NOTE: This version of this review essay is an unfinished draft. I plan to finish this shortly.
Firstly, my primary desire for any tool I use, is simplicity.
To explore what’s essential to my workflow, then eliminate what’s not. It’s the pursuit of less, not more. Just because more features sounds sexy and a “nice to have” doesn’t mean it is.
I don’t need to use Microsoft Word if Google Docs is sufficient. And I don’t need Google Docs if Ulysses—a plain text editor for writers—gets the job done better and more simply.
If a tool has features that I’ll (probably) never use, but they always get in the way—and negatively effect the user experience—that’s not OK!
But if I can just ignore (never see) a feature I don’t care about—and it doesn’t negatively effect the rest of the tool—that’s fine (but this is sadly rarely the case).
This is the context in which I evaluate all tools that I use. It’s how I evaluated ActiveCampaign, ConvertKit and DRIP.
(In the past I’ve also evaluated Infusionsoft, AWeber, GetResponse and MailChimp in the same way. They’ll all massively flawed.)
Both ActiveCampaign and ConvertKit are damn fine products overall. But I’m now moving to DRIP (acquired by LeadPages in July 2016).
The rest of this essay will detail why…
I’ve been actively using ActiveCampaign since September 2014 as my primary email service provider.
They’re an advanced email automation tool that sports a lot of nice features under the hood (although some of the more advanced features are restricted to the expensive plans; people on the Lite plan get penalized).
ActiveCampaign is great for many reasons. Like I’ve already said, it’s very powerful. If you already use them, then you know this.
But for me, however, there is one particular core feature that’s so PAINFUL, I now hate sending email (I actively avoid going into ActiveCampaign; this is of course not good for someone who earns a large chunk of their living directly as a result of sending badass emails).
I could get someone on our team to go in and send the emails—saving me the pain—but it’ll quickly become painful for them.
It’s their email editor that’s the deal breaker. Sounds stupid, right?
But it sucks ass on an epic scale!
They’ve been working to improve it for as long as I’ve been using the service, but it’s always sucked.
(“Sucks ass” is a technical term I use a lot; used interchangeably with “shit” and “crap” and a few other “colorful” yet meaningful terms.)
As an alternative to actually using their editor, I’ve tried hand-coding all emails into HTML (read: this can cause brain damage), then simply pasting in the raw HTML into the editor.
This works, but their system penalizes you for doing this, as you don’t get the ability to create email automations directly from the email editor workflow.
(For example, to trigger an automation based on a trigger like when a link is clicked within said email.)
Instead, the email needs to be created as a draft FIRST. Then you have to exit the editor, manually create a new automation (with the trigger linked to the draft email), then go back into the editor to send the email).
And just so you know, manually marking up an email within an offline template (which I had to pay someone to code up for me), is a fucking pain (it takes a long while; like I said, it can cause brain damage).
Again, I can get someone else on my team to do this, sure, but then it needs to typically be planned in advance (our team is distributed; from the Philippines in the east, to Mexico City in the west). So if I just need to quickly blast out an (unplanned) email, this process becomes a major constraint.
The other option is to use their (page builder) email editor.
Using this workflow you get the ability to trigger a tag from a “link click” right from the editor. Sweet! But the editor is crap (sucks ass).
I can paste a plain-text email in from my favorite text editor (Ulysses)—yay!—but then their dumb editor doesn’t allow the editing of any HTML, so I can’t easily insert an inline image in the middle of a long-form email.
Unless you’ve used their editor, you can’t appreciate how backwards this is (read: sucks ass).
The email template first needs to be edited (like seriously!?), so that I have a “block” of text, image, then more text, etc (depending on where I need to insert the inline image).
It’s a terrible workflow!
To the point where most times I just won’t include an image because it adds so much complication (and wasted time) to the process.
This is primarily WHY I can’t use ActiveCampaign anymore.
It’s why I’m moving to DRIP.
Other marketers seem to be OK with this workflow (I presume). At least I’ve not heard anyone voice their distain for it. Regardless, for me, it has pushed me out.
For how I operate, ActiveCampaign is no longer an option.
There are a few other features I don’t care for either that are worth mentioning.
Automations get messy very quickly, segments seems like an afterthought, at its core ActiveCampaign is still list based, and the inability to easily run list hygiene campaigns out-the-box is just stupid.
Really quickly, on the “list hygiene” issue…
This has always pissed me off because IMHO it demonstrates their focus on dollars over what’s better for their customers. It’s been a gripe that has bugged the hell out of me, but not enough for me to pack my bags and leave.
No person on your list stays forever…
Some times they change their email address. Other times they’ve (purposefully) used a “bogus” (disposable) email—I know I do— just to test the waters first (or to get access to a blind lead magnet).
Later, once you’ve earned their trust and attention, they give you their best (primary) email—but the previous one stays rattling around in the system screwing with your stats and negatively effecting your deliverability (when this happens at scale).
Subscribers leave (but don’t bother unsubscribing). Customers “fall out of love” some times.
… or they put your emails through a filter in Gmail that “labels” all your incoming email, but bypasses their inbox. They do this because maybe, just maybe, they’ll want to read one of your email one day (but never do).
Keeping your email segments “clean” isn’t just a nice thing to do; it’s essential. It’s why I can get stats like this (these are the last two broadcasts I sent using DRIP):
I have an assumption that ActiveCampaign doesn’t make it easy to keep a list and segments clean because they’ll earn less money (hey, always the conspiracy theorist).
There are no sending limits (like there is with Infusionsoft). So they make their money by charging for the number of leads you have in their system. If you’re always pruning your list, they earn less (or rather, not as much). This sucks ass.
I’ll move on now.
I’ve had my ConvertKit account since April 2013, but have never used it as my primary email sender.
I initially (seriously) considered moving completely over to ConvertKit (at the time I had not even considered DRIP).
It’s beautiful in its simplicity. And as you know, I value this highly.
It’s 100% tag based (unlike ActiveCampaign, where a list still needs to first be created to “house” all leads).
It’s easy to create tags, segments, and rules (their version of “automations”; although a very basic version of the automations found in DRIP and ActiveCampaign).
Their email form builder is great. 10x better than ActiveCampaign. And it’s super easy to create “link triggers” directly from the email editor.
I’m not a big fan of their automations (rules). There’s a trigger (when this happens) and then an action (then do this). It’s nice and simple.
But with this simplicity are some compromises that I’ve found. For instance, I have a page that I use for “click there to raise your hand” triggers and segmenting.
Unless there’s a specific link destination, I use this same generic link:
In DRIP and ActiveCampaign I can use this same link within as many different emails as I want to build segments for. No problem.
But not with ConvertKit. A link needs to be unique, because it’ll trigger the action associated with it, regardless of the email.
This may not seem like a big deal, until you consider this use case:
So if, over a period of time, I have fifty “click there to raise your hand” emails—I would need to create fifty landers and fifty rules.
Not so nice. It’s a small thing, but I can see it becoming a pain over time. Other than that, overall, ConvertKit is a very nice solid and simple solution.
I really like it a lot.
But I don’t love it.
With this level of simplicity, there are the inevitable compromises. The automations (rules) are basic (although probably more than sufficient for most users); too basic for someone like me.
And there is no “lead scoring” at all.
For some this may not be a big deal, but it’s a really useful feature that can really LEVEL UP how the game is played.
Lead Scoring is where you can assign a value to a behavior, like open an email (1 point), click a link (3 points), respond to an email, visit a webpage (5 points), purchase a product (20 points), etc.
(You get to define your own points system from within DRIP.)
Then, based on these “lead scores”, automations can be triggered (like add someone to a VIP segment; or reward said lead with something special, like a bonus report or special “VIP only” product discount or what not).
It also allows you to create segments based on a lead score – then send offers ONLY to these people.
It’s a really USEFUL advance feature that (1) ConvertKit doesn’t support at all, and (2) ActiveCampaign charge a LOT MORE for (only available on their Small Business and Enterprise plans).
EXAMPLE: For 5,000 leads – DRIP costs $83-$99/mo (includes Lead Scoring), whereas ActiveCampaign charges $113/mo (and this disparity only widens with more leads).
This leads me on nicely to DRIP.
DRIP is the only service in the trio that offer a 100% FREE account—this isn’t just a trial; it’s a fully functional account, with all the “big boy” features included (like Lead Scoring)!
The free DRIP account is limited to 100 leads – but this is more than enough to get your feet wet, not only to get to know the tool more before paying, but to actually use it to build a real audience.
I had initially discounted DRIP, only because I thought it was just a clone (rip off) of ActiveCampaign. I started following DRIP back in 2014 I think, when it hit the scene as the new cool kid on the block.
In early December (2016) Clay Collins buzzed me on FB messenger and suggest he gives me a demo of DRIP:
I didn’t agree out the gate. Like I said, I was still under the misguided assumption that DRIP was an ActiveCampaign clone.
So I signed up for a free account and dived in for a week. I went deep. And the deeper I went, the more excited I got.
I ended up purchasing a $500 advanced DRIP training from some dude—who I later found out was their #3 customer—of how he uses DRIP.
OMG! I got a glimpse into what it can really do when its legs are allowed to stretch. Instant excitement!
I buzzed Clay back. “Let’s do that demo, bro!”
Below are some of the things I really love about DRIP…
The UI and UX are as clean and simple as ConvertKit—even more so actually; which is saying a lot—and much nicer than ActiveCampaign.
Across the top of the screen you’ll find this simple navigation bar:
These are follow-up sequences (autoresponders). If you’ve been through ARM, this is where the all-powerful SOS (Soap Opera Sequences) are built out.
Clicking into any campaign reveals a ton of cool shit. There’s a campaign dashboard, will all your useful stats for that campaign front and center (subscriptions, conversions, etc).
There are then tabs to navigate over to Subscribers, Opt-In Forms, Emails and Settings – each does what it says on the tin.
But it get’s even cooler.
From the Emails tab, you get to add your sequential emails, like you would expect … OR you can click the “Browse our blueprints” link.
Here you get to browse pre-built sequence templates:
- 5-Day Email Mini Course
- 4-Week Email Mini Course
- Follow-up (Post-Demo)
- Follow-up (Sample Report)
- Follow-Up (Subscription Trial)
- Cart Abandonment Recovery
- Digital Marketer: “Flash Sale” Campaign – Segmentation Series
- Digital Marketer: “Are You Still?/Have You Yet?” Campaign – Engagement Series
- Digital Marketer: The Perfect Welcome Mail – Indoctrination Series
- Schedule A Consultation Call
- JV Webinar Reminder
The The Perfect Welcome Mail from Digital Marketer was actually swipe from yours truly; buy hey ho. Just saying 🙂
The blueprints—Clay Collins tells me they will be adding to these over time—are a very nice touch. It reduced the resistance for rapidly building out email sequences (that writer’s block malarkey).
You’re going to like this (a lot methinks).
Their broadcasts sections behaves like you would expect.
New Broadcast Email > Give it a Name >
… then you get to choose a segment; which is just a subset of your overall lead pool based on criteria (tags, custom fields; there are a ton of different “fine tuning” options to target cohorts of leads you want to specifically broadcast to).
You can create a new segment on the fly here (and then name it for later use), or choose one you have already defined (which is done from the Subscriber tab).
I could, for example, do something like this:
- everyone who has purchased ARM
- has not refunded
- and hasn’t clicked a link yet (or better yet: who hasn’t accessed the training on my website)
… and then name this segment: Purchased ARM (But Not Accessed)
Then I would send a, “Hey FirstName, how can I help you? (I noticed you’ve not logged in yet).”
Super simple and easy.
Of course, I would build out an automation for the above scenario (as opposed to manually sending a broadcast), that would automatically be sent to said customers who haven’t accessed the training within “X” days.
But this isn’t the cool (new) feature that really got me excited about broadcasts. It’s not even the A/B split testing that can be done on subject lines very easily.
Just before you get to schedule the broadcast, you are faced with this:
Notice the “Resend this broadcast to subscribers who do not open it.”
Checking that box gives you the ability to have DRIP automatically RESEND the same email, X days later, and with a different subject line (if you want).
How freaking cool is that!?
Achieving this same result in ActiveCampaign is a major assfuck (another technical term). To the extent that I rarely sent out emails to unopens (which really isn’t very smart).
In DRIP it’s just one checkbox, enter a delay, and then new subject line. Done. It’s truly thing of beauty.
What’s almost as cool, is that in the broadcast stats—first thing you see when you click the Broadcast link in the navigation—you get to see BOTH broadcast stats, in real time.
For example, if I sent a broadcast to 100 people, and within 4 hours, 61 people had opened it…
It would tell me this for the sent email: A total of 100 subscribers received it. 61% Open Rate.
… and it would also tell me this for the scheduled RESEND: A broadcast email scheduled to deliver on DATE at TIME. So far, 49 subscribers are scheduled to receive it.
Both stats will update in real time. So as the open goes up on the sent email, the (automatically) scheduled resend goes down.
So freaking cool.
It’s simple things like this that make me happy. It demonstrates their focus on the little details that matter 🙂
Automation / Workflows & Rules
The Automation tab is where the real power of DRIP shines.
Whereas ActiveCampaign pretty much dumps everything into an automaton (even a simple email sequence), which creates a mindfuck of a mess (technical term) very quickly.
… DRIP keeps this section only for automations. And automations come in two flavors: Workflow or Rule.
If you only need to create a quick-and-dirty “rule”, this can be done without needing to build out a full workflow.
A Rule (trigger > action) is much the same as a Rules in ConvertKit, but with more options.
If “Opened an Email” (trigger) > “Apply a Tag” (action)
Boom. Done. Neat and tidy.
A Workflow in DRIP is akin to an Automation in ActiveCampaign. They can be super simple or huge monster things with IF THEN decisions, forks, goals, with tons of craziness (technical term) going on.
DRIP is just a better more elegant solution than ActiveCampaign, and a lot more powerful (in useful ways) than ConvertKit for almost the same money.
For 5,000 leads:
- ConvertKit: $79/mo (no Lead Scoring feature)
- DRIP ††: $83† – $99/mo (with Lead Scoring)
- ActiveCampaign: $113/mo (with Lead Scoring)
† Yearly billing.
†† Free for up to 100 leads (fully functional account that also includes Lead Scoring).
I haven’t even touched on the reallyfuckingcool shit that DRIP can do offsite (as in, on your website).
It’s possible to hide (not show) content on your website based on criteria within your DRIP account.
Like not show an opt-in form to someone already in your DRIP.
Or if you display call-to-action copy below content/articles – don’t show them a CTA for a product they ALREADY own. Or conversely, if they do own X, show them Y.
We deliver our training products from our Learning Academy, which are (typically) self-paced.
I could create a consumption SOS (soap opera sequence) that strategically leads students through the training, lesson by lesson.
But I could rig it so that an email would ONLY be triggered if they access said lesson’s content. But if they didn’t for a defined period of time, the system could prompt them (“Hey, what’s up – how can I help you get unstuck?”).
DRIP has solved this with trigger links that can be used on your websites. So I could encode a “Click here to access Lesson #2” link. When that link is clicked, BOOOM, email is sent to their inbox about that lesson.
These are only some of the things you can do with DRIP.
DRIP is really IMHO the perfect email service provider.
It’s by no means perfect (yet). But for a tool that’s so new, I’m super impressed. Which is why we’re moving all our leads to them this month.