They mean “no-cost.” For me it’s better as “release” or “unshackle”. Let me explain.

Mailchimp has recently announced that their suite of marketing automation tools is going to be made available without charge for users at any subscription level. Even the free level. For me, this announcement represents the start of how digital capability providers are making better digital practitioners of us all.

So, Wait…What Is Marketing Automation?
Marketing automation is pretty much what the name implies. It refers to technology that helps companies to plan, manage and measure their marketing tasks through an automated system, with the aim to increase efficiency and revenue. This can range from email marketing to lead management.

The Drum summarized nicely the reasons why companies should adopt it into their marketing operations:

Marketers still agree that automation saves time overall (74 per cent). It also creates increased customer engagement (68 per cent), more time on communications (58 per cent) and increased opportunity for up-selling (58 per cent).

Cheeky Monkey
There are other models that offer free access to a facet of a capability provider’s services. The main difference between Mailchimp’s announcement and other free to try models is that Mailchimp isn’t offering a paid premium service. (At least, not yet.) To me, the message they are seeming to deliver is, “You need to have email be a key part of your marketing mix, and today most SaaS email providers are largely the same. But the addition of our free marketing automation tools makes our offer better, as well as serving to raise your game as a marketer.”

This move is also clever in that it serves as the gateway drug for marketers to use Mailchimp’s paid services more, almost like a subscription service for CRM: set the rules once, the marketing automation runs in the background, triggering use of Mailchimp’s (mostly paid) services.

This is not the first time the free availability of a capability served to raise the game for everyone. Google debuted Analytics as a free service in November of 2005. While it certainly benefits Google for all of us to tell them how our sites perform, it has also served to significantly elevate the basic web savvy among marketers at every level. Conversations about web site performance today are far more informed than before since the conversation need not begin with an exhaustive (and exhausting) level-setting on basic definitions.

Making marketing automation services available for free is the best way to train marketers at any level how to use the tools they have. But the real power of Mailchimp’s offering is it helps evolve Marketers’ approaches by leveraging expanded capabilities they aren’t yet using; once you get used to automation for email, using it for social is an easy step away.

What’s really in it for Mailchimp is also clear: they want their customers to become more deeply reliant (read: loyal) on their particular set of tools. This is fair, and it comes with a side benefit: Mailchimp will be able to monitor how their service is being used, which should inform their application roadmap. As long as they use their powers for good, everyone should benefit.

While I have used Mailchimp in the past I am not affiliated with the company in any way. I do not now have an account with them, and don’t anticipate needing one anytime soon. It’s important that this be made known, because their announcement made me into a bit of a fanboy, albeit a detached fanboy.

Additional Links On Marketing Automation: