Referral Marketing Vs Affiliate Marketing, Differences, And Which Is Best For You?

If you want to leverage different kinds of marketing to grow your business, referral, and affiliate marketing are the two most popular ways to spread the word about your brand. But how do you know which one is suitable for your business?

As an entrepreneur, every decision matters, and you want to make the choice that will yield the biggest return. Referral marketing, where you incentivize your happy customers to recommend you to their friends, can be highly effective. Affiliate marketing, where you pay independent promoters to spread the word for you, also has its benefits. 

The good news is you don’t necessarily have to choose one or the other. You can benefit from employing both referral and affiliate marketing. 

In this article, let’s break down the key differences between the two, so you can determine the best strategy for your business. So let’s dive in!

Defining Referral Marketing and Affiliate Marketing

Referral and affiliate marketing are two popular ways to drive sales and revenue for your business. But what exactly are they, and which is right for you?

Referral marketing is when you encourage existing customers to recommend your product or service to their friends and family. You reward the referrer, often with a discount or cash payment when someone they refer makes a purchase. 

Affiliate marketing, on the other hand, involves paying independent marketers and influencers commissions to promote your product to new audiences. You provide links and marketing materials, which the affiliates then share on their website, email newsletters, or social media. When someone clicks a link and buys from you, the affiliate earns a percentage of the sale.

Choosing Between the Two

Which one should you choose? That depends on your business and goals. Referral marketing works best when you have a product that’s easy to share and you already have a loyal customer base. Affiliate marketing is ideal if you want to reach new audiences and scale quickly.

Many companies find success using a combination of both referral and affiliate marketing. Referral programs are a great way to boost word-of-mouth and sales from existing customers, while affiliate marketing helps expand your reach to new potential customers. When used together, they become powerful channels to grow your business.

Differences Between Referral and Affiliate Marketing

Referral and affiliate marketing are two popular ways to drive sales and boost brand awareness. While they share some similarities, there are a few key differences you should understand before deciding which is right for your business.

Referral Marketing 

Referral Marketing

It relies on word-of-mouth and personal recommendations from your existing happy customers. They share your business with friends and family, who then become new customers. You reward referrals with incentives like discounts, coupons, or free products.

Affiliate Marketing 

Affiliate Marketing

It utilizes independent marketers, called “affiliates,” who promote your product to their audience. Affiliates earn a commission on any sales or leads they generate.

Unlike referrals from loyal customers, affiliates typically have an established following and promote products from many different companies.

Referral MarketingAffiliate Marketing
It builds on customer loyalty and word-of-mouthIt leverages the reach of professional marketers
Referral programs are ongoingAffiliate partnerships are often short-term or project-based
Referral rewards are usually small discounts or giftsAffiliate commissions are a percentage of each sale

If boosting brand awareness and gaining new customers are your goals, referral, and affiliate marketing can work together. However, referral marketing may lead to more long-term benefits through genuine recommendations from loyal customers. 

Pros and Cons of Each Approach

Referral marketing and affiliate marketing are two popular ways to promote your business, but each has unique pros and cons to consider.

Referral Marketing

Referral marketing relies on word-of-mouth and personal recommendations from your existing happy customers to help grow your business

Referrals from friends and family are very powerful. They build trust and credibilityYou have little control over the referral process and timing
Referral customers also tend to be very loyalIt can be difficult to scale and accelerate
You’re dependent on your customers to spread the word

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing allows you to partner with influencers and other businesses in your industry to promote your products and services to their audiences in exchange for a commission.

It’s easy to scale fast by finding many affiliatesAffiliate partnerships can be hard to manage
You only pay commissions on actual sales or leadsAffiliates may promote competing offers too
You gain exposure to new potential customersCommission costs can add up and reduce your profit margins if not managed properly
You have less control over how your brand is portrayed

In the end, the best approach for your business depends on your priorities and resources. For many businesses, a combination of both referral marketing and affiliate marketing works well by leveraging the unique strengths of each.

Strategies to Implement – Referral or Affiliate Marketing

Once you’ve decided between referral and affiliate marketing, it’s time to put your strategy into action. Here are some tips to get started:

1. Build a Referral Program

Build a Referral Program

If you choose referral marketing –

  • Create an official referral program
  • Offer incentives for both referrers and new customers like discounts, cash back, or store credits.
  • Promote your program on your website, email campaigns, and social media
  • Make it easy for people to share your program with their friends and networks

2. Recruit Affiliates

Recruit Affiliates

For affiliate marketing –

  • You’ll need to find affiliate partnerships to promote your products or services.
  • Research relevant blogs, YouTube channels, podcasts, and social media influencers in your industry
  • Reach out and ask if they’d be interested in your affiliate program
  • Provide them with promo codes and links to share with their followers
  • Offer generous commissions, at least 10-20% to start

3. Create Resources

Create resources

Give your referrers and affiliates the resources they need to spread the word. Provide branded images, videos, blog posts, and social media updates they can easily share. The more you equip them, the more they can help you.

4. Track and Optimize

Track and Optimize
  • Use software to track how people learn about your business and their actions.
  • See which referrers and affiliates are driving the most traffic and conversions. 
  • Give the top performers bonuses and find ways to improve the performance of others.
  • Send thank you emails and notes to your top referrers and affiliates. 

With the right strategy and optimization, referral and affiliate marketing can be extremely effective ways to boost brand awareness and sales. 

If you like our blogs and would like to join our affiliate marketing programs, check out the LearnWoo Promote page.


So there you have it, the key differences between referral marketing and affiliate marketing. Both can be great ways to generate new business, but which one is right for you depends on your business goals and how much control you want over the process. 

If you’re looking to build genuine word-of-mouth growth and connections in your industry, referral marketing is probably your best bet. However, if scale and less hands-on management are priorities, affiliate marketing could be the way to go. 

Choose the one that matches your business model, build your program, and start reaping the rewards.

We hope this post has helped you understand the differences between referral marketing and affiliate marketing!

Further Reading


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here