making referral marketing work:

Step #1: Offer Incentives 

One of the important aspects of referral marketing is offering incentives to your ideal customers for referring others to your business. 

This can be in the form of discounts, free products or services, or even cash rewards. 

By offering this incentive, you’re giving your customers a reason to refer others to your business, product, or services and this can increase the likelihood that they will do so.

Step #2: Encourage Your Referrals

Once you have established an incentive program, the next step is to encourage your customers to refer others to your business or product. 

You can do this through social media platforms, forums, email marketing, or even in events or word of mouth. 

That said, by reminding your customers of your incentive program and encouraging them to refer others, can increase the chance of them recommending your business to others. 

Step #3: Track Your Referrals

It’s important to track the referrals that are coming into your program or product so that you can measure the success of your referral marketing program. 

You can do this by including tracking links, unique discount codes, or even manual tracking. 

By tracking your referrals, you can determine which customers are referring the most customer to you and adjust your incentive program accordingly.

Step #4: Reward Referrers

It’s important to reward the customers who are referring business or customers to you. And this can be done through the incentives that you offer, 

But it is also important to acknowledge and thank your customers for their referrals. 

That being said, by rewarding your referrers, you are encouraging them to continue referring customers or businesses to you and building a stronger relationship with them.

Type Of Referral Marketing

There are three (3) different types of referral marketing: 

  • Customer referral programs
  • Employee referral programs
  • Partner referral programs 

Each type of referral program has its own unique benefits and challenges, and you must choose the type that best fits your needs and goals.

Examples of Successful Referral Marketing Campaigns

There are tons of examples of successful referral marketing campaigns. Below are a few of them:

  • Dropbox: Dropbox’s referral program is often cited as one of the best referral marketing programs. The program offered users extra storage space for each friend they referred.
  • Airbnb: Airbnb’s referral program offers both the referrer and the referred a discount on their next booking. Airbnb is one of the largest accommodation providers in the world.
  • Uber: Uber’s referral program offers both the referrer and the referred a discount on their next ride. 

Pros and Cons of Referral Marketing

Referral marketing is a type of marketing that encourages existing customers to refer their friends and family to a business. 

Here are some of the pros and cons of referral marketing:


  • Encourages word-of-mouth: Referral marketing is based on word-of-mouth recommendations from real customers. According to Bigcommerce, 74% of all consumers look at word-of-mouth as a key influencer of their purchase decisions.
  • Cost-effective: Referral programs are much more cost-effective than other marketing methods assuming you use referral software. They also carry a much lower financial risk than paying for ads.
  • Builds trust: Referral marketing helps build trust with potential customers since the recommendation comes from someone they know and trust.
  • Higher conversion rates: Referred customers are more likely to convert into paying customers since they already have trust in the business from the person who referred them.


  • Requires existing customers: Referral marketing requires a customer base that is willing to refer others. If a business is new or has a small customer base, referral marketing may not be as effective.
  • Can be difficult to track: Tracking the success of referral marketing campaigns can be difficult since it relies on customers to refer others. This can make it challenging to determine the ROI of referral marketing efforts.
  • May not reach new audiences: Referral marketing is limited to the existing network of customers, which may not reach new audiences or expand the customer base.

Key Differences Between Affiliate Marketing and Referral Marketing

“Affiliate marketing and referral marketing” are two different marketing strategies that businesses use to promote their products and services. 

While both approaches aim to increase sales and revenue, they differ in their approach and execution. 

Below I share with you some key differences between affiliate marketing and referral marketing:


Affiliate marketing is a performance-based marketing strategy where businesses pay affiliates (third-party brand advocates) a commission for each sale they generate through their unique affiliate link or code. 

On the other hand, referral marketing is a word-of-mouth marketing strategy where existing customers are incentivized to refer their friends and family members to the business in exchange for rewards.

Target Audience

The target audience for affiliate marketing is usually a broader audience, including people who may not be familiar with the business or its products. 

Affiliates use various marketing techniques to attract potential customers and drive conversions. 

Whereas, referral marketing targets existing customers and their network of friends and family members who are likely to be interested in the business’s products or services.

Compensation Model

Affiliate marketing rewards affiliates for each sale they generate through their unique affiliate link. 

The commission rate varies depending on the business and the product or service being promoted. 

On the other hand, referral marketing rewards existing customers for each successful referral they make. 

The reward can be in the form of discounts, free products, or other incentives.

Effort Required

Affiliate marketing requires more effort and resources from the affiliate as they have to create content, drive traffic to their website or landing page, and convince potential customers to make a purchase. 

Referral marketing, on the other hand, requires less effort from the referrer as they only have to recommend the business to their network and provide a referral link or code.

Trust And Credibility

Referral marketing relies on the trust and credibility of existing customers, who are more likely to recommend a business to their network if they had a positive experience with the product or service. 

In contrast, affiliate marketing may be perceived as less trustworthy as affiliates may promote products or services solely for monetary gain, without necessarily having used or tested the product themselves.

Similarities Between Affiliate Marketing And Referral Marketing

While affiliate marketing and referral marketing are two different marketing strategy, however, they share several similarities, including:

  1. Both affiliate marketing and referral marketing can help business owners reach a wider audience and increase their product sales through word-of-mouth advertising.
  1. Both methods involve promoting products or services to potential customers or targeted audiences in exchange for a commission.
  1. Both affiliate marketing and referral marketing rely on building trust, credibility, and strong relationships with ideal customers, either through content marketing, personal branding, etc
  1. Both affiliate marketing and referral marketing can be used in combination with other marketing strategies, such as content marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, etc, to create effective marketing campaigns.
  1. Both can be tracked and measured using analytic and performance metrics, allowing businesses to make changes when needed to improve return on investment.

Which is Better – Affiliate Marketing or Referral Marketing?

Well, both affiliate marketing and referral marketing can be effective strategies for driving sales and promoting a business or products, and as a business owner, you may choose to use both in conjunction with each other for maximum impact. 

Referral marketing can be a more cost-effective option for businesses with a loyal customer base. 

It leverages the trust and personal connections that customers have with their friends and family to drive sales. 

Additionally, referral marketing can lead to higher customer retention rates and increased brand loyalty.

However, affiliate marketing can be a more scalable option for businesses looking to expand their reach and target a specific audience.

Overall, both affiliate marketing and referral marketing can be effective marketing strategies when executed correctly. The choice between the two depends on your goals, target audience, and available resources.


What Is The Difference Between Affiliate Marketing And Referral Marketing?

One of the main differences between affiliate marketing and referral marketing is the source of the promotion. Affiliate marketing uses third-party brand advocates, or affiliates, to promote the business for a flat fee or commission. whereas, referral marketing relies on the existing relationships between a business and its customers. It rewards customers for referring their friends and family to the business.

Is Affiliate Marketing The Same As Referral Marketing?

No, affiliate marketing is not the same as referral marketing. Though both marketing strategies involve promoting products to potential customers in exchange for commissions, there are differences between the two. Affiliate marketing involves promoting products to a wider audience, while, referral marketing involves recommending products to people you know personally.

Is a Referral Program The Same As an Affiliate Program?

Yes, referral programs and affiliate programs are the same because they both allow individuals to promote products or services in exchange for a commission. However, referral programs tend to focus more on encouraging existing customers to refer their friends and family, whereas, affiliate programs are designed to attract wider marketers who can promote the product or services to their audiences, followers, or subscribers.

What Is Referral Marketing Called?

Referral marketing is also known as referral advertising or word-of-mouth advertising.

Who Can Do Referral Marketing?

Referral marketing relies on the power of word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied customers to generate new leads, customers, or sales. Referral marketing can be effective for almost any type of business, as long as the business has satisfied customers who are willing to recommend them to others (typically, to their friends and family).

What To Do In Referral Marketing?

If you’re into referral marketing, your goal is to encourage satisfied or potential customers or buyers to refer their friends and family to your products or services. And to do this, you need to create referral programs that make it easy for customers to refer others, and provide potential customers with customer service to ensure they’re satisfied with their experience.

You should also offer incentives such as free products or discounts for referrals to motivate customers to promote your product.

Why Referral Marketing Is Important For Businesses?

Referral marketing is important for businesses because it can help businesses reach wider audiences at a lower cost than traditional marketing advertising methods.

Also, referral marketing is important for businesses because people are more likely to trust recommendations from their friends and family than they are to trust advertisements from other channels.

What Is The Best Referral Program?

Dropbox: Dropbox is one of the best referral programs out there. Dropbox’s refer-a-friend program offers $123 for every customer you refer. Dropbox has had huge success with its referral marketing campaign as it implements a double-sided reward system, where it gives out a reward to both the referrer and the referred. Dropbox also stacks rewards for referrals. This means the more referrals you get, the more money you make.

How Do I Start Referral Marketing?

Well, to start referral marketing, you need to first identify your niche and your targeted audience. Once you identify that, you want to create a referral program that incentivizes customers to refer your program to others, and then use tracking tools to track the success of your program.

How Do I Attract Referrals Online?

There are several ways in which you can attract targeted referrals online, you can use social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, or forums, etc to promote your referral program and reach more potential customers.

Can You Make Money With Referral Marketing?

To put it simply – yes, it’s possible to make money with referral marketing. To make money with referral marketing, you need to first find a company or product that offers referral programs. Once you find a referral program, you need to sign up for it as an affiliate and obtain your unique referral link.

You can then promote the product or service through your blog, website, or social media platforms like Facebook, etc. And when people click on your referral link and make a purchase, you earn a commission.

How Can I Earn Referrals?

One of the best ways to earn targeted referrals is by providing high-quality, relevant, and exceptional products or services that your ideal customers or audiences are more than happy to recommend to others. And then offer incentives for customers who refer others.

How Do Referral Marketers Make Money?

Referral marketers make money by becoming an affiliate of a referral program or product and then promote the product to their audience and every time a sale is made through their referral links, they make a commission off of it.

Where Can I Promote My Referrals?

There are several ways you can promote your referrals, one of the best ways is through your website or blog. You can also promote through email marketing campaigns, social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, or through word-of-mouth advertising.


Both “affiliate marketing” and “referral marketing” are effective ways to increase brand awareness and drive sales. 

While affiliate marketing relies on third-party brand advocates, referral marketing utilizes the existing customer base to provide outreach and organically increase revenue.

It is important to consider the differences between these two marketing strategies before deciding which one to implement. 

Referral marketing can be more cost-effective, as it relies on existing customers to bring in new business. 

However, affiliate marketing can reach a larger audience, as it is not limited to existing relationships.

Ultimately, the decision between affiliate marketing and referral marketing will depend on the specific goals and needs of the business. 

It is important to consider factors such as budget, target audience, and marketing objectives before choosing a strategy.

That said, regardless of which strategy you choose, it is important to track and analyze the results to determine the effectiveness of the marketing campaign. 

By monitoring key metrics such as click-through rates, and conversion rates. 

And revenue generated, businesses can make informed decisions about their marketing strategies and optimize their campaigns for maximum success.