Referral Program vs. Affiliate Program: 4 Differences, Pros & Cons

There are many kinds of digital marketing, but affiliate programs and referral programs tend to be the ones that cause the most confusion.

What is the difference between an affiliate and a referral? Which would be best for your business? We compare referral and affiliate programs to find out.

What is a referral program?

Referral programs are one of the best ways to market your business.

By giving customers a reward for telling their friends and family about your products or services, you can get them to spread the word. As a reward, you can get free items, free shipping, or a discount on a future purchase.

Referrals are a popular way for customers to get involved with businesses they like, and it gives new customers more chances to fall in love with your brand.

Pros and cons of referral programs

People nowadays buy more because they are educated rather than because they are sold to.

Referral Program vs. Affiliate Program

That’s why people use content marketing, try to get reviews, and try to get people to refer their friends. The following are some of the most important reasons to use a referral program:

  • Referrals don’t require any money to be spent.
  • Referral programs help both the person who sends the referral and the person who gets it.
  • They give both people a reason to come back and shop again.
  • Referral programs take advantage of loyal customers’ high-value shares.

But there are some things to think about when it comes to referral plans. There are many problems, such as:

  • People may forget about your recommendation program over time. But this is easy to fix with a polite email reminder.
  • Customers might not want to share a link to refer a friend. Make sure your reward is appealing, and keep track of how often people use their referrals to see how well your program is working.
  • You have limited influence over the types of customers you attract. But if your brand’s supporters are making references, it means they know what your brand stands for and are bringing in the right people.

Referral Example: Dropbox

Dropbox is one of the best examples of a program that works well. People who use Dropbox, a popular online storage service, can get more space by telling their friends to try it out.

Existing customers are encouraged to not only tell their friends about the service but also to upgrade their payment plan to earn a bigger reward.

This is because there are different reward levels based on the type of account the customer already has.

This simple way of doing things has been very effective at bringing in new users and giving their ever-growing customer base a very satisfying experience.

What is an affiliate program?

Businesses can use affiliate programs to pay people to send them traffic.

These programs, which are sometimes called “associate programs,” are built around an agreement that says how much the website sending traffic will be paid.

Referral Program vs. Affiliate Program

Affiliates usually get paid based on how many people they send to the brand’s website or how many of the people they send do something good.

Most affiliate programs have an application process that would-be affiliates have to go through to see if they are a good fit.

Some companies think that affiliate networks are a simple and effective way to get new customers because so many new and old customers want to make more money.

Pros and cons of affiliate programs

Affiliate programs tend to focus on short-term gains instead of long-term business growth, but there are a number of important benefits:

  • You can reach a lot of people who might buy from you. This is helpful when you’re trying to get new customers, but it might not help you keep customers or keep them engaged.
  • You can choose your affiliates by having them fill out an application. This makes sure that your best customers spread the word about you.
  • If you have influential affiliates, it could be a great way to get people to know your brand.

Even though affiliate programs have these pros, they also have a number of cons:

  • Affiliate programs might feel impersonal and fake because they have simple messages and reach a lot of people.
  • Affiliates want to make money for themselves, so if a better-paying opportunity comes along, they may leave your brand.
  • Affiliate programs are still just old-fashioned forms of advertising, which can be expensive and ineffective because you don’t have much control over who you spend your marketing budget on.

Affiliate Example: Herbalife Nutrition

In the affiliate marketing world, a lot of attention has been paid to Herbalife.

The weight-loss company has one of the best-known affiliate programs. If you link back to the Herbalife website, you usually get a 2% commission.

The affiliate program will recognize and honour any sales made by clients who clicked on an affiliate link. This means that affiliates are ultimately responsible for the success of their program.

Affiliate Marketing vs. Referral Marketing

1. Relationship with the audience

Affiliate: Even though the affiliate doesn’t know the customer personally, the customer may be a fan of the affiliate. The affiliate can be a well-known person or business on the internet that people trust or follow.

Referral marketing is based on suggestions from one friend to another. People trust each other a lot because they feel like they know them. Friends and family told everyone they knew about the brand. This is how you build a strong customer base.

2. The loyalty of the customers

Affiliate: The level of trust is not as high. Because of this, there is a chance that the customer will leave in the long run.

Referral: The chance of losing clients goes down when suggestions come from friends or other people they trust. Customer loyalty and retention are extremely high in referral program marketing.

3. Types of Rewards

Affiliate: In affiliate marketing, the rewards are more like financial incentives. Cash is the affiliates’ cut of the sales they make for you.

Affiliates are often famous people who have a lot of followers, so they are sometimes given free products to promote and bring in customers.

Referral marketing incentives are the things that customers get in return for telling their friends about your business. You could get discounts, free stuff, or cash back as a reward.

4. Medium of Share

Affiliate: The products and services are sold on a separate website or through blog posts. Affiliates can talk about or sell your products on their blogs or websites.

Referral: The referral program has a link and a call to action (CTA). The activists told their friends about the link on social media. You can distribute the referral link and code via text message or Facebook post.

Here are some ways that affiliate marketing is different from referral marketing. Even where there are differences, some things remain the same.

Similarities between Affiliate and Referral Marketing

1. Both referral and affiliate programs work with other people to get the word out about your products.

2. Both of them are cheap and won’t break the bank.

3. They both use the same idea, which is to get new customers by giving them rewards or other incentives.

4. Both have customers who stay with them for a long time because they trust them.

Affiliate vs. Referral Marketing: What to choose for your business?

It all depends on the kind of company and its goals. Influence is used in both sorts of marketing to attract customers.

If your items require influencers, utilize affiliate marketing; if you want your supporters to recommend your services to their friends through word of mouth, apply the same strategy.

Referral Program vs. Affiliate Program

Changing any of these will depend on a number of factors, such as your campaign’s budget and how you plan to get clients involved. You have a choice to make, so choose wisely!


What is the best affiliate program?

People often say that Robby Blanchard has the best affiliate program.

Are affiliate programs worth it?

Yes, because you won’t be able to sell your goods or promote them on your own. Affiliates are a great option because they can reach a large number of people.

How many affiliate programs can I join?

One can sign up for as many affiliate programs as they want. This means that you can join more affiliate programs at once and make more money.

How effective are referral programs?

Referral systems are very useful because they can help any kind of business. A 2015 study found that 83% of people trust the advice of their family and friends.

Are our affiliate programs legit?

Affiliate programs are a legal way to spread the word about your brand and make money. It is legal, and 80% of the brands in the world use it.


Most marketing plans use referral and affiliate networks to help a business grow. Without a doubt, the goal of both of these projects is to market products, but they are also very different in many ways.

The main difference between affiliate and referral programs is that affiliate programs use affiliates to promote their products by giving them money in exchange for free products, while referral programs use their existing customers to promote their products.

As a reward for being promoted, they got cash, coupons, and discounts.

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