Readers, be warned: I’m going to invoke the dreaded “M word”

I’m pleased to introduce Sara Bloom, this week’s guest contributor to Hearing Views. Sara has been writing for me for almost my entire career in journalism. She was an award-winning feature writer and all-round news reporter for a community newspaper in the New York suburbs where I was editor and publisher. Later, she wrote dozens of cover stories for a hearing industry publication that I edited. I’m glad that her experiences there inspired her to write the following commentary on “the M word.”

                                                                                                                              David H. Kirkwood

 

Sara Bloom

By Sara Bloom

In my family, the “M word” put bread on the table, paid the mortgage, and sent two children to college. How bad can it be?

For 17 years, I was the go-to person for — get ready, here it comes — marketing cover stories in a hearing industry trade journal. Mostly, these articles appeared in the September issue, which was largely devoted to practical ideas for running a hearing care business. Oops, that’s another no-no word. Okay, a hearing care practice.

Well, folks, I have news for you: If you are a hearing healthcare practitioner, you provide a service; you sell a product; you get paid for the product you sell. Like it or not, you run a business. But let’s not argue semantics.

In the 17 years I was writing for the journal, I prepared 13 articles on marketing, covering nearly every facet of the discipline: radio and television advertising, print advertising, direct mail, press releases and other public relations initiatives, web sites and Internet marketing, co-op advertising, database marketing, tracking your marketing, telemarketing, marketing on a shoestring, marketing to physicians, plus two articles on gimmicks designed to make people love your practice/business: birthday cards, free batteries, free screenings, and even coffee mugs and pencils — anything to keep your name in play.

Here’s the interesting fact: Every one of the 13 articles began with some version of the following idea: “This article is about marketing — a bad word, a dirty word, a topic that makes you groan, an idea you turn away from, an issue you avoid.”

When I would introduce myself to a contact person and name marketing as the reason for my call, the icy reception I would get could “chill a martini,” I once wrote. In another cover story, I began with the disclaimer that most of those interviewed for the article would “rather walk barefoot across hot coals” than discuss marketing.

 

NOW IT’S MY TURN TO SPEAK

Now, thanks to the Hearing Views blog, I am able to step away from journalistic objectivity and tell hearing care providers what I think. So listen up.

The hearing care industry was flat for as long as I was writing about it. Expert after expert offered one excuse after another for the failure of hearing aids to win the hearts and minds of most of those in need of its benefits. For all those 17 years, I would write that only about 25% of those who would benefit from hearing help did, in fact, seek that help. Seventeen years. Twenty-five percent. No change.

Why not? Hearing aids were too big, too small, too expensive, unattractive, breakable. Those were the reasons people didn’t want them, I was told.

Sorry folks. That’s not how I see it. The hearing care market is flat because people who need help don’t know where to get it. They don’t know where to get it because the people who provide it are allergic to the M word.

The anti-marketers are under the impression that marketing in all its permutations and combinations is for carnival barkers and widget salesmen, not hearing care professionals. And that is wrong-headed thinking.

“Let manufacturers advertise; they have the money,” say the naysayers. Manufacturers do advertise; they advertise the advantages of their products over the competition. But consumers don’t seek hearing care from manufacturers; they seek it from the local hearing care office, and they’ll buy the product that the local hearing care professional recommends.

In all my years of writing about hearing, not once did any practitioner tell me that a prospect came into the office asking for a specific brand of hearing aid. They came into the office/practice/business because it was local, they could walk or drive there easily, and they were responding to a marketing message that promised they would be able to hear better.

That’s it. That’s the whole secret. Find out what people need and want, and convince them you can provide it to them. And the way to do that is to market what you do best.

You are the hearing care professionals. No one else can offer what you can provide — not the supermarket, not the dry cleaner, not the car dealer, not the shoe store. You are unique. Your service is valuable and beneficial. So, get out there and tell people about it.

Full disclosure here: A good many of those I talked to in all those years for all those articles got it right. They understood that marketing is essential. As one bright fellow once told me, “Don’t wait for somebody to come in and ask for a hearing aid. Nobody wants to buy a hearing aid.”

 

Sara Bloom is president of Blazer Communications, the family publishing and public relations firm in Southold, NY.