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ActiveCampaign vs. Mailchimp: Which should you use? [2024]

ActiveCampaign is a Mailchimp alternative with a little extra power. How do these two marketing automation tools stack up?

By Kristina Lauren · February 12, 2024
Hero image for app comparisons with the ActiveCampaign logo on a blue background and the Mailchimp logo on a yellow background

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—plus, I've been updating this article for the past couple of years. As I was updating for 2024, 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.

  • Mailchimp is simpler (but lacks advanced features)

  • 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

  • Both platforms offer robust integrations

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

Marketing automation

⭐⭐⭐ 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 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. 

Contact ratings for lead scoring in Mailchimp

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.

Lead scoring in ActiveCampaign

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. Look at this thing.

Automation map in ActiveCampaign

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 vary quite a bit. Mailchimp quickly sets itself apart with a free plan that includes up to 500 contacts, 1,000 sends per month, 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 paid plans, ActiveCampaign's pricing structure is a little more complex than Mailchimp's. First, since ActiveCampaign also doubles as a CRM, there's a pricing category specifically for Sales. But even if you're focused on email marketing, you can choose from three other categories depending on your needs: Marketing, a Marketing and Sales (CRM) bundle, and transactional emails. 

The least expensive ActiveCampaign plan is the Marketing Lite plan, which starts at $29/month (billed annually) for 1,000 contacts. This plan is best for solopreneurs and small businesses with one user seat, a 10x contact limit per month, access to over 150 templates, and A/B testing. Mailchimp's starter plan, on the other hand, costs $13/month. And while you're still limited to 500 contacts and 1,000 monthly sends at this price, you do get three audiences instead of one, A/B testing, access to over 100 templates, email scheduling, and behavioral targeting.

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, multi-automation journey maps, and SMS marketing automation. Mailchimp offers none of these things, besides the Marketing 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 10,000 contacts. In comparison, ActiveCampaign's third plan, the Pro plan, is priced at $187/month for the monthly subscription and $149/month for the annual subscription for 2,500 contacts. It comes with predictive sending, Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics 365 Integrations, and even the ability to send messages to customers through your website. There is one final ActiveCampaign tier for Enterprise customers: starting at $259/month when billed annually, you still only get 2,500 contacts, but you gain more features like HIPAA support, unlimited email testing, and custom reporting and objects.

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: select a section and click the trash icon.

Email builder in Mailchimp

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.

Using AI in the email builder in Mailchimp

And whenever you're having a case of writer's block, you can use AI to generate copy for your email. If you have an idea of what you'd like your email to be about, type in a sentence, and Mailchimp will generate a few lines of copy. I used the welcome email suggestion (pictured above), and I think the result was pretty decent.

The AI field in the email builder in Mailchimp

Mailchimp's AI-generating capabilities also extend to customer journeys—choose a sample journey template, and the platform will generate a basic email to insert. When I tried this, I got some interesting graphics that didn't quite fit my branding standards and seemed a little random, but the emails can be easily edited, so it's nice to have something to work from.

Using AI to build a customer journey in Mailchimp

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.

Building surveys in Mailchimp

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—and they've significantly improved the interface over the years I've been testing—but it's still 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.

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.

A conditional content block in ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign also allows you to generate content for your emails with AI, but you can currently only do so for text—not images, like in Mailchimp. You give the AI a short prompt, and it provides you with a few different options. You can also ask it to change the tone or make the generated text longer or shorter.

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. The basic templates are a little more bare-bones than Mailchimp's, which may seem a bit intimidating, but with the help of what it calls "structures" (similar to blocks in Mailchimp), ActiveCampaign simplifies the process of creating designs that have the potential to be complex. Structures allow you to create multiple columns of text, images, or buttons by just dragging a block into the email.

Structures in ActiveCampaign

One slight frustration I had with ActiveCampaign was the hassle of changing templates. If I wasn't happy with a template and wanted to quickly change it or test out the feel of different templates, I would have to start all over by creating a new campaign, renaming that campaign, and then choosing the template I wanted. With Mailchimp, I can simply click the arrow next to Save and exit, pick Change template, and be directed back to the template library—so much faster and cleaner.

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 both SMS blocks and website messages as steps in your automated campaigns in addition to your regular email communications. Mailchimp only allows SMS blocks.

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).

Split testing in Mailchimp

To do an A/B test with conditions in Mailchimp, the process itself is a little more manual. You'll first create a multivariate email. From there, you can use pre-built segments based on purchase behavior, subscriber engagement, demographics, or even predicted behavior. But you can also build your own custom advanced segments.

Segmentation in Mailchimp

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.

Split testing in ActiveCampaign

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. As someone familiar with creating multiple huge customer journeys, for me, having a tool like this in the past would've made the process of visualizing workflows way easier.

Automation map in ActiveCampaign

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 steps 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.)

Customer journeys in Mailchimp

In ActiveCampaign, you can even generate entire automation journeys using AI with a sentence-long prompt. For example, I asked the AI to build a week-long drip series with three emails, and within seconds, it generated an entire journey. Plus, it's fully customizable afterward, so you can tailor the automation steps to your needs.

With its distinctive automation map, dynamic CRM, AI features, and extensive 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. Learn more about how to automate Mailchimp and how to automate ActiveCampaign, or get started with one of these pre-made workflows.

Subscribe new Facebook Lead Ad leads to a Mailchimp list

Subscribe new Facebook Lead Ad leads to a Mailchimp list
  • Facebook Lead Ads logo
  • Mailchimp logo
Facebook Lead Ads + Mailchimp

Update Mailchimp lists with new Webflow form data

Update Mailchimp lists with new Webflow form data
  • Webflow logo
  • Mailchimp logo
Webflow + Mailchimp

Add or update ActiveCampaign contacts for new Calendly invitees

Add or update ActiveCampaign contacts for new Calendly invitees
  • Calendly logo
  • ActiveCampaign logo
Calendly + ActiveCampaign

Add or update ActiveCampaign contacts with new Facebook Lead Ads leads

Add or update ActiveCampaign contacts with new Facebook Lead Ads leads
  • Facebook Lead Ads logo
  • ActiveCampaign logo
Facebook Lead Ads + ActiveCampaign

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:

  • Marketing automation is at the core of your business

  • 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.

Read more: ActiveCampaign vs. tinyEmail

This article was originally published in January 2022. The most recent update was in February 2024.

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