Meet the startup going big on TV to disrupt the price comparison market

Bill evaluation platform Ismybillfair is launching its first major TV push in partnership with ITV, as it looks to capitalise on the “mass appeal” of its offering and take on the market leaders.

Price comparison is undoubtedly one of the most difficult markets for a new brand to break into. The category is already dominated by a number of major players, including Compare the Market, MoneySuperMarket, USwitch, and GoCompare.

But one up-and-coming brand believes it can disrupt the market by offering consumers an alternative, and is launching a major TV push to raise awareness and bring its service into the mainstream.

While price comparison websites show customers the best deals they can get by switching service providers, Ismybillfair has decided to “flip that model on its head” by helping customers to get better deals and fairer bills from their existing provider.

The platform evaluates how the amount a customer is paying compares to others using the same service, and if a bill is deemed to be unfair, it renegotiates a customer’s contract directly with the provider. It is paid a fee by the service business for each customer who recontracts.

The site is the brainchild of cofounder and CEO Alex Perrin, a former Virgin Media commercial and pricing director who spent two decades working in big subscription businesses. In those companies marketing efforts focus on promoting great offers for new customers, and consumers are told that to get a better deal, they need to keep switching.

We think that TV is a great way of really augmenting what we’re doing in digital media. We think it’s going to be really complementary.

Alex Perrin, Ismybillfair

But people don’t really want to switch, Perrin tells Marketing Week. Research by the brand finds 79% of people agree they would rather get a better deal from their existing provider than have to switch.

“So we know [the platform] is a good thing for consumers,” Perrin says, but he believes the proposition is a win for the service providers too.

“By helping them and plugging the holes in the bottom of their leaky buckets, it means they don’t need to keep topping up as much. We are here to undercut their existing costs of having to replace yesterday’s churners and help them retain their existing customer base at a lower cost than their existing cost of having to pay for replacements,” he explains.

“So really we set out to build a model which is a win-win for the service businesses and for consumers.”

With energy regulator Ofgem having warned earlier this year that global prices for fossil fuels are increasing at an unprecedented rate, potentially adding around £150 to the energy bill of every household, now is an apt time for the business to begin promoting itself, says Perrin.

Building out the brand

Since launching four years ago, Ismybillfair has primarily used Facebook, Google and other variations of digital marketing to reach consumers with its service. Little has been invested so far in building the brand and generating fame.

“So this month marks the point in which we’re really growing up as a business,” Perrin says. “We’re going from small startup to really building what we know could be a really big brand.”

While he does not see the likes of Compare the Market and GoCompare as direct competitors, given they offer a different service, Perrin’s aspiration is to rival the brands on scale.

“We know that strategically we are a mass market brand. We’ve got mass appeal,” he says, noting there are 27 million households in the UK paying more than 100 million bills.

We’re looking to become quite a major player by making really big media investments, because there are so many people out there who are receptive to our message.

Alex Perrin, Ismybillfair

The brand is therefore due to launch its first TV campaign on ITV later this week. Devised by creative agency BigSmall, the ad introduces a new icon for the brand: the ‘Ismybillfair-ometer’. Voiced by Pointless host and comedian Richard Osman, the ad informs viewers that while the name of its new mascot is a bit of a mouthful, it does just one thing: checks whether energy bills are fair or not.

The fair-ometer existed on the platform before and has always been a part of the service, though this is the first time it has appeared as a brand character. “What BigSmall have done is help us to turn it into a character, bringing it to life in what we think is a really fun and engaging way,” Perrin says.

“It’s a great way of telling the story, and in future we’ll be able to use the character in other ways.”

Already, the character has been introduced across the website and, moving forward, it will be used in all of the brand’s other ads and assets.

Augmenting digital with TV

It’s relatively unusual to see small, startup brands on TV, given the higher expense of TV advertising. However, in August Ismybillfair won investment from ITV in a media for equity deal, in which the broadcaster takes a stake in the business in return for access to advertising inventory.

ITV acquired a minority stake valued at £1.25m in return for advertising inventory across its channels and the ITV Hub, with an option to invest a further £1.25m. According to Perrin, the broadcaster also offers the brand guidance on its journey.

Perrin says he sees TV as a major opportunity to grow the brand and achieve mass market success.

“We think TV is a great way of really augmenting what we’re doing in digital media, so we think it’s going to be really complementary,” he says.

The business ran a small regional test on TV back in February, with ads running in the North East and South West of England, and found that its digital marketing investment “worked harder” both when it was on TV and in the aftermath.

So the test “really validated [TV] as being the right thing for us to do”, Perrin says, having seen a “big uplift” in volume as a result, as well as an uplift in the proportion of people on the site who were securing a better deal with their existing provider.

Source: Ismybillfair

Crucially, being on TV also helps to build consumer trust, Perrin says.

“We got some anecdotal feedback saying our service is almost too good to be true,” he says. “Is this real? Can I trust these guys?”

“We needed to tell the story in which we know we are trustworthy, we’re here to help. And we’re finally giving people what they’ve always wanted, which is peace of mind that they’re not getting ripped off.”

Being seen on TV is an automatic badge of approval, he adds. “So we’re really confident that we’re going to not just repeat but exceed the results of what we did before, and that TV is really going to work for us.”

Moving forward, the brand will be measuring how its brand building efforts impact visitor volume and conversation rate, tracking how many people choose to renew contracts or take up different contracts with the same provider through its service.

“We’re expecting to see an uptick in both of those, driven by awareness and getting the name out there, as well as by really building this trust.”

Driving future growth

Ismybillfair currently only covers energy providers, and is partnered with the likes of British Gas, E.ON, SSE and Shell. Despite having operated somewhat under the radar thus far, the platform has already had 1.2 million bills checked on the site, including 100,000 in August alone.

But the business also has its sights on new categories. It plans to add both broadband and pay TV in the fourth quarter of this year, and is also considering moving into mobile phone bills, gym memberships and different types of insurance.

“The driving force for this is people just wanting a better price without the hassle of switching. That sentiment exists across all of these different categories,” Perrin says. “So we know it’s a really scalable idea and it’s a win-win for the service businesses in each of these markets.”

However, before exploring expansions, the business is looking to drive growth by “seriously” upping its marketing investment. Over the first half of this year the business was spending approximately £100,000 a month on media spend – in August and September, that figure increased to around £250,000.

Once it begins to move into TV, Perrin estimates the business will be spending “well above” half a million pounds a month. In 2022 he aims to double that figure again.How Bloom & Wild is using TV to drive brand fame

“We’re looking to become quite a major player by making really big media investments, because there are so many people out there who are receptive to our message,” he says.

The plan is to further test different broadcast channels such as radio and outdoor to find the “optimal mix”. “We know that we have to find the right blend across all these different channels,” Perrin says. “We haven’t had that right yet, but TV is a massive step towards that and we’ll be optimising that next year and beyond.”

To establish how much the brand should be spending on marketing, it benchmarks what the switching services are currently spending, he adds. But he reiterates that Ismybillfair is not competing with them directly.

“We aren’t taking them head on. It would be crazy for somebody to try and launch a new switching brand in the UK now, when there are these four or five really big, established brands which have invested hundreds of millions over many years,” he says.

“I’m hoping what we can start educating people on [the fact] we are not in that category – we are the alternative.”

Perrin adds that the brand “absolutely” doesn’t intend to be outbidding the switching platforms on search terms and the like, as it believes there is a “smarter” way of reaching people. Plus, the brand is getting “really strong” advocacy recommendations, he claims.

“So no, we can’t take them on,” he concludes. “Nor do we need to.”