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Which email marketing software is right for your business?

“The process of email marketing has changed and with it has come a bevvy of different Email Marketing Service Providers (EMSPs) to help you stay on the front foot. Because there are so many different EMSPs out there - each one with it's own unique features and tools - it can make it difficult to know which one is the best to choose for your business.”

Email marketing has come a long way in the last decade - gone are the days when you could send an enticing message with a simple graphic out to your email database and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. The process of email marketing has changed and with it has come a bevvy of different Email Marketing Service Providers (EMSPs) to help you stay on the front foot.

Because there are so many different EMSPs out there - each one with it's own unique features and tools - it can make it difficult to know which one is the best to choose for your business. So I decided to compare three of the most popular small to mid size EMSPs, so you have a better idea of which one might be the best fit for you.

A comparison of Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor and Active Campaign

For an easy overview, I've created a chart that compares how MailChimp, Campaign Monitor and Active Campaign stack up against each other. However, there's so much more to say. Below I've broken each service down and explained how it's provided by each EMSP.

Mail Chimp - Email software comparison MC Campaign Monitor - Email software comparison CM Active Campaign - Email software comparison AC
Webforms Which email marketing software is right for your business? Email Marketing Software comparison CRM Email marketing software rating
Single Opt-In Which email marketing software is right for your business? Email Marketing Software comparison
Double Opt-In Which email marketing software is right for your business? Email Marketing Software comparison CRM Email marketing software rating
SMS Which email marketing software is right for your business? Email Marketing Software comparison CRM Email marketing software rating
Template Library Which email marketing software is right for your business? Email Marketing Software comparison CRM Email marketing software rating
Advanced Templates Which email marketing software is right for your business? Email Marketing Software comparison CRM Email marketing software rating
Integrations Which email marketing software is right for your business? Email Marketing Software comparison CRM Email marketing software rating
Interface Which email marketing software is right for your business? Email Marketing Software comparison CRM Email marketing software rating
CRM Which email marketing software is right for your business? Email Marketing Software comparison CRM Email marketing software rating
Marketing Automation Which email marketing software is right for your business? Email Marketing Software comparison CRM Email marketing software rating
Want more? Talk to us about Infusionsoft, Marketo and more!

Webforms

Webforms and subscription forms are essentially the same thing. They both capture specific fields entered by a user. Generally, a subscription form is your basic newsletter subscription that (ideally) has only name and email as its capture fields. 'Webform' however is the term we use to describe a more comprehensive form on your website - like a 'Contact Us' form.

All three systems allow you to build webforms out with a variety of field options, such as a dropdown box, radio option, or simple text field - which feeds back into the database. However, while Mailchimp and Active Campaign offer the functionality of a text area field (a box which allows you to enter several paragraphs of text), Campaign Monitor does not. Without the ability to use a text area field - the software is rendered useless as a standalone piece of software for the purpose of creating comprehensive webforms on your website, and can only be used as basic subscription software. There are ways around this, by integrating Campaign Monitor with another form builder, or by hooking it into an installation of Gravity Forms if your website is built on Wordpress. But you'll never be able to transfer those paragraphs of text into Campaign Monitor.

Purely for the fact that Campaign Monitor needs to be integrated with another (often paid) form builder in order to be used properly across your website, it get's low marks in this category.

Single and Double Opt-Ins

The double opt-in process is where a lead fills out a form on your website, and instead of receiving an 'autoresponder' (an email which thanks them for their submission/enquiry) they receive an email which prompts them to confirm their subscription before the system will allow any emails to reach them.

Mailchimp forces a double opt-in, and does not allow you to circumvent this process. In theory, this is a great method to make sure that your contacts are really interested in your product - and aids in preventing being caught by the spam police. However, when using the software for something like a 'Contact Us' or 'Request a Quote' form - the lead is prompted to confirm their subscription - and even the word 'subscription' can not be changed. This gives the lead the wrong impression and is not ideal.

If your website uses Wordpress however, and you're familiar with the process of adding and editing a plugin's source code (or know someone who is) you're in luck. Head over here to learn about how to disable the double opt-in process. Be wary however, this is technically a 'hack' - and can be disabled by updating the plugin, updating Wordpress, etc. Having to resort to a 'hack' in order to get the job done is also never ideal.

SMS

The ability to incorporate SMS marketing into your campaigns is a feature being more widely used these days. It becomes increasingly useful when needing to remind your contacts about an upcoming event.

Campaign Monitor offers an integration with Burst SMS which handles your SMS sending, however it does not include automation, so SMS's can't be handled from within Campaign Monitor, it will simply synchronise the two databases.

Mailchimp also offers an SMS integration specifically for event notifications through Gather SMS. Your contacts will be required to specifically sign up for SMS notifications in relation to a particular event, and their numbers are deleted when the event is over. Great in theory, however SMS costs for numbers outside the US and Canada are 5 times the normal amount.

Active Campaign offers SMS services directly from within the application which can be fully automated, however only on the Plus and Enterprise plans. If you already need an application as robust as the Enterprise plan - you'll be gifted with 1000 free SMS credits a month, which really is a plus.

Template Library

Mailchimp offers a vast array of email templates to choose from, however be aware... Preview the template before choosing and customising it to make sure that it is mobile-friendly, as the majority are not. It is also worth noting that Mailchimp does not allow you to pick and mix between the amount of columns in your template. You can select for the top half to be one column, and the bottom half to be two columns - but you can not go from one column, to two columns, to three columns in succession down the template - which restricts how you build out your newsletter.

Active Campaign does have a variety of email templates - however with their recent introduction of a new builder - there are limited options of templates built specifically for the new system. If you're a designer at heart, you'll love taking one of their general responsive templates and moulding it into something that speaks to your brand.

Campaign Monitor is by far the easiest builder to use for beginners and experts alike with the loveliest pre-built templates. With an incredibly fluid drag-and-drop interface, it's a truly stunning system.

All three pieces of software allow you to build your own custom HTML templates and use them within the software. Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor have their own 'language' which you can build your templates around to transport your custom coded template into their own visual builders. They're not perfect, but do the job.

Active Campaign doesn't allow you to transport a HTML template into their visual builders, but it does have a nice dual-screen interface for inserting and editing HTML emails. If you're comfortable working in code, you'll be perfectly content with this option - maybe even more than the other two!

Integrations

All three systems have a host of available integrations which are pre-configured for your use. A lot of them use Zapier as the base for the integration - without you having to create a separate account with Zapier (and thus avoiding paying the extra fees).

Importantly, all three integrate with Gravity Forms seamlessly, and all also integrate with your Wordpress user list - which is great if you have a membership site.

Half the time you'll find yourself choosing your email marketing system based on what programs it can integrate with - and thus how smooth and connected you can make your internal systems. The best way to get a feel for what they can connect with is to peruse the Mailchimp, Campaign Monitor, and Active Campaign integrations pages.

Interface

All three EDSM's present an attractive interface which is easy to navigate. New users may slip up with Mailchimp in trying to locate where to edit success/thank-you pages when building HTML sign up forms. Similarly, the area in Campaign Monitor where you specify if you would like to receive notifications and set thank-you pages are in fairly 'odd' spots, and could be confusing for first time users. There's a learning curve to familiarising yourself with any new piece of software, which is to be expected - and the tiny downfalls in the ability to intuitively navigate these systems aren't deal-breakers by any means.

CRM

It's important to note that both Mailchimp and Campaign Monitor do not market themselves as a CRM, so we can't fault them for not having CRM capabilities. They both integrate with other existing CRM's however, which is great. Active Campaign does in fact have a CRM system in place on its more expensive plans, and it's not bad! For basic functionality - keeping track of contacts through multiple fields, tracking deals and progress through pipelines - it does the job. You can link your email account into the system and send the potential customer personal emails from directly within the application so you have an audit trail on the sales process, and link in marketing automation to complete certain actions depending on what stage they are in. If you're familiar at all with Infusionsoft you'll recognise Active Campaign as somewhat of an 'Infusionsoft-lite'.

Marketing Automation

Let's first establish what we mean when we say "Marketing Automation". In theory, all three systems utilise marketing automation by allowing you to specify emails and time delays based on one initial trigger (usually filling out a form). You set these processes up right from the start and all those emails will fire off automatically according to your specifications.

However - that's not necessarily what we mean when we refer to marketing automation today. The marketing automation industry is all about segmentation. Segmenting contacts based on their initial interests, their product purchases, what they are clicking in your emails, and so much more. When you have automatic segmentation based on a contacts activity - you can funnel them into different lists and pipelines, and specify what kind of marketing they will receive based on their interests, and what they have shown to be engaged by at a much higher level.

Mailchimp offers this kind of automation, but not in the most intuitive of ways. There are a fair few options for 'triggers' - like opening an email or clicking a link, and you can specify what email series that trigger leads off into - but it's organised in a list format which can be confusing to navigate, and honestly is not that comprehensive.

Campaign Monitor offers automation in the same vein as what we discussed earlier - basic automation based around emails being sent out at intervals when someone subscribes to a list. This is fine for basic usage but for the purposes of this article (and in comparison to the other products), can't really be considered "Marketing Automation" in the way we use it in the industry.

Active Campaign on the other hand does offer marketing automation in the sense that we can build out 'workflows' based on various triggers that segment the contacts and make sure they receive information only relevant to them. As an added bonus, you build out these 'workflows' in a visual format like a flowchart - making it immeasurably more intuitive to put together and navigate.

Moving Up: Infusionsoft and Marketo

We didn't include either Infusionsoft or Marketo in this comparison because they are in a league of their own. At a higher price point, you would expect as much. If you're a medium to large sized company that needs an intense focus on marketing automation and lead management (and perhaps an integrated CRM) to a much higher degree than what you would get with any of the above - then they may be options worth looking at. They each excel in different ways, so get in touch with us if you need to discuss which is right for you!

Still need help with your email marketing? Find out how we can assist you by calling us on (03) 9999 0250 or email us at hello@indietech.com.au.

Indietech blog article author - Digital Marketing and Web Design insights
17-Aug-2015
Noted by Lucy Clarke
campaign-management,marketing-automation

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