Case in Brief: Rewarding Brand Evangelists Boost Sales

By rewarding its customers for referring new clients, J.Hilburn created brand advocates and saw a spike in sales.

After learning through customer research that the majority of new its customers were being referred by existing clients, J. Hilburn wanted to harness the potential of that word of mouth. The five-year-old company wanted to turn its existing customers into brand advocates, giving them the necessary tools and incentives to refer friends and associates. By giving something back to its evangelist customers, the relatively new company not only improved its customer experience, but also successfully inspired its clients to refer new customers, helping the retailer earn an extra $250,000 in sales in just 45 days.


Since its launch in 2007, J.Hilburn has seen a two-fold increase in revenue, says Neal Patel, vice president of technology for the custom tailored menswear specialist. The company's leadership team wanted that level of growth to continue; to do so they had to maintain the company's momentum. An analysis carried out last summer revealed that the majority of new customers had been referred by existing clients through social media or word of mouth. "We needed to unlock the power of social media and put it in the hand of our customers to turn them into brand advocates," Patel says.


Aware that its existing customers were a major asset, J. Hilburn not only wanted to keep them engaged and satisfied, but the company also recognized the opportunity they presented to help it attract new customers. "Our customers were already acting as brand advocates by recommending us to their friends," Patel says. The company doesn't do any direct marketing, so it decided to formalize the referral process to ensure its success, giving customers the tools to recommend the brand to their friends-and getting something in return for doing so. In September it launched a social referral program, incentivizing its existing customers with a $50 voucher for every client they referred who makes a purchase. New customers would also get a $50 discount on their first order of at least $100.

Patel says the company identified its 1,100 contracted sales advisors as the ideal way to inform customers about the promotion, since they come into direct contact with clients and would also benefit from the initiative. He explains that customers were likely to recommend their sales advisors to their friends, who would in turn get more clients.


After partnering with Extole, J.Hilburn developed a platform that customers could use to recommend the menswear company to their contacts. The promotion worked: In just 45 days more than 1,000 people had used the recommendation platform, each sharing the information with an average of 12 contacts. The campaign generated more than 10,000 social shares via Facebook, Twitter, and email, giving J. Hilburn increased visibility. The company gained substantial monetary value from the campaign, which drove 600 new transactions and netted J. Hilburn an additional $250,000 in sales.

Moreover, Patel says, the initiative had a positive effect on its customer experience, since both new and existing customers received something back. He says the promotion will continue indefinitely with the aim of turning new customers into brand advocates.

Patel says J. Hilburn plans to continue interacting with the brand ambassadors through various voice-of-the-customer initiatives to get feedback about its product and their experience with the company's style advisors.

Lessons learned

Empower brand advocates: Offer tools and incentives to high-influence customers to refer their friends, bringing new clients to the company.

Use social media effectively: Tapping into the potential of social channels can bring increased visibility to a brand.

Reward new customers: Giving new clients a gift, for example a discount, can encourage them to embark on a new business relationship with a company.