ActiveCampaign vs. MailChimp Review 2021 (Why I Made the Switch)
Last Updated on by Karl
“ActiveCampaign vs MailChimp?”
“MailChimp or ActiveCampaign?”
“Who do I like more? Which one is better? Who am I happier with? ActiveCampaign is so awesome, but MailChimp is so easy to be with, you know?”
Do I sound like I’m back in high school again? This is an emotional topic for me since email marketing is so pivotal to what I do, and I’ve had long relationships with both email marketing platforms.
On one side, there’s ActiveCampaign—mature, stable, going places. On the other, MailChimp—fun and easy, but ultimately flawed and limiting.
Both have their pros and cons, but you have to choose wisely. I found out the hard way that switching platforms can almost ruin a business. I wish I hadn’t wasted time in a fun but dramatic relationship.
I’m about to cover everything you need to know about ActiveCampaign vs. MailChimp and give you the details of both relationships.
ActiveCampaign vs. MailChimp: Why You Have to Make the Right Choice at the Start
Keeping with this silly relationship analogy, my years with MailChimp were fun, exciting, and stress-free… until they became super stressful and jeopardized the entire email side of my biz.
There’s nothing wrong with MailChimp per se. It’s super easy to learn, really cheap (free up to a certain limit), and has tons of great email templates. As a beginner with a small business, I fell for its charm, youthful good looks, and, well, it was FREE. I totally understand why MailChimp is the world’s most popular email marketing service.
But, if you have serious aspirations (like scaling your business via automation, segmentation, and cross-channel messaging), MailChimp is going to hold you back. In fact, if you really want to grow, choosing MailChimp over ActiveCampaign is a HUGE MISTAKE. You won’t be able to scale, and you’ll have to go through a super painful process to switch everything to a better service (Hint: ActiveCampaign is the better service).
MailChimp Still Might be the Right Choice Though…
For all its flaws, MailChimp still has some serious advantages over ActiveCampaign. It totally depends on you and your business.
That’s why I’m going to cover everything. If you’re a geek like me, you’re going to like seeing all of the differences, planning your email marketing, and gaining peace of mind knowing you’re picking the right email marketing software for your business.
Phew, anyways, that was a lot but I had to get it out of the way.
Let’s get to ActiveCampaign vs. MailChimp side-by-side.
User-Friendliness/Ease of Use
Since I assume you’re new to email marketing, I’ll start with going over the UX/ease-of-use of MailChimp and ActiveCampaign. That’s going to play a major part in your decision.
And I have to say… MailChimp comes out throwing HAYMAKERS.
When I first started running simple email marketing campaigns, I had 0 clue what I was doing. That’s what drew me to MailChimp.
They basically invented the modern concept of a drag-and-drop email editor, and to this day it remains super easy to use.
Doesn’t get much easier than this
On the left-hand side your email is divided into separate sections (header, body, footer), and to the right, all of the cool MailChimp templates.
It takes less than a minute to make an email from scratch. Check it out:
This isn’t the Avatar of emails or anything, but this took 47 seconds to make. Just showing you how easy it is. With a bit of experience and a few tutorials, you can make beautiful emails that look 100% professional in no time.
MailChimp’s editor is:
Can’t argue with that.
My one knock on MailChimp’s UX is that creating things like landing pages, forms, or ads is in a totally different place and all lumped together in the “Create a Campaign” section.
It’s kind of annoying and creates a needless extra step. Not a big deal though.
Let’s take a quick look at ActiveCampaign to see how it stacks up:
Right off the bat, you can see the advantages and disadvantages of ActiveCampaign.
There’s A LOT more going on.
The email editor is still easy to use, and it looks way nicer in my opinion:
There are just a lot more odds and ends you have to put in place to create a professional-looking email.
Also, if you want to start using more advanced features (for example, automations), you’re going to need some real training.
If you are looking for the easiest tool to just crank out emails and be done with it, then there’s a clear winner here:
Does anyone actually create their own emails from scratch? If so, who are you and who do you work for?
If you’re like the other 99% of us sane, mentally stable businesspeople, you use a template created by a professional.
The cool thing about modern email marketing software is that there are tons of professional quality email, landing page, and social media post design templates to choose from. You can have zero clue what you’re doing and still produce a design that WOWS.
10 years ago, you were stuck sending emails that looked like hieroglyphs etched into pyramid walls.
Remember, in order to keep subscribers on your list and build trust, you’ve got to send professional-looking emails. This is super important.
So pay attention…
MailChimp Templates and Designs
MailChimp boasts over 100 templates and designs. It doesn’t matter what message you want to send, you’ll find a design to match it with MailChimp.
My personal favorites are:
- Shop – Perfect for eCommerce
IMPORTANT: You aren’t stuck with MailChimp’s templates. You can upload your own coded designs too… if you’re a sociopath!
ActiveCampaign Templates Libray
ActiveCampaign’s templates are just as professional-looking as MailChimp’s. There are just fewer of them. Only about 30.
They do have a Merry Christmas template, though, so that’s a big advantage over MailChimp.
In this case, more is definitely better. And as an eComm guy, I loved the Shop template (back when MailChimp and I were still together).
MailChimp wins again.
OK, MailChimp has come out swinging and looks to have the upper hand. Rounds 1 and 2 are in the bag comfortably. But it turns out ActiveCampaign was just playing it slow like a cerebral fighter feeling out his overzealous challenger.
Things are about to take a turn for the worse for MailChimp once we get into the actual functionality of the software.
But first, let’s cover how much MailChimp and ActiveCampaign cost.
MailChimp or ActiveCampaign: Which Has Better Pricing?
You’ve probably heard that MailChimp is the best FREE email marketing software out there. That’s why it’s a celebrity among eCommerce newbies. When you’ve got a million other expenses to worry about, it’s nice to get free email marketing software.
But this is a pet peeve of mine. MailChimp’s FREE version is extremely limited.
Let’s break it down a bit further:
MailChimp has a free version, and honestly, for all of my cynicism, it’s not that bad. For $0/mo, you get up to 2,000 contacts, solid CRM features, basic templates (annoying MailChimp footer included), and limited landing pages. Not bad at all for being free.
If you just want to send a basic “hey, guys. I’m selling this for this price” type emails, it’ll do for now.
The free version is enough to send your basic emails. It’s good to get off the ground, but don’t expect much. And as you’ll see coming up, it could be a big mistake to be lured in by the free version.
If you only need to get off the ground and never want to take email marketing seriously, MailChimp’s free version is fine. Everyone’s needs are different.
You’ll need to pay up if you want legit features that will actually grow your business like:
- Advanced CRM: Lifetime value, purchase likelihood, unlimited audience segments.
- Retargeting Ads: Facebook, IG, etc.
- Custom Workflows: Nurture campaigns and the like.
Plus, if you’re doing things the right way, you’ll outgrow 2,000 contacts extremely quickly. Especially with the SHADY WAY MailChimp counts the same contact multiple times (I’ll detail all of that in the next section).
Let me just keep it 100 with you: ActiveCampaign is pricey compared to MailChimp.
Check it out:
Say things are booming and you’ve got a 5,000-strong email list. Well, ActiveCampaign is going to run you at least $69/mo and up to $360/mo for the total package.
There’s one thing you should be aware of though: ActiveCampaign’s Lite Plan is actually more affordable than MailChimp’s once you get to 50,000 subscribers.
Verdict: MailChimp’s Free plan and competitive pricing for its more advanced (albeit limited) plans make it the better choice for small businesses (or do they? Read on to see why that’s probably not true). But for large businesses trying to do legit email marketing and CRM, ActiveCampaign is the best choice. And, it’s actually far more affordable than some competitors.
OK, we’ve covered the basics. Now, let’s get into the juicy details of how each of these platforms has performed over the course of my relationship with them.
ActiveCampaign vs. MailChimp: Which is the Better Email Marketing Program?
List Management Capabilities
Lists are the first layer of segmentation. This is the broadest segment of the people that subscribe to you. From there, you get even more granular by giving them tags, or, as with ActiveCampaign, custom fields that help you zero in on your ideal target.
Let’s cover this feature first.
Who’s Better at List Management?
… it’s ActiveCampaign
ActiveCampaign’s first counterpunch is a heavy one, and it lands right in the kisser.
I’m a big fan of ActiveCampaign’s list management philosophy and a huge MailChimp hater. As I grew my business, I started running into big problems with MailChimp and realized how needlessly complicated and, in my opinion, a tad bit shady it was.
In MailChimp, contact lists are 100% mutually exclusive. This list here. That list there. This list cannot intermingle with that list. What that means is you can’t include contacts on different lists in the same campaign.
Why is that a big deal?
MailChimp charges per subscriber. So, if you’ve got the same person on two different lists, you pay for them twice.
That’s frustrating, especially when you are scaling fast.
ActiveCampaign List Management
ActiveCampaign doesn’t have rigid lists. A subscriber is a subscriber no matter where they are. I LOVE THAT.
You can send the same campaign to contacts on different lists. Lists can be segmented based on tags or custom fields (interests, location, etc.).
Overall, the flexibility and automation capabilities of ActiveCampaign gives you way more creative freedom and custom targeting abilities. That’s enough to give it the nod over MailChimp in my book.
Verdict: Score one big point for ActiveCampaign.
Work? We don’t need no stinkin’ work. Why waste time working when a computer program can handle everything for you while you focus on more important stuff?
Automation capabilities are next up, and ActiveCampaign counterpunches again. This time, MailChimp is on the ropes.
It’s not that MailChimp’s automation is bad. It’s actually pretty solid. Back when we were still together, automated campaigns helped me grow fast without any extra effort.
Some of my favorite features are:
- Opened email trigger
- Not-opened campaign
- Clicked campaign
- Leaves group trigger
- Purchase any product trigger
- Abandoned cart trigger
NOTE: In case this doesn’t make any sense to you, a “trigger” is a subscriber behavior that triggers an email being sent to them. For example, you can configure MailChimp to send a follow-up email to anyone who doesn’t open your original email by using the “not-opened” trigger.
The drawback is that MailChimp’s editor is wonky, inflexible, and pretty limited. There’s no option for automations to branch off into multiple paths. Normally, you need automation to be as flexible as possible.
ActiveCampaign Automation Features
Down goes MailChimp. Down goes MailChimp.
MailChimp started off throwing haymakers, but ActiveCampaign has waited patiently, sized it up, and responded with a flurry of hits to the face and kidneys.
ActiveCampaigns automation capabilities are next-level, and exactly what you’d expect out of enterprise email marketing software.
You can combine unlimited triggers, actions, and conditions to create the ultimate workflow for generating leads and segmenting.
The sophisticated, multi-pathway automation is handled from a visual editor. Just drag and drop and you’re set.
You can also integrate apps like Shopify.
Not only that, but it also integrates seamlessly into ActiveCampaign’s CRM so you can automate sales processes.
Verdict: ActiveCampaign takes the lead with sophisticated automation to help you scale your business. Once you grow to a certain size and require more sophisticated tools, MailChimp will fail you.
Opt-in Forms – MailChimp VS ActiveCampaign
Forms are essential for capturing extra information from your subscribers, and they’re ubiquitous in email software these days.
So, I thought I’d throw in my thoughts on reg forms from both platforms.
MailChimp is dazed in the corner. Might as well throw a few more punches and score some easy points with the judges.
ActiveCampaign’s registration form field editor (pictured above) is super easy.
The editor is visual, simple, and intuitive, making it easy to add new fields. The mobile-responsive forms can then be embedded or directly added to WordPress (or even Facebook).
MailChimp’s form functionality is fine, but I have two gripes with it:
- There’s a separate editor for embedded form fields. Kind of annoying
- Not all forms are mobile responsive. Double annoying
Verdict: Not really a big deal, but score another point for ActiveCampaign.
OK, last but certainly not least comes the main reason ActiveCampaign is the best choice for serious businesses…
Referee: 7… 8… 9… 10… we have a winner!
ActiveCampaign’s CRM is the ultimate tool for keeping your sales process smooth while you focus on growing your business. MailChimp, even though they claim to be a CRM tool, doesn’t let you do this.
And, all of ActiveCampaign’s email marketing tools (e.g. automations) integrate directly into the CRM.
Think about how smoothly your business could operate with these processes 100% automated:
- Sales funnels
- Deal records
- Sales communication
- Lead management/prioritization
And that’s just a small taste of the meal you’re about to feast on.
Another awesome feature that really helped me focus my attention where it was needed most is Lead Scoring. Some people are ready to buy and others are in danger of slipping away. Lead scoring allows you to keep track of who is who and put your attention where it’s needed most.
You don’t get that with MailChimp.
MailChimp does claim to be a CRM, but, yeah, they aren’t fooling me. And they shouldn’t fool you either.
Sure, you can store data and target audiences or create ads, but it’s not even close. In fact, it’s not even worth covering.
Verdict: ActiveCampaign wins: TKO.
Alternatives to ActiveCampaign
I mentioned it before, but just to cover it here: ActiveCampaign is not the only advanced email marketing platform out there. A few well-known competitors are:
- Hubspot: Full-service CRM. $800/mo for a decent plan. Hubspot is kind of like the ultimate marketing tool, but it’s not email marketing software in the way that ActiveCampaign is. This is more for enterprises that need SEO, CRO, and analytics.
- Drip: $300 +/mo for 20,000 users, and not nearly as comprehensive as ActiveCampaign. They’ve got a drag and drop editor and other features like automation, but not nearly the same level of triggers or complexity as ActiveCampaign.
- AWeber: Cheaper than ActiveCampaign ($149/mo for 25,000 users), but no CRM and poor automation.
- Convert Kit: Not as comprehensive as ActiveCampaign, but I actually don’t mind the tool. The automation is killer. Not on the level of ActiveCampaign, but multi-pathway and a clean visual editor.
ActiveCampaign vs. MailChimp: Overall Thoughts. And Why You MUST THINK LONG-TERM
ActiveCampaign is the superior platform when you consider what it’s actually capable of.
If you want to get serious about your business, it’s the clear choice. Still, I totally understand why MailChimp appeals to such a wide audience:
- The free plan lets you get started with no upfront costs. Very nice.
- It’s super easy to use. No training needed. Just make emails. Also nice.
- It’s cheaper. You can get thousands of subscribers and solid features for less than ActiveCampaign.
If you think you don’t need any of the advanced features or automation, MailChimp is fine.
There’s just one thing I learned the hard way that you have to know:
EVEN IF YOU THINK YOU DON’T NEED THOSE THINGS NOW, YOU WILL DOWN THE ROAD. AND BY THEN IT WILL BE TOO LATE.
I never once thought I’d need any of the advanced features in email marketing software like ActiveCampaign. That is until I actually needed them. When you’re starting a business, it’s so hard to see a year down the road.
I just wanted to grow, grow, grow. By the time I realized MailChimp was holding me back, my entire email marketing operation was complex, and getting it all into a tool that could actually contribute to growing my business was almost impossible.
If you start with MailChimp, you are putting a ceiling on what you can achieve, and if you ever want to break through it, you will have to go through a seriously painstaking and expensive process to fix it.
Don’t be like me. Think long-term!
Verdict: ActiveCampaign is the tool you need now and the tool you will wish you had started with when it comes time to scale your business. If you choose MailChimp, you’ll save some money, but you’ll be shooting yourself in the foot. Trust me.