Everyone who's stepped foot into the world of email marketing—and even folks who haven't—has heard of or used Mailchimp. The email giant made its debut back in 2001 and has managed to stay on top with small businesses mostly due to its simplicity and clear, targeted branding.
But if you're looking for Mailchimp alternatives, ActiveCampaign is a strong contender. It's been around almost as long (since 2003) and has a reputation for being a marketing automation beast that satisfies even the most seasoned marketer.
I've been using Mailchimp regularly for years and have tested ActiveCampaign in the past. As I was updating this article for 2023, I spent several more hours with each app to see how they've developed, and after comparing them blow for blow, the differences were clear. Here's how they stack up: Mailchimp vs. ActiveCampaign.
ActiveCampaign gives you more features on paid plans (but lacks a free plan)
Mailchimp is easier for building emails (but offers less customization)
ActiveCampaign has more advanced marketing automation features
ActiveCampaign vs. Mailchimp: comparison table
Here's a quick comparison table to get you started, but keep reading for details about the various features and my experience using each platform. Or you can scroll to the end for a quick summary of which email marketing tool will be best for you.
Ease of use
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Incredibly simple, with lots of guided help
⭐⭐ Steep learning curve (but lots of advanced features)
⭐⭐⭐⭐ Basic customization for most features
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Anything you want to customize, you can
⭐⭐⭐ Customer journey-based automations, solid email automations, basic A/B testing
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Advanced automation and testing for email, SMS, and website; see multiple automations on one map
⭐⭐⭐⭐ Free tier available; highest plan assumes 10,000 contacts
⭐⭐⭐⭐ No free tier available, but you get more bang for your buck
Mailchimp is simpler—and better for people new to email marketing
Mailchimp and ActiveCampaign go beyond email creation, offering everything from a landing page builder to marketing automation. But Mailchimp just makes all those things simpler.
It makes sense, since it's a small business brand—they likely assume that lots of their customers are business owners who are wearing multiple hats (including email marketing). ActiveCampaign, on the other hand, has a steeper learning curve. That might not be a barrier for seasoned marketers, but it can be a bit much for a one-person team.
For example, both Mailchimp and ActiveCampaign offer lead scoring but to different extents. Mailchimp uses a five-star system, which rates your subscribers according to how often they open or click through your emails, or how much they buy from you. If you just want a basic idea of how your emails are resonating with the average subscriber, this feature is plenty.
But let's say you want a deeper dive into the specifics. With ActiveCampaign, you can add or subtract points from a subscriber's profile depending on whether or not they meet certain campaign conditions. This can help tremendously when it comes to personalization and segmentation. Take a look at the image below, where I'm creating really granular contact score rules.
Mailchimp also tends to hold your hand more, making basic features, like creating emails or building automations, easy to spot—and guiding you through the process.
On the other hand, when I found myself clueless with certain features on ActiveCampaign, I had to push my way through to figure it out or turn to Google for an article or YouTube video. Some folks prefer that, but it's not ideal if you're just trying to get the job done. For example, with ActiveCampaign's automation map feature, I was able to create two automation journeys on the Automations tab, but the actual Automations Map page didn't provide any guidance. Just look at this thing.
I did find some helpful information about the Automation Map by searching on ActiveCampaign's site. The app also includes pop-up guides and a Getting Started page on the side panel with links to video tutorials, but that's mostly for its most basic features, like importing contacts.
So if you want those advanced features and are willing to do the work to figure them out, ActiveCampaign will take the cake. Otherwise, Mailchimp will get you where you need to be.
ActiveCampaign gives you more bang for your buck
Mailchimp's and ActiveCampaign's pricing plans look fairly similar at first glance: they both offer four tiers that vary in price depending on the features offered and the number of contacts.
Mailchimp quickly sets itself apart with a free plan that includes up to 500 contacts, one audience list, and one-step automations. That's a reasonable free plan in the email marketing world—especially compared to ActiveCampaign, which doesn't offer any free plans (you'll get a 14-day free trial, no credit card necessary, with all the available features from their most expensive plan). So if your budget is non-existent, Mailchimp is the right choice.
When it comes to both platforms' starter plans, ActiveCampaign is actually quite a bit cheaper than Mailchimp's ($9/month vs. $13/month). At this pricing with Mailchimp, you get bumped up to three audience lists and 50,000 contacts, plus you gain the ability to use behavioral segmentation and A/B testing, among other things. At this level, ActiveCampaign also offers automations, A/B testing, and segmentation, but gives you unlimited audience lists, unlimited inactive contacts, and access to 150+ email templates. It's when you move onto the next price tier that things really diverge: ActiveCampaign's cost suddenly shoots up to $49/month while Mailchimp's stays at a modest $20/month. So what's going on?
Both of these plans come with multi-step automation, newsletters, segmentation, contact tagging, and form fills—the basic stuff. But this is when ActiveCampaign starts offering a dynamic customer relationship management CRM (tool) for brands that want to delve into sales automation, conditional lead scoring, automation split testing, multi-automation journey maps, and SMS marketing automation. Mailchimp offers none of these things, besides the CRM and some SMS marketing features.
You can get more advanced features with Mailchimp by upgrading to their premium plan—but you're going to have to pay at least $350/month. That's mostly because Mailchimp's premium plan automatically charges you for up to 10,000 contacts. In comparison, ActiveCampaign continues to determine pricing by the number of contacts you need. Their third plan, the Pro plan, is priced at $424 for the monthly subscription and $339/month for the annual subscription for 10,000 contacts. It comes with predictive sending, Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics 365 Integrations, and even the ability to send messages to customers through your website.
You get the idea: Mailchimp's pricing is more competitive for basic tools and features, but for businesses that want to up their marketing automation, sales automation, and CRM game, ActiveCampaign has much more to offer.
Mailchimp is easier to use and has more features for building emails
Both Mailchimp and ActiveCampaign offer over 100 customizable, ready-to-go templates, but because I wanted to get the best feel for the email builders, I decided to start with the most basic template in each platform.
Mailchimp was definitely the more appealing option.
Their "Minimal" template is already set up like a typical email—with editable blocks for a logo, a header, body text, an image, a button, and a footer. You can easily add sections and elements by dragging and dropping them from the menu to the left of the design. Removing sections is also straightforward: just select a section and click the trash icon.
With the help of Creative Assistant, you can also generate more complex designs. All you have to do is input your website, and Mailchimp will grab images and headings from your site, giving you designs to insert into your email.
You can also create surveys for your emails: when you drag and drop the survey element into your email, it'll show up as a button. From there, you'll be directed to build your survey. You'll have the usual question types, like multiple choice, short answer, and ranges, and you can customize the design as well.
Overall, the design of the Mailchimp builder is clean and minimalistic, making it more inviting for first-time email creators who want to jump right in.
ActiveCampaign's builder was also pretty simple to get the hang of (though not quite as intuitive as Mailchimp's). The builder uses a drag-and-drop model, and the build-from-scratch template starts you off with an image, body text, and a bare-bones footer. From there, you have a panel of section blocks that you can drag and place above or below other sections, similar to Mailchimp. You can also add in structures, which are collections of blocks.
But where ActiveCampaign really shines is with its customization options, like the ability to control mobile formatting, add conditional content, or view and edit HTML code directly below the WYSIWYG builder. You can also preview your email in both desktop and mobile views.
There isn't necessarily a downside to ActiveCampaign's builder, but it seems to cater more toward people who love being able to customize every aspect of their emails, like padding, margins, and even the HTML code itself.
They do have designed templates that don't require much formatting, but I noticed I had to do much more adjusting of margins, padding, and paragraph width in their basic templates to make my design look aesthetically-pleasing. Mailchimp, on the other hand, does this formatting for you with the option to adjust as you please.
ActiveCampaign has more advanced marketing automation features
Mailchimp markets itself as a marketing automation service, and while it certainly does a fine job, ActiveCampaign just does more.
You might initially sign up for either one of these services primarily for email marketing purposes, but with ActiveCampaign, you'll have serious room to grow. For example, ActiveCampaign allows you to add SMS blocks as steps in your automated campaigns or even website messages in addition to your regular email communications. With Mailchimp, SMS marketing is available, but you can't include SMS as part of your automation journeys. (Note: Mailchimp's integrations—including those served through Zapier—can help you work around this limitation.)
A/B testing is another important feature to help understand what's resonating most with subscribers. ActiveCampaign and Mailchimp both offer ways to split test within an automation journey, but Mailchimp only allows splitting based on the number of contacts (known as a percentage split), and you can't add conditions within the journey itself.
To do an A/B test with conditions in Mailchimp, the process itself is a little more manual: you have to first create an email, select A/B Test, create a campaign, and then define your testing criteria (e.g., subject lines) within the campaign builder.
ActiveCampaign, on the other hand, allows you to split not only by number of contacts but also by conversions and date—all within a journey itself. Splitting according to the number of contacts is beneficial for A/B testing, but splitting by those other criteria can be a huge win. For example, if you wanted to send an email out about an everything-must-go sale with the goal of getting 500 people to buy, in ActiveCampaign, you could split the email journey so that as soon as 500 people have made purchases, a "sold out" email is sent out to anyone else.
One last feature that's worth mentioning: ActiveCampaign's automation map. Most email services will offer at least some visual mapping to view individual customer journeys, but ActiveCampaign takes it to another level by allowing you to fit multiple automated journeys into one big map, connect them to each other, and see exactly how they work together.
In Mailchimp, there's no way to do this: you can only see the individual journeys listed in your Customer Journeys dashboard. When you click View Journey, you'll just see a map of the automations for a single journey—you can't see multiple journeys together. (And, of course, you'll need to upgrade to a paid plan to use this feature anyway.)
With its distinctive automation map, dynamic CRM, SMS marketing, and split-testing features, ActiveCampaign proves itself to be massively more advanced than Mailchimp when it comes to marketing and sales automation.
Both platforms integrate with Zapier
Any platform becomes more powerful when you can connect it to the other apps you use. Both Mailchimp and ActiveCampaign offer a number of native integrations—you can access them on Mailchimp's free plan and ActiveCampaign's least expensive plan. And because both options integrate with Zapier, you'll be able to connect both Mailchimp and ActiveCampaign with thousands of other tools as well. Here's how to get started.
6 ways to automate your email marketing with Mailchimp and Zapier
Zapier is a no-code automation tool that lets you connect your apps into automated workflows, so that every person and every business can move forward at growth speed. Learn more about how it works.
Mailchimp vs. ActiveCampaign: Which should you use?
When doing a Mailchimp and ActiveCampaign comparison, it all comes down to what you need and what will get the job done most efficiently for you.
Choose Mailchimp if:
Your budget is $0
You're just getting started with email marketing
You value simplicity
The tool will scale with you—until you move past the small business phase, but at that point, switching software won't be a blocker.
Choose ActiveCampaign if:
You're interested in automation beyond email, like website notifications or SMS
Customization is a high priority
You want your email marketing tool to offer you a more detailed view of your subscribers
Generally, ActiveCampaign is one of the best Mailchimp alternatives for those who are ready to graduate from simpler automation tools—that's why it's found a home in the marketing arsenals of so many experienced marketing professionals.
This article was originally published in January 2022. The most recent update was in January 2023.