Marketing

ActiveCampaign vs. MailChimp: Finding the Best Email Tool for Your Business

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Phil Grossman

8 Jan, 2020

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If you’ve stumbled upon this article throughout your internet travels, then congrats: you’re probably looking to subscribe to an email marketing platform, and that’s definitely something worth celebrating. Indeed, email has one of the best ROI’s out of all marketing channels: for every $1 you spend on email marketing, you can expect to get $44 back on average— that’s a 4,400% ROI. So, just by being here, you’re already on the road to success. 

But with so many platforms to choose from, picking the right one can be a pretty difficult task. In this guide, we’re going to attempt to make things a bit easier for you by pitting two of the most popular tools against each other in the fight of the century: ActiveCampaign vs. MailChimp. 

So, let’s get the gloves on and have a good, clean fight. 

Pricing

MailChimp

MailChimp is broken into four pricing tiers: Free, Essentials, Standard, and Premium. The pricing for each plan except the free one scales with the number of contacts on your list.

Free

The Free plan is, well, free. If you have a list of up to 2,000 contacts and plan to send no more than 10,000 emails per month total, then it’s a good place to start. However, it only has MailChimp’s most basic features, so don’t expect to be able to run complex retargeting campaigns. The Free plan works well as a basic email platform for businesses that are just starting out, but most businesses will need a bit more room to grow. 

Essentials

The Essentials plan starts at $9.99/mo for lists with up to 1,499 contacts and reaches up to $259/mo for lists with up to 50,000 contacts. Curiously, the pricing tier actually allows fewer contacts compared to Mailchimp’s free plan, but it does include more features, such as:

Plus, with the Essentials plan, you can increase your subscriber count without being bumped off the plan — you won’t have to upgrade to the next plan up until you surpass 50,000 contacts. 

Standard

The Standard plan ranges from $14.99/mo for lists with up to 2,499 contacts to $499/mo for lists with up to 100,000 contacts.

At this level, you can start using some of Mailchimp’s more powerful features like:

  • Retargeting ads
  • Event-based automation series
  • All of MailChimp’s analytics tools
  • Custom templates

If you’re set on using MailChimp, this is where we’d recommend starting as it’s not a huge jump up from the Essentials plan, but it offers significantly more features. 

Premium

MailChimp’s Premium plan is built with consummate businesses in mind. The lowest pricing tier for this plan is $299/mo and allows users to manage lists of up to 14,999 contacts from the get go. After you exceed 200,000 contacts, which will cost you $1,099/mo, you’ll need to contact MailChimp directly to get a custom price. 

The features you can expect from this include:

  • Advanced segmentation tools
  • Multivariate testing
  • Phone support
  • Unlimited seats
  • Role-based access

ActiveCampaign

Like MailChimp, ActiveCampaign pricing depends both on the features you want and how many contacts you have on your list. There are four tiers to choose from: Lite, Plus, Professional, and Enterprise. To make things even more complicated, ActiveCampaign also lets you choose between a regular monthly plan and a discounted yearly plan that’s paid monthly. 

When we give price ranges, we’re going to base prices on the regular monthly subscription plan.

Lite

The Lite plan starts at $15/mo for 500 contacts and ranges to $459/mo for lists with up to 100,00 contacts. 

Overall, ActiveCampaign starts its contacts out with a more robust feature set than MailChimp’s — there are no restrictions on email design even at the most basic tier. Plus, they offer chat and email support right off the bat, as well as marketing automation tools, subscription forms, and unlimited email sends. 

Plus

The Plus plan ranges from $70/mo for 500 contacts to $399/mo for up to 25,000 contacts. After that, you’ll need to contact ActiveCampaign directly to get pricing for your list. 

At this price point, you’ll get access to: 

  • CRM with sales automation
  • Facebook custom audiences
  • SMS marketing tools
  • Integrations with Square, Shopify, and WooCommerce

Even at this tier, ActiveCampaign differentiates itself by extending its scope beyond email. 

Professional

The Professional plan starts at $159/mo for 500 contacts and ranges to $599/mo for up to 25,000 contacts. Just like the Plus plan, you’ll need to contact ActiveCampaign for pricing directly if you have a larger contact list. 

This plan includes a number of Machine Learning features such as:

  • Win probability
  • Predictive Content
  • Predictive Sending

Enterprise

The Enterprise plan runs from $279/mo for 500 contacts to $499/mo for 10,000 contacts. Once you exceed that contact limit, you’ll need to get in touch with ActiveCampaign for pricing. 

All in all, the Enterprise plan scales the feature set in the Professional plan to an Enterprise level. While the Professional plan only allows up to 50 users, the Enterprise plan allows unlimited users. Plus, you’ll get:

  • A custom mailserver domain
  • A dedicated account representative
  • Custom reporting
  • Free social data
  • An uptime SLA

Pricing Winner: MailChimp

As you’ve probably noticed by now, MailChimp is a whole lot cheaper than ActiveCampaign. While it’s true that ActiveCampaign does provide a deeper feature set from the get go, MailChimp’s is still very capable and offers more bang for your buck.

Plus, the Free plan is a huge help to businesses that are just getting started with email marketing — not to mention it allows for four times as many contacts as ActiveCampaign’s lowest paid plan. ActiveCampaign’s feature set is very impressive, but it will be lost on anyone who’s just starting out, while MailChimp provides a clear upgrade roadmap that allows users to slowly wade into the deep end of email marketing and automation

Signing up

MailChimp

MailChimp’s signup process is pretty quick — they only ask for your email and a password to start. Once you input that, you’ll need to confirm your email and choose your plan, but the signup process feels fluid because it happens in steps, not as one large form. That said, having the ability to autofill would be nice. 

If your number of contacts is greater than the limit for your desired plan, things get a bit more complicated as you’ll need to contact MailChimp for pricing. 

ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign’s signup procedure is just what you’d expect from any modern SaaS company. Simply go to their site, input your personal and billing information, and you’re good to go. 

However, just like MailChimp, if you have a list that exceeds ActiveCampaign’s contact limits, you’ll have to contact them to get a unique pricing offer. 

Winner: Tie

There’s really no clear winner here. At first I was going to give the gold MailChimp because they have a free plan, and they don’t require a credit card, but on the other hand, if you’re not interested in a free plan, ActiveCampaign makes signup fast with the ability to autofill the signup and payment form. 

Design and User Experience

MailChimp

MailChimp uses a very particular design language on their platform — it’s an aesthetic that fits somewhere between 2000’s Microsoft Office and The New Yorker. Almost everything is in black and white with a bit of green thrown in on the action buttons, and the seriffed headers are something I haven’t seen too frequently. All in all, I get the impression MailChimp is trying to stir up images of high-end advertising agencies from the 1950’s à la Mad Men. It’s a classy look, that’s for sure.

However, such a restrained palette can make things become a bit monotonous. While I do appreciate the effort and vision here, I think the design could be a bit spruced up. But of course, there are different strokes for different folks — some will really appreciate the minimalist design. It definitely fits right in with other office software like Word, Excel, etc., so if that was the intention, then mission accomplished.

Either way, MailChimp’s UI is very easy to navigate, and that’s the most important part. Even its content builder, which is generally the hardest part to get right, feels intuitive and familiar. 

ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign’s UI feels much more in tune with the current times than MailChimp’s — it’s colorful without being flashy, and it feels familiar. While MailChimp fits in best with office software, ActiveCampaign’s design feels like it would be most at home chilling with Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube.

Personally, this UI clicks more with me — the colors make the experience a bit more bright in my eyes and help create more of a design hierarchy. 

However, what most impresses me about ActiveCampaign’s design is its ability to present a pretty complex toolset in an intuitive package. Automation is at heart a pretty complex subject, so making it feel so easy to use is really something to be proud of. 

The deep automation capabilities that come with ActiveCampaign are the main differentiator that sets it apart from MailChimp. While MailChimp does have some degree of automation built in as well, it doesn’t go nearly as in-depth as ActiveCampaign does, and their focus on creating an easy-to-use interface to overlay onto that level of complexity is quite admirable. This flowchart view is truly an ingenious solution. 

Design and User Experience Winner: ActiveCampaign

While MailChimp does have a unique aesthetic, it straddles the line between bland and elegant. However, ActiveCampaign’s UI feels brighter and more modern. Plus, its flowchart view for campaign automation packs a lot of depth into an extremely intuitive and easy-to-use package.

Features and Integrations

MailChimp

At its heart, MailChimp still holds true to its roots: it was founded in 2001, when email marketing was almost entirely about eblasts. 

And that shines through in its feature set. Sure, there’s automation, but it’s in newsletters that MailChimp really excels — not to mention that it’s far more competitively priced on a per-contact basis as well. 

But once you move past designing simple emails, MailChimp starts to take a hit. For example, segmentation is not particularly easy on MailChimp — you can’t have one contact be part of two different segments. If you want a contact included in two segments, MailChimp counts them as two different contacts, which can quickly eat into your contact allowance. 

That said, as one of the most popular marketing platforms, MailChimp has a very impressive list of integrations, including a wide list of tools from Ampjar to Zapier.

ActiveCampaign

While MailChimp is focused on creating a superb set of email marketing features, ActiveCampaign appears to want to be on the cutting edge of marketing. With the inclusion of machine learning features like Win Probability, which uses ML to decide which sales deals are most likely to be won, and Predictive Content, which uses ML to figure out what content to send to different contacts, ActiveCampaign truly takes things to another level. 

But of course, ActiveCampaign can still make simple emails with ease — they do primarily market themselves as an email marketing platform, afterall. However, unlike MailChimp, if you do want to kick things up a notch and dive deeper into automation, machine learning, natural language processing, and other cutting edge technologies, ActiveCampaign is there for you as you grow. 

Plus, as far as integrations are concerned, ActiveCampaigns integrates with Shopfiy and WooCommerce, while MailChimp only integrates with the latter. That’s a big win for ActiveCampaign. 

Features Winner: ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign has a truly impressive feature set. With so many ways to implement automation and machine learning into your campaigns, it’s a platform that will take anyone years to completely master.

However, ActiveCampaign’s price reflects this larger feature set, and many business owners and marketers simply won’t need so much depth. If that’s the case, MailChimp is still a great choice that will provide the essentials at a much better price. 

Customer Service

MailChimp

For MailChimp, customer service is not a priority. While customers will get 24/7 chat and email support with every paid plan, phone service isn’t offered until you upgrade to the Premium plan. 

ActiveCampaign

While ActiveCampaign is similar to MailChimp (no phone support until their highest tier), when you do finally get phone support, you get a dedicated account representative and an uptime SLA — that’s much different than some basic phone support. 

Winner: ActiveCampaign

This one’s easy. Both platforms are pretty much the same in this regard, but ActiveCampaign really ups the ante for enterprise customers. 

Winner: ActiveCampaign 🎉

So, tallying up the marks here, ActiveCampaign squeaks out a victory over MailChimp.

But that’s not really telling the full story, is it? Few things are ever as simple as a binary winner-loser situation, and we’d be doing you a disservice to say that this is one of the few exceptions.

In reality, MailChimp and ActiveCampaign are for two different types of users: MailChimp is for those who are looking for a robust, minimalist email marketing platform, and ActiveCampaign is for those who want to get really deep into automation and cutting-edge tech like machine learning. But not everyone needs to get that deep into their emails, and ActiveCampaign charges a hefty premium for access to features that a lot of customers simply won’t use. 

At the end of the day, the deciding factor is going to come down to your budget and what you plan to use each platform for. 

If you want a simple email builder that has some basic automation functionality, MailChimp is the answer. 

If you want to get really deep into automating your emails, go with ActiveCampaign. 

Or, if you’d like an easy-to-use alternative that lets you earn passive revenue from your emails, might we suggest Ampjar? 

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