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Buyer Beware: Make Sure You Read the Marketing Automation Provider Fine Print

5 minute read
Dom Nicastro avatar
Mailchimp changed its prices earlier this year, providing a valuable lesson for buyers of automation platforms. Vendors can make changes at any time.

This year, Mailchimp changed its prices and provided a valuable lesson for subscribers and buyers of marketing automation platforms: Be aware that your marketing platform vendor can make changes at any time — you need to scrutinize the terms from these providers to avoid being surprised when your bill comes.

Changed Pricing Structure

Mailchimp changed its pricing structure for its email marketing platform on May 15. It came two days after MailChimp's push and public campaign to show it was more than just an email provider, but was instead an “all-in-one” marketing provider that features landing pages, Facebook ads, Google remarketing ads, postcards, social posting and marketing CRM tools.

The big move, though, the one that caused a bit of a stir on Twitter, was Mailchimp’s announcement it would start charging for unsubscribed users. This happened through Mailchimp’s changing definition of audience, which is what they use to charge users. The “audiences” through the change would include unsubscribed emails, “which means that users will now be charged for all the emails they sent, including those that caused someone to unsubscribe from the mailing list,” according to a post from Z6 Mag, who obtained an email from Mailchimp describing the changes.

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Changing the Definition of Audience

How does your marketing automation provider define audiences and subscribers? Here's how Mailchimp described the changes to its audience definition. “With so many new channels to put to work for your business, our definition of 'audience' is changing to include all of the contacts you can market to regardless of their email opt-in/subscriber status,” Mailchimp officials wrote in the email to customers. “So that happy customer that’s been on your subscriber list for two years? They’ll still be a part of your audience. But those customers that unsubscribed and that customer that attended your event but never opted into your newsletter? They’ll be in your audience now, too.”

Mailchimp notes on its legacy pricing website that paid users who were signed up before the new pricing model went into effect will not be affected by the changes. “If you had a paid Mailchimp account before the new pricing model was introduced, you'll keep your existing plan,” officials note. “We call this type of plan a legacy pricing plan.” That’s a good thing for existing paying users because, according to a post from Mailchimp user David Gaughran, that could have meant a 100% increase in fees.

But for existing freemium Mailchimp users, they will be subject to the new pricing tier and not grandfathered in, according to Gaughran. The Mailchimp free plan included no charges until a user reached 2,000 subscribers, but now with unsubscribed users counting, they’ll hit that 2,000 point faster. Lesson: Even freemium users have to monitor pricing changes like this.

This Comes Down To You, Not the Vendor

Here’s the bottom line. Mailchimp isn’t the first provider to change pricing. It won’t be the last. It is well within its right to change, and this isn't about the way one provider announced changes. This isn't about one provider's response to instant public backlash. This is about buyer education. It’s up to you as the buyer (and your brand) to be prepared, according to Claudio Pereira, marketing director for Uku Inbound

Learning Opportunities

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Know What Your Provider Can’t Do

“As an Inbound marketing agency we've encountered the good, the bad and the ugly of marketing automation platforms,” Pereira said. “For me, it's just as important to understand what a marketing automation platform you're considering can’t do, just as much as what it can.”

And it’s not just pricing for which you should be concerned. An Uku Inbound client embarked on a content marketing strategy several months ago and chose an automation platform that was unable perform as a capable content management system (CMS) and critically was unable to send emails that rendered consistently. “This is a critical component for a marketing automation platform to fulfill,” Pereira said. “After several weeks of back and forth with support, experts and the client we established that the issue was actually within the platform and not within an email template or HTML file.” The client has since switched to a new marketing automation provider.

The lesson for them? “Establishing what the platform's can/can't do properly in relation to your strategy,” Pereira said. “Finding that out the hard way later down the line is often the harder and more expensive route.”

Know Your Limits

Bernard May, CEO of National Positions, said it’s easy for marketers to be enticed by the exciting features that marketing automation can provide. But it can also be disheartening to find that after you have signed up you are held to limitations because of the plan or product tier that you are on, he added. "It is important to know what the ‘up-front’ capabilities are from day one, May said. “Do you have a user limit? A sending limit? A contact limit, etc.?”

It's understandable to assume that everything an automation platform says they can do will be available at your fingertips, but be sure to read the fine print or ask up front for an itemized features list of what is included. “A good rule of thumb,” he added, “is to list what problems you want marketing automation to solve and approach your vendor with this list first. This will keep you from getting blindsided by an abundance of features that don't really suit your needs."