Most membership plugins integrate with email marketing apps in a “shallow” way.
Let’s say, for instance, that you sign up for a membership site called Bob’s Bass Lessons, that teaches you how to play bass guitar.
Bob uses the MemberMouse membership plugin and ActiveCampaign for his email marketing.
When you finish the checkout process on Bob’s site, MemberMouse will add your contact details to his ActiveCampaign account, and assign any tags or custom fields he may have configured.
At the same time, MemberMouse creates a user account for you within WordPress, and assigns the permissions you need to view content based on the product you bought. In this case, MemberMouse is the app that controls what content you have access to.
Bob is a savvy marketer, so he also wants to make sure that if you bought his “17 killer bass riffs” product he can tag you in ActiveCampaign using the corresponding tag, “bought 17 killer bass riffs”. That way, Bob can trigger email campaigns to send you offers for other, related products you might like. And of course, Bob also wants to avoid sending you promo emails about a product that you’ve already bought.
Bob’s fundamental dilemma is keeping all of his customers’ information in ActiveCampaign in sync with their permissions and info on the membership site. Because Bob’s got two separate databases (one in WordPress and one in your email marketing app) they’ve got to be in sync at all times. Otherwise Bob and his members will experience all sorts of access and billing issues.
If somebody doesn’t pay for their membership, for example, they need to get their access revoked inside the membership plugin and their tags changed in ActiveCampaign. This scenario is a common source of problems with the old generation of membership plugins. And with hundreds or thousands of members, things can quickly get messy.
Most membership site owners today are doing things Bob’s way.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with Bob’s approach per se. It works just fine for the most part. But recently there’s been a new trend in the membership site space that, I believe, is going to alter the WordPress membership site landscape permanently over the coming years. It makes managing your membership site and email marketing easier than ever before.
I call it the “Deep Integration Movement”.
The NEW way to manage your WordPress membership site without the “integration headaches”
At the heart of the Deep Integration movement is your email marketing platform.
You see, most membership site owners get new members for their programs at the end of a long user journey. This journey starts with the prospective member first joining your email list. Between the time he opts in and the time he joins your membership site, you’re probably going to send him a bunch of emails, apply and remove lots of tags in his contact record, put him through several automations – maybe a webinar or two – and send him several campaigns and followups.
And thanks to this new generation of email marketing apps, most of this marketing magic happens automatically.
If your email marketing & automation app does all of the heavy lifting – i.e. accepts subscribers, indoctrinates them, converts them into qualified prospects, nurtures them, turns them into leads, turns them into customers, and encourages them to become ambassadors of your brand and products – then couldn’t we argue that this tool is kinda like the command center of your business…?
If you accept this premise, then it makes perfect sense that your email app should be the proverbial sun around which your universe of apps and integrations revolves — NOT your membership plugin!
This concept is the entire foundation of the Deep Integration movement.
If your email marketing tool is the command center for your business, why not make it so you can control your membership site from within this command center?
Well, that’s exactly what several membership plugin developers have started to do. Some of the scrappy pioneers of this trend include ActiveMember360, iMember360, Memberium, and AccessAlly and WPFusion.
This new generation of membership plugins is fundamentally different from the other plugins on the market because they rely on a 2-way, “deep” integration between your email marketing software and your membership site.
Here’s how it works:
Why “Deep Integration” is the future of membership sites
Let’s suppose that Bob decides to switch from the MemberMouse membership plugin he’s been using for the past few years to one of the new “Deep Integration” plugins – in this case, ActiveMember360.
Previously, MemberMouse managed members’ access to various protected content. Now, with AM360, all Bob has to do in order to grant and revoke access to content is update the member’s tags within ActiveCampaign.
When the member logs into Bob’s site, ActiveMember360 will make an API call (kinda like a phone call) to ActiveCampaign in real time to check what tags he has in his contact record. The member will then see the content that his tags permit him to see.
So instead of you having to manage your members’ permissions inside of your membership plugin, you simply make sure your member has the right tags and custom fields in ActiveCampaign, and he’ll automatically get access to the right content!
How “Deep Integration” allows you to SELL more effectively
This new approach gives you way more flexibility on the front end because, among other reasons, there are far more integrations with email marketing tools than there are with individual membership plugins.
In the past, whatever payment gateway you used had to integrate directly with your membership plugin. If, for example, you used SamCart or ClickFunnels to sell your products, you’d be at the mercy of their integration (or lack thereof) with your specific membership plugin.
But NOW all you have to do is add tags to your buyers’ contact records inside of your email marketing app, and it will automatically create their membership account inside of your membership site and send them the welcome email.
How cool is that?!
Plus, virtually every front-end app integrates with the major email marketing platforms. And even if there’s no direct integration available, you can just use Zapier.
Do you realize what that means…?
It means you’re no longer chained to a specific “stack” of apps for your front-end marketing and sales. If you want to use ClickFunnels or SchmickFunnels; Zaxaa or Shmaxaa, ThriveCart or SchmiveCart – it doesn’t matter! Because in ALL of these cases you can easily create and update contact records in your email app upon purchase.
It’s hard to appreciate how much time and annoyance this saves you if you haven’t actually gone through it. I’ve now moved several customers’ membership sites to the Deep Integration model (using my preferred stack of apps), and the benefits are immediately obvious:
- It’s much easier to manage the membership site
- Member data is centralized within the email marketing app
- You have the ability to separate the membership site from the front-end, marketing oriented domain (greater security and greater performance)
- Improved scalability
- Better experience for your members
- More integrations / flexibility
- Ability to do advanced operations within WordPress using the email app’s API (depending on the plugin of course)
Uhu…sooo, which email marketing app should I choose?
At the moment there are only a handful of email marketing apps (to the best of my knowledge) that feature deep integration with a high quality WordPress membership plugin. They are:
Of these options, my email marketing tools of choice would be ActiveCampaign and Drip. In fact, I use both. (I explain my reasoning in detail in my best email marketing tool post.)
ActiveCampaign is powerful, intuitive, affordable, cutting-edge (especially the automations!), and easy to use. So is Drip.
While you can argue that InfusionSoft is powerful too – and it is – you can’t really say it’s easy to use or intuitive; not with a straight face anyway. It’s bloated and tries to do too many things at once. The campaign builder is arcane. The API is unreliable. And if you want to do something that InfusionSoft doesn’t natively do, be ready to pay hundreds of dollars for add-ons / extensions, or prepare to hire an overpriced InfusionSoft consultant to help you out.
It’s cynically called “ConfusionSoft” for a reason…
I was an InfusionSoft user for several months but my business wasn’t really at the point where I could make full use of their suite of tools. So I decided to move to Drip. I told myself that I’d come back to InfusionSoft when my business was ready to use all of its features.
But what happened next guaranteed that I’ll never use or recommend InfusionSoft again.
When I went to cancel my InfusionSoft account, I found out that I was required to do a phone call with a member of their team. Unlike pretty much every online app or service, you can’t simply hit a ‘cancel’ button in your InfusionSoft account and go on your merry way. You can’t even email them and say “hey, I wanna cancel” and that’s that.
No, they actually require a phone call. They make you feel like they’ll only honor your cancellation if you justify yourself to the rep’s satisfaction. Like you’re a beggar and it’s at the discretion of this bureaucrat to allow you or not allow you to keep YOUR OWN MONEY.
It seems you owe InfusionShit an explanation for why you no longer want to give them hundreds of dollars a month for their obese software? It was at that point that I resolved to never give them another dime.
Of course, this is just a “save the sale” ploy. They’re not really some kind of cancellation tribunal. But since I’m of the opinion that you should be free to come and go as you please (unless you’ve signed some kind of contract), the experience left a bad taste in my mouth.
Now what about Ontraport?
Ontraport isn’t bad. It’s like a light version of InfusionSoft. But from what I’ve seen, there’s no good reason to use Ontraport if ActiveCampaign or Drip is an option. Especially if you have no need for a CRM. Almost nobody I work with actually uses Ontraport so my experiences with it have been limited to, I think, only 3 customers. So take that for what it is.
ActiveCampaign is the clear winner here.
Many of my customers use and adore ActiveCampaign. And I don’t think I’ve ever migrated a client away from this tool. It does get pricey as your list grows, but that’s really the case with any email marketing tool. Interestingly, InfusionSoft becomes one of the most affordable deals in town once your list gets into the tens of thousands of subscribers and beyond.
These ActiveCampaign features make running your membership site a breeze
The thing I love most about ActiveCampaign is how powerful the automations are.
You can build virtually any workflow imaginable to automate even the most complex marketing functions in your business. You can use it for:
- Onboarding sequences for new members
- Declined credit card / dunning campaigns to recover recurring revenue
- “Save the sale” campaigns
- Nurture and retention sequences
- Launches (both live and evergreen)
…and a lot more.
But the biggest benefit to you as a membership site owner is that ActiveCampaign integrates with the best “Deep Integration” WordPress membership plugin on the market: ActiveMember360.
You may already be using InfusionSoft or Ontraport, in which case you’ll probably want to continue using it. But if you’re in the planning stages of your membership site and need to decide on the most reliable “stack”, ActiveCampaign and ActiveMember360 should be at the top of your list.
Should I switch from my “old” email marketing tool to ActiveCampaign…?
If you plan to start a membership site and you want to take advantage of the deep integration style plugins like ActiveMember360, I’d say “yes, definitely!” Especially since ActiveCampaign will handle the migration for you for FREE.
Sometimes, however, making this kind of switch is more trouble than it’s worth.
For the sake of example, let’s say you’re using MailChimp. You’ve got 5000 subscribers, 30 different email lists, 20 different automation rules, and dozens of forms and other assets. To top it off, you’ve got 2000 members in your membership site, which is integrated with MailChimp.
In this kind of scenario, migrating to a Deep Integration platform would be a royal pain in the ass. Of course, you’re also leaving money on the table by NOT making the switch because you can’t take advantage of the advanced marketing & automation features available in AC. But if the setup you have now is working, and working well, I’d either put it off for a more appropriate time, or hire a professional to do the migration for you.
What about using Drip for your membership site?
I mentioned earlier that Drip is my email marketing tool of choice for the front end marketing while I use ActiveCampaign for my membership site / training portal. I use Drip, I love Drip, and I’m going to stick with Drip. So why am I not recommending it for a membership site?
While Drip integrates well with several first generation WordPress membership plugins, including MemberPress, MemberMouse, and others, it only has one “deep integration” style plugin available at the moment: WPFusion.
WPFusion is an excellent “connector” type plugin that allows you to sync tags between your various WordPress components (like your membership plugin, gamification plugin, LMS, etc.) and your main CRM.
Somebody asked Bob Keen – the developer of ActiveMember360 – whether he’d consider building a Drip-specific plugin. Here’s his reply:
So apparently this is a limitation of Drip itself as they throttle API calls. Hopefully that will open up in the future and allow Bob & Co. to author a sister plugin to the wonderful ActiveMember360 / iMember360 series.
The deep integration movement is a logical step towards decentralizing and unbundling all of the different web apps. It’s a trend that I fully embrace because it means you’ll be able to choose all sorts of different tools and build your own perfect stack. You’ll be able to connect all of your different tools using Zapier, Automate.io, and others. And you won’t be reliant upon or locked into a “all-in-one” solution that it’s impossible to migrate away from.
It will certainly be interesting to see how this landscape transforms over the next few years. So stay tuned!
Awesome stuff, Vic. I agree with many of your points. However, I have to point something out that is relevant to our industry – While your choice of using ActiveCampaign as the “central hub” for data makes sense, it’s only a better solution than MemberMouse under the assumption that it integrates with more things. Basically – you’re shifting the location of your hub because of interoperability. Under this context, you may as well leverage a completely open data warehouse tool like Segment as the “central hub” instead of ActiveCampaign. And then utilize AC, MemberMouse, etc., to send/receive data into that… Read more »