Traffic generation techniques and driving branding through digital marketing has been talked about so extensively already that we do not need to review them any more.
Almost any startup can learn to use Google Ads, Facebook Ads, content and organic search engine optimisation (SEO) to get traffic at the top of their funnel. These are great ways to get the word out and making the brand visible.
However, in order to nurture your leads and keep your customers engaged, you need to master email marketing.
Email marketing remains the most powerful channel to communicate directly with the people who want to hear from you. This includes your blog’s content audience, your customers, people who want to work with you in the future, and your leads for the products and services you plan to sell.
When people sign up for a service, the most important initial communication, like login details, receipt of purchase, etc, is expected to be communicated over email. This also includes sending out relevant and personalised content so that you have your subscribers’ undivided attention.
Relevance in the times of instant communication
Many digital marketing experts claim that email marketing is dead because of the rise of Twitter, Instagram, and other social media platforms and, most importantly, instant communication apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. But email still continues to drive revenues at our startup and for thousands of other startups in the world.
Email marketing works when email subscribers expect to receive an email from you. Else, unsolicited emails are just spam.
Many startups have tried to use email marketing to drive brand awareness and instant sales, but it doesn’t work. That’s when people claim email marketing is dead. But the problem lies in the fact that people have little to no idea about how to do it correctly.
The permission to reach the inbox of the subscriber should be used judicially and nurtured over time with relevant content.
Email marketing is personal because the email inbox is a personal space. And people like to hear from people, rather than brand names, because people want to connect with people. (Read Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing, if you haven’t read it yet).
When people give you permission to communicate with them, and you carefully nurture that permission without abusing it with promotional messages, email marketing can work wonders.
In this article, I want to talk about the top five email marketing tools that startups can use. These tools are pocket-friendly, have an easy on-boarding procedure, and come with the basic set of features that startups can use without the need to have a tech team.
Awhile back, email marketing software was not cheap and one had to pay heavy upfront costs to get things up and running. Most of the email marketing tools in the market nowadays will charge you based on the total amount of email subscribers you have hosted with them. That way you are not going to incur heavy upfront costs like setup fee. You will pay more only when your business grows along with it.
Most of these email marketing tools come with a free trial or a money-back guarantee. You can experiment with multiple tools without risking money and find the best fit for you.
So here goes my list:
ConvertKit is one of my favourite email marketing tools. Their interface is simple and easy to use. Nathan Barry, Founder of ConvertKit, is a designer himself, and he has taken a personal interest in designing the user interface.
The ConvertKit plan starts with $29 a month for up to 1,000 subscribers. If you have 10,000 subscribers, you would pay $119 a month. The cost goes up based on the number of subscribers you have.
ConvertKit is the only tool that allows unlimited email sending for any given number of subscribers you have. Most of the email marketing tools have a sending limit of seven to 12 emails per subscriber per month, and if you send more emails, you will be billed separately.
For example, if you have 1,00,000 subscribers, you will be able to send a total of 5,00,000 emails a month and if you send another 5,00,000 emails to the same subscriber base, you will be charged the equivalent of having 2,00,000 subscribers. Such pricing is unpredictable and gives early-stage startups surprise bills.
ConvertKit is made for bloggers and info-product marketers, but it works for anyone who has a focus on personal branding.
Many email marketing tools come with a lot of bells and whistles, which include fancy HTML email templates. ConvertKit keeps the focus on the conversation and doesn’t encourage you to add fancy designs. The email editor is plain and simple, and your HTML emails look more like plain text emails.
If you are looking to send heavy branded HTML emails, then ConvertKit might not be the right option for you. However, if you are trying to leverage 1:1 communication with your subscribers with written content, ConvertKit is the best fit for you.
ConvertKit also has the best delivery rate in the industry and has a high conversion ratio for emails sends to opens. They have maintained the reputation of their email servers very well by carefully monitoring all the users and preventing spam complaints.
One downside of ConvertKit is that they do not support highly customisable automation. If you are looking to build custom marketing automation funnels, then ActiveCampaign might be a better fit for you.
There are three reasons why ActiveCampaign is better than ConvertKit. The pricing of ActiveCampaign is slightly lower than ConvertKit at higher subscriber slabs.
For 1,000 subscribers the monthly pricing plan starts at $29 a month – which is almost the same as ConvertKit. If you have 10,000 subscribers, the pricing is $129 a month.
At higher subscriber slabs, there are significant differences in pricing. If you have 100,000 subscribers, you will be paying $459 a month for the Lite Plan on ActiveCampaign, and $679 a month for ConvertKit.
While ConvertKit doesn’t have multiple plans, ActiveCampaign comes with four different plans.
The Lite plan of ConvertKit is good enough for most of the bloggers, information product marketers, and startups. If you also want sales automation with features like Lead Scoring, then the Plus plan will be the right fit for you.
The professional plan comes with predictive sending and site messaging. And there is also an enterprise plan for people who want to customise the entire offering.
ActiveCampaign allows you to add webhooks in the automation, which helps you pass data to other tools. You can also set up an SMS drip campaign with ActiveCampaign – which is not available with tools like ConvertKit.
If you have a lot of subscribers, are very price conscious, and if you want to have the possibility of upgrading to a CRM automation suite in the future with the same subscriber database, I would recommend ActiveCampaign over ConvertKit.
The only downside of ActiveCampaign is that the tool is much more complex to use than ConvertKit. You might find it difficult to create a simple drip marketing automation and finding an email template that looks like plain text emails (if plain text emails are your preference).
Aweber is one of the oldest email marketing companies in the world. Aweber has a very simple interface and allows users to send plain text emails. Plain text emails have a higher chance of landing in the primary tab of Gmail (and 90 percent of internet users who use email are on Gmail).
Aweber has high-reputation email servers that have built trust with the email ISPs over the years. This helps to get very high delivery rates and open rates for your email campaigns.
The pricing of Aweber is very simple. The basic plan for 500 subscribers comes at $19 a month. If you have 10,000 subscribers, it would cost $69 a month. It’s $149 a month for up to 25,000 subscribers. And beyond that, it’s $8 additional for every 1,000 new subscribers that are added to the database.
Aweber supports the creation of a simple drip marketing campaign but is not the best tool to build complex automation.
Drip is one of the most sophistical email marketing and CRM tools out there in the market.
Initially Drip was competing against ActiveCampaign and ConvertKit with the same set of features and pricing. Later Drip has rebranded itself into a communication tool for e-commerce companies.
If you are an ecommerce startup, Drip.com might be the right option for you as they have custom built the features keeping in mind the needs of an ecommerce startup.
The pricing starts at $49 a month for 2,500 subscribers and goes up to $1,300 per month for 100,000 subscribers. Drip.com is the highest priced tool on my list.
Drip allows advanced rules and liquid templating, which helps you dynamically change the content on the email based on Subscriber tags. Unless you are an ecommerce startup, I wouldn’t recommend using Drip.com.
Any mention of email marketing tools for startups brings MailChimp into the conversation. MailChimp is the largest provider of email marketing services for the internet, and one of the oldest and most profitable companies in this field.
MailChimp is the only tool that comes with a free plan. For up to 2,000 subscribers, there is no cost. You can upload your subscribers and send emails for free. Just make sure that the subscriber list you have is an option subscriber list. If your email campaigns have a high spam complaint rate and bounce rate, MailChimp will immediately ban your account.
If you want all the features of MailChimp that include marketing automation, I recommend the Pro plan. It costs $199 a month, and then additional pricing based on the number of subscribers you have. For 1,00,000 subscribers, you will pay $475 per month plus $199 a month, which puts you at a cost of $674 per month.
MailChimp, being a leader in the email marketing field, has the best email servers that help you get the best delivery and open rates for your email marketing campaigns. Advanced automation is still difficult with MailChimp and the learning curve is steep.
The pricing is very similar to ConvertKit. And ActiveCampaign is much cheaper with a better set of features.
My personal recommendation for the best email marketing tools will be ConvertKit, and ActiveCampaign. Both have a compelling set of features, come with flexible pricing, and have great customer support.
I wouldn’t recommend setting up your own email server for sending emails. Setting up your own server is complex and there are too many chances of failure. Signing up for an email marketing service provider is always easy and gives you peace of mind as you scale up your business.