Marketing automation tools are a hot topic in the digital marketing space. As it stands, an estimated 50% of companies say they use some type of automation tool to boost their cross-platform marketing efforts and power up their CX strategy.
Out of the hundreds of marketing automation tools, there's one for your brand, niche, and business goals.
Here, we'll take a closer look at three different automation platforms: Active Campaign vs. ConvertKit vs. Drip. While there are countless automation tools out there, these options are popular among smaller operations from e-commerce stores to solo-preneurs.
A note on segmentation before we get started...
All marketing lives and dies by how well your marketing fits with the audiences expectations, and this starts with deep and accurate segmentation of your target customers. All of the automation platforms compared here tackle segments in exactly the same way - tagging.
Tagging is essentially a quick way to add customers into groups based on who they are and what actions they've taken, and fire emails or other communications (SMS for example) based on those specific tags.
The beauty of tagging your customers properly and rigorously is that when the time comes to actually engage with them, you're not left resorting to the full spray and pray approach which over time can damage your open and click rates, and give your domain reputation a real hammering! More on protecting your domain reputation right here.
Before you start using marketing automation, have a plan for tagging. Think about the key milestones or behaviours of your customers that will help you deliver them the right information at the right time. Without a plan for tagging you'll be lost in a fog of random campaigns, so have a plan, and put it at the heart of your marketing efforts.
If you're looking for some simple ideas for how to tag your customers, we love this little breakdown on Active Campaign's website - some great starting points for better segmentation here for you...
This blog by Hatchbuck is also a great place to learn about tagging best-practices and start planning your tagging tactics.
OK, let's take a look at the tools!
Drip is built for all kinds of digital marketers ranging from bloggers, content creators, and SaaS, but it's mainly geared towards e-commerce businesses. This is evident in their integrations page, which angles heavily towards e-Commerce tools.
All features come together as an ECRM platform (CRM for e-commerce), allowing you to track everything from social media referrals to your top-performing workflows.
Here's a guide to Drip's best features:
Personalized Content Blocks
Drip's drag-and-drop email editor allows users to choose between general content and dynamic content, which allows you to add personalized content blocks to your emails.
As you can see here, you can add personal recommendations, custom discounts, and abandoned cart messages that reference specific items left behind.
You'll see how the content options are geared towards e-Commerce use-cases, backing up their focus on that niche. If you're in e-Commerce this makes Drip extremely easy to understand and apply to your specific use-cases and challenges.
Connects with Facebook Ads
Fitting with their deep focus on e-Commerce, one of the more exciting features in the Drip lineup is its integration with Facebook Lead Ads. When users share contact details in a Facebook form, that lead goes directly to your Drip account and is tagged as a lead.
Additionally, you can use Lead Ad submissions as triggers, and then follow up with a targeted email to entrants of a Facebook competition or a flash-sale, for example. If you're not in e-Commerce, think how you can add these leads to another drip campaign, perhaps a nurturing sequence with some of your best content for that customer persona.
Drip is great at publishing content on how to use their features wisely (in fact, we think they do this the best of all the tools), and you can see a guide to using LeadAds with Drip right here.
Drip's behavior-based workflows allow you to customize triggers and actions based on your customer journey. Additionally, you can set goals for these automations, providing something of a framework for moving customers along in the sales pipeline.
Drip is amazing for e-Commerce when it comes to pre-built automations - their templates cover the most popular e-Commerce workflows, and you can even customise them to your own needs - you can see them all here.
Drip offers several tools that aim to help you gain a complete understanding of how people interact with your website and marketing channels.
Use tags to quickly segment customers based on purchases, patterns, and more:
Or, view customer records that tell you exactly how users move through your workflows:
Lead Scoring is another area where Drip gets things right. Lead Scoring is based on literal points, which increase or decrease based on behavior.
For example, if a prospect reviews a pricing page or opens an email, Drip adds points to their record. You might also set up your account to subtract points if someone abandons a cart or misses a scheduled call.
Here’s a quick look at Drip’s pricing breakdown:
We think Drip's pricing is pretty fair considering the depth of functionality. If you're running a list less than 5000 customers, it's clear exactly what you're going to be paying each month, vs. some other tools which immediately scale dependant on your exact number of contacts.
After 5000 contacts things kick up a bit, so do some sums vs. Active Campaign and ConvertKit, to get the sweet spot that's right for your business.
However, if you're at the lower end of the contacts scale we'd seriously recommend looking at ConvertKit as they have great plans at $29 and $49 that come with more contacts than both Drip and Active Campaign.
The split testing feature is fairly limited. While it's easy to split-test things like the subject line, the "From name," or send time, testing actual content or CTAs is harder to figure out.
We’ve also seen a few mentions of bugs, glitches, and general sluggishness. This doesn’t seem to be an ongoing problem, but it’s worth pointing out.
In summary Drip is tightly designed for e-commerce platforms, though it could easily be used for a range of business types.
Supercharging Drip with Bonjoro
Personal video combines perfectly with e-Commerce marketing funnels to drive repeat sales, reviews and referrals that will grow your store. You can see exactly how other e-Commerce companies are using Bonjoro right here.
2. Active Campaign
ActiveCampaign is a marketing automation tool geared toward SMBs and designed to boost growth by combining email marketing, automations, and a CRM for keeping track of all your efforts.
Use it to send newsletters, design emails, and quickly track subscriber activity from your dashboard:
ActiveCampaign’s Marketing Automation Features
It's worth noting that ActiveCampaign offers more than marketing automation. It's an email marketing tool, a social media management program, it supports SMS campaigns, and connects with a range of third-party software.
What's more, though it's advertised as a small business automation tool, it's relatively scalable and offers more functionality than competitors that fall within the same price range.
A quick rundown of the platform’s automation features:
- A/B Testing
- Analytics and ROI tracking
- Drip Campaigns
- Dynamic Content
- Landing Pages via Integrations
- Lead Scoring
- Segmentation (very similar to Drip's tags system)
- Social Media Marketing
- Text and SMS marketing
- Live Chat (a bit like Intercom)
- Web Forms
- Website Visitor Tracking
We won't dive into all of these areas, but let's take a deeper look at some of the standout features vs. the competition.
Live Chat (a bit like Intercom)
Active Campaign stands out from the bunch with its Live Chat widget. This feature isn't available on Drip or ConvertKit, so if have an inside sales team you'll want yo look closely at Active Campaign. This is pretty much like Intercom's offering, where you can engage with leads right on your site, and it's strengthened by the fact you can fire your existing email sequences based on the result of a conversation.
Lots of potential to engage customers right on your site, and seal the deal later with the lead nurturing content you've already created for other inbound prospects.
It's worth noting that you can also fire pre-loaded "Site Messages" through the chat widget. So take for example you've just launched a new feature or product you can easily make a pop up to inform your customers. Pretty neat, and again, it saves you forking out for another tool for this ability.
OK, this is cool. You know that feeling when you get an email from a brand where it feels like they just fully lumped you in with the rest of their customers without a second thought for what you really like and need? This helps you avoid that scenario.
You can customise your emails with dynamic content dependant on tags and groups in your account. So take for example you are sending an email to your customers about pet food, and a bunch of them are only dog food buyers and the rest cat food, you can fire a different piece of text to each group. You can also switch up the visuals of your emails to match those same tags so your emails never feel incongruous to the customer.
If you're in the business of gathering phone numbers from customers or leads you'll want to go with Active Campaign. You can fire SMS messages as part of your marketing sequences with the click of a button. You can fire SMS from ConvertKit and Drip, but only via an integration with apps like Textful or Call-loop, which can be a bit of a headache amongst all of the other things you're juggling.
N.B. SMS sends are bought via extra credits with your Active Campaign subscription, so remember to factor that into your figures when making your decision. Here's a link to the SMS pricing page, and a quick screenshot if you don't want to make the jump right now.
Website Visitor Tracking
Not that comfortable using Google Analytics on a daily basis for your visitor and goal tracking? Or hate having to log into GA every time you want to check your visitor stats? You'll love this.
Active Campaign tracks visitors so that you can offer contacts exactly what they’re looking for. Alongside general visitor numbers, you can track a bunch of key events like pages visited, forms completed, and goals achieved (e.g. completed checkout or signed up to your product). You can then figure out what's working and what's not and adjust your marketing activities accordingly - switching up who you target or what channels you use.
Active Campaign Pricing
ActiveCampaign is pretty punchy in the cost stakes when compared to the rest. You get more features, like dynamic content, split testing, lead scoring, SMS marketing, and Live Chat, but you'll need to decide if those features are worth the extra outlay. Here’s the breakdown by plan - it's worth noting that Drip’s $49 plan comes with 2500 contacts, ConvertKit's $49 plan comes with up to 3000 contacts, while here, you’ll get just 500 for the same price.
Overall, we liked what ActiveCampaign brought to the table, and found it hard to pick holes. Here's a few that we encountered:
There is no landing page builder built into the platform, so you'll have to manage that via integrations with third-party apps. This could be a deal-breaker for many of you, if you're tired of "Zap"-ing of data from your landing page tool to your marketing automation tool. If this is important to you, we'd highly recommend checking out ConvertKit or Keap instead - ConvertKit are particularly strong in this area, with simple, and well-proven templates ready to use with just a few clicks.
While ActiveCampaign comes with a wide range of useful tools, make sure you have enough time to invest in learning your way around the platform. We found that on review sites like Capterra and G2 Crowd, some customers reported feeling overwhelmed with the crowded dashboard and long list of tools.
The other thing you may want to watch out for is the contact-based pricing. As you grow your subscriber list, you’ll likely end up paying ActiveCampaign a higher monthly rate.
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You can convert leads faster and easier, and generate a loyal band of delighted customers by adding personal videos to your Active Campaign funnels.
ConvertKit is an email service provider and marketing automation tool designed specifically for bloggers, podcasters, influencers, online coaches, musicians, and other creative entrepreneurial types. According to the website, ConvertKit aims to make marketing as easy as possible. It's a curated selection of features that help creators grow their email lists, schedule content, and spend more time on what they do best.
Here’s a look at a few of the main features you’ll find inside:
Visual Automation Editor
ConvertKit's visual automation editor is easy to use and makes editing automation workflows a total breeze. For example, if one step in your workflow is sending an email, you can click the icon and start editing on that same page.
ConvertKit instead brings everything into one central editing tool, so clicking the email icon will allow you to edit your message inline. There's no navigating to a separate window and losing track of what you were doing before.
One of ConvertKit's top-selling points is its tag-based list management system. This gives users an efficient tool for segmenting and tracking subscribers and assigning them to simple workflow automations.
The benefit is, you can apply tags to users and group them based on interests, behavior, or whatever else makes sense to you.
ConvertKit's reporting dashboard is built around your subscriber list. Users will gain access to a list of stats that goes over sequences, email opens, and more.
Keep in mind; this isn't a full-blown analytics dashboard. Instead, reporting is limited to tracking how users interact with the emails and sequences you set up in your ConvertKit account.
That said, what we liked about the dashboard is, the insights it does provide are easy to read and understand within a matter of minutes.
Easy Email Editing
The email editor is very straightforward, perfect for emailing your subscribers as if you were emailing them from your Gmail account, but with a few added benefits.
Keep in mind, ConvertKit was built to give time-strapped creatives templates that they can't mess up.
As such, users have only three templates to choose from, while design options are limited to bullet points, regular text, images, horizontal lines, and ordered lists. Templates do not include video or GIF integrations, links to social accounts, or clickable CTAs.
If you'd like to learn more about ConvertKit's stance against templated emails, there's a whole post on the matter here. And, we get it, plain text emails do offer a more personal touch than the newsletter template. That said, it's nice to have the option to create a templated email newsletter or move certain design elements around on a landing page.
Build Forms and Landing Pages
ConvertKit allows you to create simple landing pages, even if you don't have a website. Meaning, Instagram, or YouTube-focused creators can send users to dedicated landing pages.
What's more, ConvertKit's accessible automation platform allows users to create embedded pop-up registration forms that you can easily edit using the visual editor and templates can be adjusted so they work for any type of creator:
Like Drip, ConvertKit uses an if-this-then-that functionality that allows you to create automation rules by selecting a series of events, actions, and conditions. ConvertKit's automations are not as varied as ActiveCampaign's or Drip's, but they simplify the process, breaking it into events, actions, and conditions, which personally we love.
Here’s a “zoomed-out” view of the customer journey:
Reporting and Analytics
ConvertKit's reporting tools are pretty minimal. It doesn't connect with Google Analytics, nor is there any social media reporting or things like heatmaps that you'll find in other automation tools. But then, you're also missing things like bounce rates and conversion tracking.
Here’s a quick look at the pricing breakdown:
You can tell that ConvertKit are laser focused on the creator and blogger end of the market, as their pricing ramps up beautifully for people with smaller lists. You can get by with just $29 if you're running a list under 1000 contacts, and even 5000 contacts only comes in at $79 per month. Really great value for money compared to the rest of the pack.
ConvertKit doesn't come with all the bells and whistles of some other marketing automation tools, but keep in mind, this is by design, as the tool was built as a simple solution for creators who don't want an overpowered tool. Still, it's worth going into this knowing that ConvertKit won't offer the full suite of tools you'll find in ActiveCampaign or Drip.
As mentioned, ConvertKit does come with some reporting tools, but they only cover the basics. For example, there's no Google Analytics integration or social media reporting built into the platform.
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Comparison Grid - Pricing and Features
Which one to pick?
In our opinion, this is how it breaks down:
- If you've got a smaller list and you're just getting going with tagging and segmenting your customers we'd recommend opting for ConvertKit. You'll get a neat package of incredibly user-friendly features that will help you navigate the ins and outs of marketing automation.
- If you're an e-Commerce store, Drip is a no-brainer. But even if you're SaaS, or another online SME and you want something pretty much on par with Active Campaign, definitely check out Drip. The workflows engine is really well built, and the extra addition of dynamic content system and lead scoring features vs. ConvertKit might be deal-breakers for you.
- If you're a bit more established, have a sales team, or run SMS marketing as well as email marketing, you should really trial Active Campaign first. It's got tons of features that might be overkill for marketing automation newbies, but for bigger teams it's a bit more customisable, and you could actually end up saving money using Active Campaign as one single solution for CRM, marketing automation, and SMS, vs. opting to hack together multiple tools.
Regardless of what kind of tool you opt for—be it the deliberately pared-down ConvertKit or comprehensive ActiveCampaign—you should try adding personal video to your marketing automation funnels. It's a simple, but hugely effective, way to make that jump from an automated customer journey to a truly personal experience.
Adding personal videos to your email strategy helps you stand out in a crowded inbox. The end result? More conversions, and a growing list of loyal customers who can't get enough of your brand.
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