Picking up on the financial anxiety of small business owners in the COVID era, AWeber is rolling out a free version of its email marketing software. While timed to help SMBs weather the current crisis, the free product has strategic value beyond the pandemic for AWeber.

The new AWeber Free has a 500 subscriber cap, no time limit, and a pretty robust feature set. The key differentiator between Free and Pro is feature gating. AWeber restricts tools intended for more sophisticated users in the Free version. These include split testing and behavioral automation, as well as more sophisticated analytics. Free users also cannot remove AWeber’s branding from their campaigns without upgrading. Otherwise, businesses can use Free for most if not all of what’s needed for effective email marketing.

Freemium Leads the Way

This is the latest example we’ve seen of a company offering free or reduced-priced products to help small businesses make it through the pandemic. However, using free products to fill the upgrade funnel is an increasingly common and successful SMB SaaS strategy. And it’s worth noting that AWeber’s key rival Mailchimp uses a freemium model.

Localogy’s Modern Commerce Monitor found that freemium is the single most common product entryway for small business SaaS users. In the latest wave (V-II), 43% of SMBs said they entered SaaS through the freemium doorway. Another 20% said they joined after a free trial period.

The pandemic seems to have made SMBs a bit less wary to buy before they try. There were some notable changes between Wave IV, conducted in 2019, and Wave V-II, conducting during the pandemic. For example, the number joining via free trial increased from 13% to 20%. And those who purchased software outright (without a free trial or subscription model) dropped from 22% to 11%.

“People Are Concerned”

We spoke yesterday with AWeber’s Head of Product Chris Vasquez to learn more about the decisionmaking behind Free.

“We are rolling out free now, in the middle of a pandemic. Tons of people are really concerned with sustaining their businesses. They are trying to figure out how to take a service that is normally done in person — like a gym — and sustain it when they can’t do it in person,” Vasquez told us.

“Beyond the pandemic, we want to make sure we are available to people who are just getting started.”

Vasquez said AWeber made conscious decisions not to gate features that novice email marketing users would find valuable. Rather they decided to gate off more sophisticated features like behavioral automation or split testing. The idea is that as free users gain experience their demand will grow for gated features.

“We realize the free plan is a risk. If we don’t generate enough at the top of the funnel it will negatively impact us,” Chris said. “Luckily our initial signs are really promising…We are seeing many of our free users upgrade early.”

Is Email Still Having a Moment?

Finally, we asked Chris how email has performed as a marketing channel during the pandemic. His comments were consistent with what we wrote back in May.

Says they have seen a real bump in email engagement and send volume during the pandemic.

“Our biggest jump was in March and April and into May,” Chris said. “Engagement and send volume has tapered off a bit, but it is still higher than it was in February.”

You can listen to the complete interview with AWeber’s Chris Vasquez below.

Localogy Audio: Chris Vasquez, Director of Product, AWeber

Audio Player

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