Referrals, Rewards and the Ability to Adapt Helped Morning Brew Percolate

Morning Brew has always shown a willingness to change and a propensity to grow. By the end of 2020, they were calling Sidekick “the unexpected star of our editorial lineup this year: a new lifestyle vertical.”

Their philosophy paid off big-time. After a subscriber increase from 100,000 to 1.5 million over 18 months, Business Insider bought a controlling stake in Morning Brew in October for a reported $75 million.

“The best way to grow a specific medium was to get promoted on that medium,” Austin Rief, COO of Morning Brew, tweeted in December. “If you are a podcast, cross-promote with podcasts. If you are a newsletter, cross-promote with other newsletters. We found that readers we acquired from ads in other newsletters were >2x as engaged as readers we got from Facebook or referrals. Noticing this, we bought ads in every newsletter that would let us. These ads were incredibly effective in acquiring quality readers.”

Here are more reasons for Morning Brew’s success:

Make your publication easy to share. Morning Brew created webpages that allowed their content (the full newsletter and the individual stories that comprised it) to be archived online. That made it possible for readers to share the individual newsletter stories on their social media accounts directly from the newsletter.

Establish rewards. For three referrals, you get Light Roast, an exclusive Sunday newsletter that costs Morning Brew nothing extra. Over 75,000 people get that—meaning they have each referred at least three people. Five referrals gets you Morning Brew stickers. Ten referrals puts you into the Insider Community, a private Facebook group. And it goes up from there! 25 a shirt, 50 a mug, 100 a sweatshirt. So that means more free advertising.

Be clear, especially at the beginning. “People first need to know you have a rewards program (and how it works) before it can become effective,” senior product lead Tyler Denk wrote on Medium. “Put yourself in the mindset of your users.”

Be creative. “When we began to exhaust the newsletters we sponsored, we needed to figure out a way to find more,” Rief wrote. “A bunch of other companies had large email lists, but had no clue how to monetize them. They didn’t even know how to create or sell an ad. We helped these businesses build out their ad department. In exchange, we received inventory in their newsletters. This opened up millions of newsletter impressions for us as the first advertiser.”

It’s not quite gamification, but… They provide a real-time counter that tracks how many referrals someone has, along with some encouragement: “You’re only X referrals away from receiving Y!” A previous progress bar was shuttled for the numeric counter.

Design a clear landing page. They tested layout of the page, header text, subheader text, text on the button, style of the form, color of the button, additional images, testimonials, etc. For their emails, they increased the conversion rate by over 4% through a few iterations involving those elements.

Simplify feedback. Readers just have to hit, “Reply” to offer comments. They “also leverage the passionate community of Morning Brew Insiders [to] conduct polls and facilitate discussions.

Build growth mechanisms natively into the product. “Morning Brew has implemented a milestone-based referral program, which has a dedicated ‘Share The Brew’ section baked into every single newsletter we send,” Denk wrote.

Celebrate successes. Milestone emails are triggered after a first referral and then at 5, 10, 15, 25, 50, 100 and, ahem, 1,000). Wrote Denk: “The purpose of these emails: to acknowledge the reader’s accomplishment, show them how to redeem their reward (if necessary), and to motivate them to hit the next milestone.” They call it “the referral pipeline” and they want people to climb up it.

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