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Unbiased: 5 myths debunked

Over the past week, I’ve had fascinating conversations about Unbiased with three financial planners. Each commented on how pleased they were with their return on investment (ROI).

We also had a little chuckle that their experience is diametrically opposed to the criticism Unbiased often attracts on social media. However, I’m increasingly concerned that some planners will buy into the negativity and dismiss Unbiased as an option before they’ve even tried it.

Of course, we could let these myths go unchallenged. After all, fewer planners using Unbiased mean less competition for the firms we work with! That wouldn’t be right though. So, this week’s blog might not make us popular but, hopefully, it goes some way to addressing the myths which have arisen about Unbiased.

Let’s start though by recognising that Unbiased has challenges. In our view:

  • The Response Rating is fundamentally flawed and the wrong solution to a correctly diagnosed issue
  • The way matched/concierge enquiries are distributed is frustrating for firms
  • Their communication with paying advisers/planners often leave much to be desired. That’s why I’d love them to set up a user group so concerns and ideas for future development can be fed back to Unbiased in a structured way. Unbiased, if you’re reading this, would it be something you are prepared to consider?

That said, the evidence we see shows that if advisers and planners take a pragmatic approach the returns from Unbiased are attractive. So, let’s try and debunk a few myths.

1. It’s a binary choice

Despite what others think and have said, we would never (and have never) recommended using Unbiased as a firm’s sole method of generating new enquiries.

However, we often include it as part of a carefully considered marketing strategy, which combines a variety of tactics to achieve agreed goals. Unless you’re a brand new start-up, such strategies should always start with generating more referrals from existing clients. Once you’ve done that, only then should you consider other alternatives which, for many firms, should include Unbiased.

2. Using Unbiased means you don’t ‘own’ your marketing

Frankly, this is rubbish.

Every marketing platform, from Google to social media can (and do) introduce changes which affect how marketers use them. Unbiased is no exception.

Take content marketing. You have complete control over the production, but other factors influence distribution:

  • Legislation: GDPR changed how newsletters could be distributed
  • Changing algorithms: Over the past year or so Facebook has changed how content is displayed in our news feeds. Twitter and LinkedIn have also made changes
  • Search: Google is constantly tweaking its search algorithm. I recall a business which worked hard on their SEO, only for Google to release an update causing a 40% fall in organic traffic almost overnight
  • Competitor behaviour: If you’re investing in PPC (Pay-Per-Click) either on Google or social media, the actions of your competitors will influence the effectiveness of your adverts.

Almost every tactic is open to outside influence. The key is to take a strategic approach, mixing tactics to ensure that you aren’t over-reliant on a single channel.

3. Building a profile is a ‘once and done’ job

In my experience there’s a correlation between those advisers and planners who criticise Unbiased or get low return on investment, and poorly completed profiles:

  • Images are often missing or poor quality
  • The 20-word description hasn’t been completed or is poorly written
  • Only a small number of the 200 and 100-word descriptions have been used, or this information has been cut and pasted from elsewhere without being tailored for the platform/audience
  • Testimonials haven’t been added
  • The Response Rating is at 7/10 because enquiries aren’t dealt with

I could go on!

If a firm is to get the best from Unbiased, they need to fully complete their profile, keep working on it, and develop robust processes for dealing with enquiries.

4. Other marketing tactics are ‘better’

Most people would agree that referrals from existing clients make the best type of new enquiry.

They are pre-sold, having heard good things about you from an existing client, while they (probably) have the lowest cost of acquisition and the highest conversation rate.

They also have an immediate need – and this is where the same can be said of people searching for financial advice elsewhere, including on Unbiased, the other directories and Google.

The ability to match ‘a consumer with a current need’ to ‘professional advice’, is one of the reasons directories are so powerful for both consumers and the firms who subscribe. The same isn’t true of other forms of advertising. Take social media: while someone may happily click an advert or download a guide, they are less likely to have an immediate need.

It takes me back to my first point – none of these should be binary choices. Directories, Google, lead magnets and nurturing all have a place in a comprehensive marketing strategy. Some help meet the firm’s short-term marketing needs, others are focused on the medium to long term.

Neither is necesserily better than the other; they are just different.

5. The return on investment from other types of marketing is ‘better’

ROI is everything and you should track your overall strategy and each individual element.

Unbiased now charges £45 for an enquiry, plus the monthly subscription cost of £30 or £59 (VAT needs to be added to each of these). That means, with an average conversion rate of, say, 25% each engaged client would cost approximately £230 – £250 assuming an average flow of enquiries.

Everyone will take a different view, but I’d suggest that’s pretty attractive. If the conversion rate could be improved, perhaps by building a more effective profile or being more selective about which enquiries are accepted, then the cost will fall.

To look at it another way. The firms I speak to report an ROI of around 10 times (total paid to Unbiased over a 12 month period versus year one initial fees). Again, that’s attractive.

Naturally, each tactic will have a different ROI and timeframe for providing returns. But, in our experience, firms who use Unbiased well are happy with their ROI, especially when we consider the longevity of most client relationships.

So, which firms should be using Unbiased?

In our experience Unbiased should be included in a wider strategy for three types of firms. Those who:

  • Are just starting out and don’t have large numbers of clients to refer them to others
  • Have relatively modest growth plans and want enquiries from a limited number of other sources to supplement a referral strategy
  • Have more ambitious growth plans

It works less well for firms with lower fees, those who work in a very specific niche, or those in a sector where there is a large proportion of ‘tyre kickers’. Those firms in less densely populated areas are also likely to get fewer enquiries.

Follow the evidence

Our aim is always to give a balanced view based on the available evidence. I’m certainly not here to defend Unbiased. Indeed, if I were in charge there’s plenty I’d change. We don’t have any skin in the game either (with apologies to people who hate that phrase); we charge less to build an Unbiased profile than almost anything else we do!

However, I know many firms who are making it work well. And we don’t want others missing out because they make decisions based on myths and misconceptions.

That said, I completely accept that, for some firms, Unbiased’s faults means it’s not for them. I’ve got no problem with that.

But I urge everyone else to make up their own mind. Follow the evidence, not emotion or noise, work your profile hard for 6 – 12 months, try and test new things. Only then make your ultimate decision based on evidence.

We’ll continue to provide a balanced view of Unbiased. In the meantime, our free resources section, which you can find by clicking here, includes a range of checklists to help you improve all your directory profiles. We hope you find them useful!

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