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There really are an awful lot of email marketing platform out there. And what they claim to offer you for your business is always incredibly similar.
It can be easy to get confused, and even frustrated. Worst of all, there’s a chance that you might start using completely the wrong email marketing tool for your organization.
It’s not that it’s bad bad, but if you don’t get it right at the start, it will make for a much more difficult project down the line when you realize that you need to change to something more appropriate.
It’s easy to get roped into the provider that markets themselves most aggressively, but it really is worth taking the time to dig a little deeper – you could be saving yourself a lot of time, money, and headaches later.
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Our PickOur PickFeaturesPriceOur Pick
Here’s my “conclusion” overview (up front):
But how did I reach these verdicts? Continue reading for the full story…
Active Campaign has been around for quite a while. Since 2003 to be exact. As tech companies who have been around that long go, they’ve been pretty subtle in their operations.
As a company, they’ve pretty much exploded in the past couple of years. They’ve expanded their office, twice; increased their userbase by 250%; and increased their number of employees by 160%. Those are some mighty fine numbers to be able to brag about!
More so than many of its competitors, ActiveCampaign seems aimed at e-commerce organizations, or at least organizations who have an e-commerce aspect to their business.
Unfortunately, if that’s something you’re looking for your email marketing to do, you’ll have to dig beneath the usual lines of every other email solutions company to find it.
ActiveCampaign have actually been on the go for quite some time, and it feels like they’ve been kind of tapping away in the background, getting things in order, before having an explosion of success and expansion in the past year.
Drip is 10 years younger than ActiveCampaign. It only started in 2013. It’s a baby!
In case you’re super-early into your research, the name of the business refers to a drip campaign, which is where a series of emails are triggered to send to a user at various stages in the buyer journey.
You know when you’ve just looked at an item on Amazon, and then you get emails about it for weeks afterwards? Drip campaign! Then you buy the product, and receive a series of further emails: order confirmation, order dispatch notification, several requests to review the product you bought, and whatever else? Drip campaign!
Since launching they were experiencing double-digit annual growth, which is impressive stuff. It’s so impressive, that in 2016, they were bought by Leadpages, one of the top landing page generators on the market.
As you’ve probably seen throughout your research, email marketing solutions providers generally have a variable price: there isn’t really a one size fits all solution. It makes sense: they can offer something to a range of budgets that way.
ActiveCampaign have four tiers on the go, that should cover the needs of most businesses. You can get an idea of how much it will cost through a handy tool on the right which you can adjust to the number of contacts you have, or aspire to have.
The cost will be adjusted based on the number of features you think you’ll need. I think it can be tricky for those developing email marketing practices to actually determine which tier they need.
Obviously, stuff like this is sales copy – it’s meant to make you want it, all of it! I’d suggest going in at the lowest tier, finding your feet, then expand on features as you have the capacity to do so.
With ActiveCampaign, the lowest possible option is a mere $9 per month, which will allow you to send to 500 contacts. The package is as basic as basic can be, but will definitely be sufficient to get a feel for the email marketing process.
Staying with 500 contacts, in order to keep our price jumps relative, the next is $49 per month, then $99 per month, and then $149 for the top-level Enterprise version. All of these prices also come with a 15% discount if you’re able to pay them annually. Personally, I think that’s an attractive prospect for any business.
Drip does things a little differently with its pricing structure. It only has two tiers: a free version and a paid version. Both of these tiers have the exact same features. The only difference between the two is the number of contacts you’re allowed to have: the free version taps out at 100.
As ever though, the more contacts you have, the more dollars you’ll be expected to part with. With Drip, that incremental aspect looks like this:
|101 – 2,500 contacts||$41 per month|
|2,501 – 5,000 contacts||$83 per month|
|5,001 – 12,500 contacts||$124 per month|
Any of those options come with two free months if you pay annually.
Going back to a slight dilemma that might face those looking to get started in email marketing: should you pay for how many subscribers are currently in your contact list, or should you be ambitious, and pay for the amount you aspire to have?
Personally, I think it makes sense to pay for what you currently have. Paying an additional $50 per month because of the number of contacts you aspire to have is fine if you can afford it, but realistically, I can’t see many directors going for it!
Very few service providers will complain if you want to give them more cash to either upgrade to a higher tier, or to let you send to more subscribers.
With Drip, if your number of subscribers falls short of what you’re paying for, they will provide you with credit, so you should get a few bucks off the following month’s bill.
As soon as you verify your email address with ActiveCampaign, you’ll have a sufficient number of tools at your disposal to launch an email marketing campaign.
It’ll be pretty limited in scope, but it’s enough to get the ball rolling, and give you a feel for how it all might work. This functionality is present right throughout all tiers.
I feel like these starter features are also ideal for those taking their first step into email marketing. It covers the basics, and as long as you take the time and think about what you’re doing, you’ll find yourself sending out a perfectly professional looking email – nobody would be able to tell if you’re a newbie!
So what is it that a newbie needs to get going? Well, firstly, you won’t want to be hindered too much by coding, so the template and drag-and-drop functionality of the email editor is useful for that. You also have an unlimited number of sends, so if you have 500 contacts, you can email them as many times as you like.
If you decide to stick with ActiveCampaign beyond the free trial and start giving them money, you’ll have access to a design consultant. It’s useful to know it’s there, but at the same time, there are plenty of resources to find out how to optimize your marketing emails, which combined with the drag-and-drop functionality, means they shouldn’t be too essential.
The main point on increasing tiers is integration with CRM. If your email marketing research to date has focused on actually just getting the emails out there, it worth keeping in mind how that function might work as seamlessly as possible with other aspects of digital business delivery.
Bottom line: ActiveCampaign has quite a nice learning curve with drag and drop simplicity, limiting the need to mess around with html email markups and complex logic.
Drip have all kinds of cool-sounding things going on with the features they offer.
Front and center of the features they promote is their social media integration. That makes sense: social media is the sexiest of all marketing channels these days. There’s a good chance that when you discuss marketing with somebody, it’s the first thing you talk about.
Drip actually integrates with your Facebook advertising, so you can have trigger linked relevant marketing emails to be sent relative to actions taken on your Facebook advertising. That’s pretty slick.
Drip also generates automation workflows to help you work out the journey your users will take and again, what emails will be triggered when they undertake certain actions.
It really should do this, as that where they took the company name from! It’s not something every company feels the need to do, but if you have a lot going on in terms of email marketing, it’s certainly a useful and highly visual planning tool.
After that, Drip’s main push is that it literally everything is automated, particularly I feel in terms of segregating your audience into appropriate actions that need to be taken to drive conversions. That’s great, but don’t feel like you’re handing all control to the machines – you can still send whatever emails you feel the need to send manually too!
They also plug their CRM integration, and seem to have a good focus on measuring success. I’m a big fan of any product that provides a solid amount of analytics and data.
It’s all very well undertaking marketing activities, but unless you know for certain if people are engaging with them, and how they’re engaging with them… well, it’s just nice to be 100% sure that you’re not wasting your time.
One of my favorite touches is that you can send an email at a time relevant to your contact. So for example, you can schedule an email to go at 8pm regardless of time zone. That’s very cool.
ActiveCampaign comes completely without the cutesy friendliness of other email marketing platforms. This one gets straight down to business. I like it, but I do think other people would be put off by it.
I’m perfectly fine with all of that, because I’ve been doing email marketing for years, but total newbies might be less comfortable with it. I did feel that a least a minimal knowledge of email marketing would be beneficial to users. If you’re a total newbie, I’d suggest maybe having Google on standby in another tab or window.
If you’ve ever dragged and dropped anything on a computer before, then you should manage creating an email with no problem. Obviously, with a click you can switch to editing in HTML, which will certainly let you refine and customize what you’re doing a little bit more.
A cool feature in ActiveCampaign that I don’t see in many such tools – and that’s a shame, because it’s incredibly useful – but you can export a list of people who have clicked specific links within your emails (so you can analyze click-through rates)
So, for example, if you send out an email with a bunch of different products, you can get the names and email address of which of your contacts clicked on that link. I appreciate that sounds a little creepy and stalkerish, but, it means that you can follow up with some remarketing, targeting your comms at precisely those people.
I didn’t have any need for ActiveCampaign’s customer service, but anything I’ve read about them was positive.
Quite frankly, I don’t feel like the usability of Drip would be well-suited to an email newbie looking to get started with smart looking email sequences. On the other hand, certainly not somebody who refuses to get on board with the slightly more technical aspects of contemporary marketing – they do exist.
Firstly, when you head into their email editor, it’s default setting is for HTML. There’s no drag-and-drop feature here. I couldn’t find any kind of templates either, which pretty much means that you’re on you own. Newbies shouldn’t write it off based on this though.
Quite frankly, if you’ve got some smarts, you’ll be able to pick one of the hundreds of marketing emails that we receive all the time, and extract its HTML code, copying and pasting that into Drip, and editing it to your own business needs.
Apart from that, the rest of the features are very much focused on driving you e-commerce. I still feel that it’s not quite as “ground-floor” as some email marketing offerings, and by that I mean, it doesn’t feel very friendly for newbies, and those new to email marketing would need to be relatively knowledgeable in terminology to get their work done.
Each element of what Drip can do does come with an instructional video. These are useful, but I do feel a lot of people would prefer a step-by-step guide they can work through – either interactively as part of create a campaign or automation workflow, or as a page they can refer to as they go along.
As soon as you move off the free version of Drip, you’ll be allowed to remove their branding. That really does seem to be the most prominent aspect of its functionality.
ActiveCampaign are relatively modest in marketing themselves, and when you start to look under the hood, you can’t help but feel they might be selling themselves a little bit short. It’s a package that really packs quite a punch!
If sales is front and center of your organization, ActiveCampaign puts a lot of tools at your disposal to get the ball rolling on that. Perhaps this makes bulk email more of a sales channel than a marketing channel?
I’d also say that the analytical data it provides is only going to be useful if you allocate the relevant resources for somebody to take the time to interpret it, and make recommendations from them: oohing and aahing at the huge numbers is not what they’re for.
Another final note is that there’s an impressive list of third-party tools that ActiveCampaign integrates well with as a platform.
Like ActiveCampaign, Drip is quite squarely aimed at e-commerce marketing, and driving your organization’s sales.
It’s absolutely got all the features you’ll need to get your email marketing going, but I feel like it’s the integration of Facebook advertising with your email campaigns that would be its real winner, and its real attraction to organizations. I’m generally a skeptic of social media advertising, but I could get on board with it being part of a wider digital marketing campaign.
Beyond that, it’s all about the automation, and I like its workflow builder function too.
|Pricing options||Three tiers, starting at $9 per month||Two tiers, starting at free; price increases are based solely on number of contacts|
|Features||- Standard email marketing functionality|
- Unlimited sends at lowest tier
- CRM integration
- Some branding features for your company
- Complimentary design service
- Dedicated account rep
|- Integration with Facebook advertising|
- Unlimited number of sends
|Usability||Straightforward, but prior digital marketing knowledge would be beneficial||Feels slightly techy and some familiarity with terminology would be useful|
|Conclusion||Good for salespeople||Good for salespeople|
So what’s the best email marketing platform?
I never really like to pick a winner when I’m comparing two products, but the similarities between these two are the most minimal, and I think what will work best for your company really will come down to personal preference and what you want from your email campaigns.
BOTH have plenty of API an Zapier integration options, including many of the popular opt-in forms and CTAs.
BOTH are solid options for mid-size business and small business owners looking for a lightweight marketing platform that will grow up WITH them.
In general, though:
Definitely make use of their free trials, and see what your email marketer takes to.
Further Reading on Email Marketing Tools
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