(Last Updated On: October 15, 2017)
These days, it does feel like the market for email marketing solutions is pretty saturated.
That feeling could be correct. When a business – whether it’s a large organization or a self-employed entrepreneur – starts looking at such solutions, it can be pretty overwhelming.
When you know what you’re looking for though, you can actually see the differences between them, and drill down to what’s going to be right for you. Some systems will work better for you than others, depending on what your audience needs and you can deliver. And that’s what we’re here to help with.
While they’re not the biggest names in email marketing, Campaign Monitor and ActiveCampaign are both certainly very credible. Let’s take a look at them, at see which of them – if either – is right for your and your business.
Campaign Monitor is one of the stalwarts of the email marketing trade. It started all the way back in 2004 – 13 years is a long time in tech!
It claims over 2 million users at 150,000 companies across the world, including such big-hitters as Disney, Coca-Cola and Buzzfeed. It’s a pretty popular service!
Companies like this don’t last for so long if they’re not providing a great, usable service, at the right price. When Campaign Monitor tells you about itself, it leads with simplicity: a recurring theme in the marketing of email marketing solutions.
At first glance, the rest of its features seem pretty standard in comparison to its competitors, so it will be interesting to look at it in greater depth, to find out exactly who should be using it.
Another long-time player in email marketing ActiveCampaign have been around since 2004. Their market share has rocketed in the past year and a bit. Their userbase grew by 250%: this is the type of growth that facilitated a 160% increase in the number of employees, and two office expansions.
It’s certainly been an exciting period for them!
ActiveCampaign trots out much of the standard lines of bulk emailers. First impressions are that it is a powerhouse of useful and clever features. That’s all relative though – it’ll need a closer look to see what kind of business these features are best applied to.
The features it lists seem to gear it towards a full marketing suite for the e-commerce aspect of your business, integrating email marketing and CRM management, as well as data analysis.
Campaign Monitor has a relatively standard three-tier pricing system. It doesn’t come with a free version. The end cost to the user will be relative to the number of subscribers they intend on contacting balanced with the amount of features they wish to include.
One point I noticed right away was that the price points between tiers seemed pretty rigid. For example, with up to 500 subscribers, you can pay for the basic package for $9. The next price point is 2,500. The next price point is are for 5, 10, 15, 25 and 50,000.
They seem like pretty steep jumps for your number of subscribers, especially with the higher numbers. For example, it looks like with 30,000 subscribers, you would have to pay for 50,000 – that seems tight.
The basic package is ideal if you literally just want to send emails. It’s probably a good introduction to the world of email marketing: straight up email sending with some stats, and enough automation to create a drip feed campaign.
The middle range introduces inbox previews, so you can see how your email will look in a range of inboxes before you send it. It also introduces spam testing, to help your marketing emails avoid going straight to junk folders.
The relationship with Campaign monitor gets a little bit more personal: email support from you will be prioritized, and you’ll have access to deliverability experts who’ll help you maximize your email marketing potential.
The top tier will get you an email design consultant and a Customer Success Manager, team management for templates, as well as further statistical data.
ActiveCampaign opts for three tier pricing, and avoids the freemium nature of some competitors. If you or your business is in a position to pay annually rather than monthly, they’ll reward you with a 15% discount for doing so.
Options start at $9 per month for 500 subscribers for their starter tier, which they refer to as Lite. As introductory packages go, it’s pretty impressive, mainly because of the presence of unlimited sending. That’s an unusual feature at this price.
It also includes…
- marketing automation
- limited functionality for up to three users for collaborative work
- email and chat support
That’s good going. There’s a slider to increase the number of subscribers, and the cost of each tier will increase relative to that.
The first option might work for a self-employed person, or perhaps somebody looking to link email marketing in their blogging activities.
The second tier is called Small Business. It’s not just a clever name: the features point to it being aimed exactly at that. It’s starts at $49 per month, increasing when you reach 2,500 subscribers.
The Small Business features will get you…
- CRM integration
- contact and lead scoring
- some branding customization
- SMS marketing
- Collaborative functionality for up to 25 users
ActiveCampaign’s top-tier product is their Enterprise edition. Still considering things in terms of 500 subscribers, it will set you back $149 per month. So what do you get for an additional $100 per month?
- an account rep
- in-depth onboarding
- design service
- social data
- phone support
- unlimited users
With an account rep and SLA, this level of service is more akin to an actual hired and contracted marketing agency, rather than a – perhaps more humble – email marketing service.
Obviously, the most core of core features for Campaign Monitor is its ability to send emails. You get a little bit more than just sending though.
The email function works on a step-by-step basis, that will take you right through the process to make sure you don’t ever miss anything. As part of its standard email capacity, it includes several templates types, depending on whether you’re sending a newsletter or announcement, a sales follow-up or promoting an event.
If you’ve ever uploaded anything to the internet, you’ll have no problem replacing their images and words with your own.
The basic marketing automation feature is useful for getting started on developing drip campaigns to an audience. You don’t have full capacity to go to wild, but you can get a feel for the potential.
One of the top distinctions between each tier is the level of customer support available to you, especially between the Basid and Unlimited versions. For these options, support is limited to email, with support for Unlimited customers taking priority, and therefore most likely getting resolved quicker.
There’s no indication of what sort of timeframe these resolutions could entail though. Premier customers can just pick up the phone.
Following on from that point, there is a notable increase in “face time” with Campaign Monitor as you move up the tiers. From having a deliverability expert with the Unlimited package, to a design consultant and Customer Success Manager in the Premier league.
The increasing features all seem very focused on the actual emails. This gives the impression that it wants to do emails really well, rather than aspiring to be an all-in-one tool, integrating CRMs and the like.
ActiveCampaign’s features feel like the intended user should already have a solid knowledge of digital communications.
The lower tier of ActiveCampaign will give you pretty much everything you need to run a basic but solid email marketing process. It’s when you look at the distinct features offered at the Small Business level that it starts to distinguish itself as a different kind of beast, one aimed at being a full marketing tool, rather than just an email client.
The most notable function offered that will make professionals looking for that kind of a tool will be the CRM integration, with sales automation. That will address the procedural aspect of a lot of required email marketing.
As a follow on feature from this, it will score contacts and leads.
The other features introduced in the Small Business plan, include some customization options, for externally facing elements such as your branding and your domain.
Moving to the Enterprise package, as mentioned earlier, it appears to be taking more of an agency role, rather than just an email or marketing tool. At this point, it feels like their trying to push a more personal relationship with the customers, so better accessibility, in terms of an SLA and a dedicated account rep.
Data analysis doesn’t seem to come with any real incremental depth as you move up through the tiers. The Enterprise package does offer social data, which the other tiers don’t. This does sound slightly misleading: rather than having anything to do with social media, it will provide you with some social profiling on your recipients.
Probably the most common claim of bulk email service providers is how easy they are to use. And do you know what? They usually are, and Campaign Monitor is no exception to this.
When you log in, it invites you to get straight in and start designing an email. The templates are a useful guide to the finished product you could be sending: it really is as easy as swapping out their content for your own. The instructions are clear, concise and friendly, without being patronizing.
Honestly, I think it might be impossible to make a mistake with this. The template designs are best practice for email marketing, for a contemporary, mobile-optimized delivery.
The inbox preview function on the higher tiers are a super-useful feature though. Traditionally, email marketers will create the email, send a test to themselves, to their Outlook in the office, to their Gmail account, and check it on their desktop and their phone.
The inbox preview eliminates that: simply click through the views and you know what amends you’ll need to make.
The spam testing that works alongside the inbox preview is an interesting one. Competitors offer spam testing as standard, with big red alerts to tell you if there’s something causing concern.
One shortcoming of this review, that I would love to investigate further, is the human-interaction that’s part of the Unlimited and Premier versions. I’d especially love to find out more about the access you’re given to a deliverability expert, and the kind of enlightenment they might provide.
The Premier package includes link tracking, so you can get specific information about sales journeys originating from your emails.
I wouldn’t say that ActiveCampaign is any more difficult to use than other email software, but it certainly doesn’t have quite as inviting and friendly a tone to it as some of the other email marketing solutions.
Hence my previous note that it might be better to somebody with at least a little bit of prior digital marketing knowledge.
The email creation process is fairly standard: pick your template; work in media blocks or code; save it, send it… Their support service is perfectly adequate. The chat function is useful, and is my favourite method of engaging with any company’s customer support. Every company should have it!
I couldn’t come across any restrictions on upgrading or downgrading your service as you might need. Obviously your intention is that your business will always be increasing, and you’ll be full of ambition. However, you might decide that the features in the Small Business or Enterprise options are surplus to requirements, and aren’t worth the expenditure.
One very useful tool – albeit one that will unnerve some professionals – is to export the email addresses of recipients who have clicked on specific links within the email. I appreciate the ‘Big Brother’ vibe that might invoke, but, it’s useful for remarketing. For example, you can send a follow up email to those who clicked on the link for a certain product.
There’s quite a lot going on when you first log into ActiveCampaign. It’s a design that might put less experienced users off, but the core functionality is spot on.
Campaign Monitor is very much focused on the email marketing. It doesn’t appear to have the most integration with other products such as e-commerce, or masses of detailed analytical information.
That’s not a bad thing. Statistically, email marketing is one of the top conversion channels in digital marketing, so despite not being regarded as very glamorous, or a bit old school, it’s where the money’s at, so it’s perfectly reasonable – and makes sense – to invest in a solid solution focused on delivering your campaigns.
So, with that information in hand, I would say Campaign Monitor would be best suited to an organization that is heavily investing in email marketing.
ActiveCampaign is more of a seller’s email product. The fact that it incorporates tools such as customization and branding, as well as its CRM integration, sends a strong signal that it’s designed to make you money.
Another strong signal in this respect is the focus on automation, to create ongoing campaigns for your audience, and push the generation of sales leads. The fact that overall, it doesn’t get too bogged down with data analysis, implies this one is for salespeople rather than marketers.
| ||Campaign Monitor||ActiveCampaign
|Pricing Options||Three tiers, starting at $9 per month||Three tiers, starting at $9 per month
|Features||- Standard email marketing functionality|
- Limited sends at lowest tier
- Inbox previews
- Spam testing
- Deliverability experts
- Design consultant
- Customer Success Manager
|- Standard email marketing functionality
- Unlimited sends at lowest tier
- CRM integration
- Some branding features for your company
- Complimentary design service
- Dedicated account rep
|Usability||Simple to use - just follow the instructions||Straightforward, but prior digital marketing knowledge would be beneficial
|Conclusion||Good for dedicated email marketers||Good for salespeople
Each of these are fine products, and both very usable. As long as you understand the best use of them before committing money.
In terms of what they can be used for, they could be interchangeable. In the same way that you can get an Americano if there’s no cappuccino, but all the way through, you’ll know it’s not quite right. Research, decide what your objective is and how you want to achieve it, and find your cappuccino.
I like the increasing amount of direct contact that both products offer as you go through their packages.
With the dedication it shows to deliverability and design, Campaign Monitor positions itself as very much focused on having an outstanding process for its customers, to make sure their subscribers receive the emails.
With its CRM integration and branding options, ActiveCampaign is designed to sell your stuff: to generate leads and to follow them up.
Think about your audience, and how you want to engage with them.