Verlegh, P. W. J.,Ryu, G., Tuk, M. A., & Feick, L. E. (2013). Receiver responses to rewarded referrals: The motive inferences framework. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 41(6), 669-682. doi: 10.1007/s11747-013-0327-8

Abstract: Referral reward programs have been shown in past research to stimulate referrals and also to contribute positively to customer lifetime value and firms’ profitability. In this paper we examine whether, how, and under what conditions providing a reward for a referral affects receivers’ responses to the referral. Based on a multiple motives inference framework, we propose that rewards adversely affect responses because they lead receiving consumers to infer ulterior motives for the referral. Using experiments and a survey, we find support for this hypothesis and show that this effect is stronger for unsolicited and weak tie referrals. We also demonstrate that rewarding both the referral provider and receiver or providing symbolic rewards can eliminate the negative effect of rewarded referrals. The paper makes conceptual contributions to the literature on referral reward programs, word-of-mouth, and motive inferences. The work has implications for managers considering ways to construct referral programs and design marketing activities to increase referrals.