Click to see the FULL infographic!

Over the past year, the ReferralCandy blog has been analysing and dissecting all sorts of word-of-mouth successes: Established brands, new ideas on Kickstarter, and everything in between.

We’ve read countless books and studies about the subject: Made to Stick, Tipping Point, Unleashing the Ideavirus, Contagious… you name it, we’ve probably read it.

We’ve learned a lot.

So we’ve decided to take everything that we’ve learned and put it all in a coherent narrative for your benefit.

These are the steps you need to follow in order to create a successful brand through word-of-mouth.

Let’s dig into the examples!

(Editor’s note: We have edited a few brands for length, but you can check out the full list over at ReferralCandy.)

1. Make a Wow product – Create something worth talking about

Unexpected utility: New product class

Apple Iphone


Like the iPod before it, the iPhone broke into a new class of products.

It allowed people to do more with their mobile device than they were able to before. This made it immensely newsworthy despite its initial flaws.

As of March 2015, more than 700,000,000 iPhones have been sold.

Also Read: Apple enters China’s music streaming services space


Prior to Dropbox, online storage was clunky, unwieldy, and unreliable. Most people used thumb drives or physical storage and lived in fear of losing their data.

Dropbox allowed people to simply and easily access their files from everywhere– it was a game-changer worth talking about.

Today, Dropbox has more than 400 million registered users and is valued at US$10 billion.

Tesla Model S


Tesla’s Model S wasn’t the first electric car in a world driven by gasoline, but it was the first to become a status symbol: Sexy, reliable, and safe. It’s been acknowledged by multiple motoring authorities as an all-around superior vehicle.

The car earned its place in motoring history by earning the highest safety rating in America while also being rated by Consumer Reports as the “best car ever tested”.

Unexpected utility: Best-in-class products

Google Search

yahoo google comparison ReferralCandy

Google wasn’t the first search engine in the world. There were many.

But Google was the easiest to use, and consistently gave the best results. So people would tell their friends to use it, and once they used it, it stuck.

Today, Google is at the heart of a multi-billion dollar search advertising industry, which allows it to attempt all kinds of thrilling “impact a billion people” projects. 

Meaningful storytelling


GoPro HERO3 surf

GoPro isn’t just a camera. It’s a tool to inspire you to live your life as a thrilling adventure worth documenting. If you want to “Go Pro”… you get a GoPro.

GoPro’s sales have doubled every year since 2012, selling nearly 10 million cameras in 2014.

2. Seed the wow – Make sure it gets into the hands of people who’ll want to talk about it

Reach out to people one-one



“We did trunk shows. We did pants parties. I took a duffel bag of pants wherever I went, including to weddings in LA and in Hawaii where I still get grief for being the guy hawking pants at brunch or over poolside mai-tais,” said Bonobos CEO Andy Dunn.

In addition to its successful e-commerce presence, Bonobos’ pants are now stocked across the country in stores like Nordstrom. The company is set to grow even larger after recently raising US$125 million in funding.



“Instead of changing the product, I thought maybe I could just find people like me,” said Ben Silbermann.

Pinterest acquired its early users by organising meet-ups at local boutiques, taking pictures of attendees and engaging with bloggers to do invitation campaigns like “Pin It Forward.”

Fast forward to 2015, Pinterest has a user base of more than 100 million users, which includes a whopping 42 per cent of all female Internet users in the US.

Target influencers


Tinder party word of mouth ReferralCandy

In its early days, the modern dating app Tinder focussed on college students. It wisely hired “college campus reps” and put them in charge of really penetrating the student populace.

These influencers would organise college parties, with guests either having to download the app to enter or to find a date on Tinder before they were allowed in.

In just two years, dating app Tinder has acquired 50 million users– each of them logging into the app an average 11 times a day.

Also Read: Swipe up if you ‘Super Like’ someone on Tinder; only in Australia for now

Piggyback off other events

Twitter at SXSW

One of the 60 inch plasma screens along the SXSW hallways.

Twitter is a behemoth now, but it really first took off in 2007 at SXSW by streaming tweets about the conference on huge plasma screen TVs in the halls.

After the event, Twitter’s daily tweets exploded from 20,000 to 60,000, which began the momentum that’s snowballed into 500 million daily tweets.


Pebble Authority ReferralCandy

The Pebble Time was announced just as the world was obsessing over the Apple Watch, cementing it as the top competitor to the main contender. This resulted in Pebble Time nabbing an incredible amount of press and raising US$20.3 million during its Kickstarter campaign.


Ellen Degeneres’s Oscar selfie is the most retweeted tweet in history.

The photo was shot on a sponsored Samsung phone, which gave the brand millions of impressions in the following weeks.

Create your own events

Red Bull Stratos


Buying billboard space through sponsorships is too passé for an energetic brand like Red Bull. It gets directly involved and organise hundreds events by themselves.

The Stratos Jump was the most epic of all: Over eight million people watched the jump live as  Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner took a leap from a weather balloon in the stratosphere.

Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show


From its humble beginnings with a US$120,000 budget 18 years ago, the show has kicked it up a notch each year – establishing itself as the event for the world’s glitterati to be seen at.

Now every show has tens of millions of viewers worldwide glued to their screens.

Advertising revenue surpasses the cost of the show (in 2013, this was US$16 million to US$12 million), and tickets cost between US$12,500 to US$14,000.

Join existing communities



Etsy’s founders used to run a web design shop and were working on getcrafty.com for one of their projects, when they discovered the need for a marketplace for handmade crafts.

So, while building Etsy, they reached out to the craft community on getcrafty.com and Craftster.org, which had an even larger user base.

By the time they launched, they already had a lot of interest generated among the two platforms, and that helped get the required inventory and start off transactions on Etsy.

Etsy is now a NASDAQ-listed company with a yearly revenue of US$500 million.

Also Read: From Archives: Online handicrafts marketplace Blisby wants to be the Etsy of Thailand

Start your own community

Black Milk’s Sharkies

Black Milk Star Wars Swimsuits word of mouth ReferralCandy

Black Milk sells all sorts of nylon leggings, and has a very loyal following on social media. They call themselves “Sharkies”, after the shark emoticon on Facebook.

Black Milk is now a multimillion-dollar business with a staff of 150.


The wonderful staff behind Threadless

Threadless is a T-shirt site that crowdsources its T-shirt designs.

It made its mark by rewarding designers handsomely and became a rallying point and voice against the often exploitative methods of design crowdsourcing.

Threadless now has an estimated yearly revenue of more than US$30 million.

Leverage scarcity, exclusivity and ‘FOMO’


The Facebook Social Currency Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy
Unlike its predecessors MySpace and Friendster, which were open to all, Facebook started as a service only for Ivy League students. It required a valid Ivy League email to access. In this early, exclusive form, curiosity about Facebook bubbled in college circles.

When the service expanded and allowed more users in, the initial hype contributed to a massive influx of new users– getting Facebook almost 1.5 billion active users today.

Publish quality content



Pornhub’s unique access to tantalising data about the porn consumption habits of people around the world allowed it to collaborate with content channels to create an eye-opening view into Earth’s discreet preferences.

The Pornhub network is now the largest adult entertainment site with approximately 20 million unique visitors a day.

Also Read: From Archives: Could Pornhub’s new wearable solve the energy crisis?



Every day, Snapchat shares “stories” from around the world– compilations of everyday Snapchat users’ snaps from a particular region. You might see Mumbai, Moscow, or Mecca through the eyes of dozens of locals, as they share their daily lives.

It’s a compelling, unscripted glimpse into what’s going on in the world. You never quite know what to expect tomorrow, so you log in again. In just four years, Snapchat has grown to over 100 million daily users who send over 700 million snaps a day.

3. Just add grease

Tap into triggers

Examples of Triggers Used in Marketing Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandy

If you can associate your product with some external stimuli, people will remember your product and share it more.

Rebecca Black’s “Friday” still gets a surge of search traffic every Friday, and a Japanese ad in the 1970’s pitched KFC as a Christmas treat– and people in Japan still eat KFC on Christmas to this day.

Align yourself with a relevant cause or tribe


If your product represents an idea or movement people care about, and it makes sense for your brand, lean into that.

Doc Martens made workman’s boots but became a legendary brand after being co-opted by punk rock culture.

Leverage social currency and/or group dynamics

15 Examples of Social Currency used in marketing Contagious Jonah Berger ReferralCandyShipYourEnemiesGlitter was a “silly idea” that sold for US$85,000 after it exploded in popularity, while Emoji Masks was a side project that made over US$50,000 in 60 days.

Also Read: Payment suspended on original ShipYourEnemiesGlitter site, so folks in Asia started this

Use referral programs



PayPal effectively pioneered online referral marketing and its resounding success was what inspired Dropbox to do the same. It literally gave people money for getting their friends to sign up for a PayPal account. (It was Elon Musk’s idea, incidentally.)

In its heyday, PayPal’s referral program helped it to grow at seven to 10 per cent a day, catapulting its user base to more than 100 million members.



Airbnb was founded in 2008 as “AirBed & Breakfast” to provide short-term living quarters for travellers. It’s grown tremendously since, expanding all over the world to over 50 million users in more than 57,000 cities.

Fun Fact: A celebrity in China named Anthony single-handedly referred thousands of signups and hundreds of bookings in the first month of using Airbnb’s referral program.

The post ‘The ultimate guide to getting more word-of-mouth traffic‘ was first published on ReferralCandy.

The views expressed here are of the author, and e27 may not necessarily subscribe to them. e27 invites members from Asia’s tech industry and startup community to share their honest opinions and expert knowledge with our readers. If you are interested in sharing your point of view, please send us an email to writers[at]e27[dot]co