Hearing Healthcare 2020 is a column where we explore the forces behind the changing landscape and disruptions impacting the hearing healthcare industry.
This week, HHTM is exploring how professionals, practices, and the industry can better reach the hearing healthcare consumer of today and the future. While this has been a topic of discussion for some time among professional circles and in the literature, the recent global pandemic has left many wondering what sort of lasting effects this will have on consumer behavior and how people seek out (hearing) healthcare in the future.
HHTM President, Kevin Liebe, AuD, recently connected with 4 industry experts to share their perspective with our readers:
Reaching the New Hearing Healthcare Consumer
A lot has been written about the needs of the modern healthcare consumer and how practices of all shapes and sizes must continuously adjust their marketing plans to “meet the demands of today’s consumer.” While the information is generally accurate, I argue that today’s hearing healthcare consumer tends to be more expecting than demanding—especially when it comes to marketing.
Put another way, there’s a difference between what consumers demand and what they expect. In general, consumers will demand certain product features like invisibility, lithium-ion rechargeability or direct connectivity to their phone. Or, they may demand your practice takes their insurance benefit before they set up an appointment. These are deal breakers if not met.
From a marketing perspective, consumers tend to have fewer demands but more expectations. Practices that employ marketing tactics that meet or exceed these consumer expectations will be better positioned to attract and maintain new patients.
Here are three examples of what today’s consumers expect from your marketing:
1. A smart Digital Presence
We’re past the days when having a simple website with an About Us and Contact Us section was a sufficient digital footprint. Today’s consumers expect hearing care professionals (HCPs) to have a smart digital presence consisting of a robust mobile-friendly website that’s full of useful information, testimonials and is ideally capable of booking appointments online.
Consumers also expect your business to be active in the social media channels they use, and to be communicated with on their terms—be it phone, email, text, Remote Support, or all of the above.
2. Going Beyond Amplification
In recent years, our industry has made great strides in elevating audiological care to a level it deserves. But there’s still more we can do. To reach new consumers, HCPs should consider promoting products and services that go beyond traditional amplification. For hearing instruments, this means doubling down on the physical, cognitive and socio-emotional well-being benefits achieved through better hearing and repositioning hearing aids as technology that enhances people’s lives rather than a device that treats a deficit.
Consumers expect HCPs to be their “ear experts” so be sure to advertise your service and expertise in hearing protection, tinnitus and general ear health.
3. Conscientious Hearing Care
A post-Covid world will present both challenges and opportunities. Some consumers may wish to continue to utilize telehealth for medical care, and practices that actively promote this complementary service will automatically differentiate themselves from the competition.
As in-clinic visits resume, consumers will also expect you to clearly communicate what safety precautions you put in place to protect your patients as well as you and your staff.
Thomas Lang, PhD, is the Vice President of Marketing for Phonak & Unitron US. Dr. Lang joined Sonova in 2001 as project leader in Research and Development for Phonak and moved quickly to product management in Marketing. Thomas holds a PhD in Technical Sciences from the Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich.
A Digital Shift
The pandemic has affected everyone, and unfortunately our market is at the top of that list. While the fear of the virus will likely persist for a more limited time, business processes will likely be forever altered. The pandemic has essentially acted as an accelerant for web-based adoption, ultimately forcing a lot of people online that would not have otherwise taken the plunge. This side effect has made your practice’s market, whether you like it or not, more active online.
First, some great news about our situation. Hearing-related internet search traffic is already on an incline to return normal levels. This began in late-April when Covid-fatigue began to set in and has continued ever since.
As of right now we are at about 70%, even a little higher, of normal levels and gaining. This is up from about 50% during the worst of it. I expect these levels will eventually surpass pre-pandemic levels, but consumer expectations will be altered.
Here are a handful of suggestions for you to consider moving forward.
- Adopt telehealth and other emerging remote strategies. Some consumers will demand this, and you don’t want to leave that market behind. It will only grow from here.
- Use your existing resources. Most practices have an office management system with email capabilities. Make sure you are using this to the best of your ability. This includes email marketing to your existing database, as well as automating appointment reminders and follow ups.
- Continue to push your online efforts with a strong website, search engine optimization (SEO), digital ads, social media, and online reviews. These continue to be the foundation of an online presence and many practices have not even paid attention to them yet. An online presence will be more important than ever. The importance of an original and well-designed website cannot be stressed enough, as it is the foundation of your brand and the anchor for all your other digital efforts. You need a strong foundation to establish yourself as an authority in your market. You need to own your web presence though, and you cannot do that without a strong and unique website.
- Consider eCommerce. Internet search engines are continuing to push eCommerce more and more. As eCommerce continues to grow in popularity, you can use it to bring in more local customers by selling consumables (filters, batteries, etc), accessories, and other related products. This may help you bring in more revenue from direct sales as well.
- Keep your website content fresh and up to date. While also a pillar of SEO, staying relevant online requires good content. This not only helps you rank better in search results; it also helps you reach and retain readers who recognize you as a thought leader.
In the post-covid “new normal” make sure that you are at least embracing these items to keep your practice current and future proof.
Nick Fitzgerald is the President and Owner of AuDSEO. He also serves as the Chief Marketing Officer at Hearing Health & Technology Matters. With 13 years of digital marketing experience, Nick is a highly data-driven marketer, with expertise in search engine optimization, digital analytics and forensics, social media, digital advertising, and web development. He has been involved in the construction and optimization of nearly 1,000 web presences, including some of the largest Fortune 500 companies.
Meeting Consumers Where They Are
The world has changed for much of the hearing health industry which has built a great business driving 70+ year old consumers into hearing clinics to handle their hearing health needs. This change was anticipated, but because of COVID-19 it has accelerated at a rapid pace over weeks, not years.
As this hearing aid demographic will be one of last to venture back to stores and clinics, we are seeing the industry pivot desperately to remote servicing and other virtual initiatives to maintain customer engagement. This change in business practices is critical to the long-term survival of an industry that has been accused in the past of being resistant to change.
At Nuheara, the change brought on by COVID-19 was one we anticipated, it just happened sooner than expected at such a large scale. We have benefited tremendously from this new environment. April/May have delivered some of largest year on year sales growth rates in the company’s short history. This success can be attributed to addressing a younger more fertile hearing health consumer where they now shop – online.
A younger customer
We are targeting a younger consumer who is 10+ years younger than the average hearing aid user. The average age of Nuheara’s customer is 54 years old. They are tech savvy, don’t see their hearing health in a negative light, but are aware enough of their situation that they want to do something about it. They fall into the category of “I’m just not ready for a hearing aid” and are looking for something that is more situational, more lifestyle orientated and easier to adopt without the need to seek assistance from a hearing care professional.
Selling Direct to The Consumer (DTC)
As we know, store retailing has been disseminated since COVID-19 hit. Companies who drive their business with DTC ecommerce have been the main beneficiaries of this new environment. Nuheara is no exception as we provide an easy way for consumers to start their hearing health journey using the EarID personalization system with NAL-NL2 calibration from the comfort of their home.
Enabling consumers to seek solutions from home, especially for health purposes, is critically important in today’s world and making the process easy and self-manageable is an important perquisite.
Consumers are more engaged online
People are quite simply spending more time online now. At Nuheara, we have invested significant resources in understanding where our customers are online, how we talk with them and how we guide them through the purchasing process which happens over multiple touch points and visits to our website.
This discipline uses a combination of analytics and creative execution that embraces potential customers in an authentic and low friction manner ending in a sale online and not at a physical check out.
How can Audiology Clinics adapt to this new environment?
Over the last few years Nuheara has engaged with multiple audiology clinics and most did not have the capability to conduct ecommerce sales. All their digital marketing efforts were directed to driving customers into the clinic.
This has to change and with Nuheara’s DTC expertise we can engage with audiologists to help them down this path and take the pain out of logistics by shipping direct to their customers.
This hybrid model of selling online and direct shipping products maybe one way to drive new hearing health customers and re-engage with past potential customers who have walked into a clinic and not bought.
This model could become a critical component of successful clinic practices moving forward as they address new customers and new ways methods of customer engagement.
David Cannington is the Co-founder, Executive Director and Chief Marketing Officer of Nuheara, an ASX listed innovative smart hearing company. David’s international career spans senior marketing and advertising roles in Fortune 1000 companies. He has spent the last 27 years in San Francisco founding, advising and operating early stage technology startups with global aspirations in both the B2C and B2B space. For the last 12 years he has been focused on growing globally two Australia hearing technology companies. David is passionate about building businesses that have a real impact on people’s lives.
Changes in Hearing Healthcare
Marketing your practice today is not easy, especially during the pandemic (thanks Captain Obvious) but, do you believe it will get any easier going forward? For that matter, if you have been in business for more than 10 years, do you suppose marketing in 2019 was easier or more difficult than in 2008?
Truth be told, things have been shifting steadily toward the more complex, specialized – some would say: difficult – for years now. It isn’t the marketing tasks that have gotten harder per se, it is the complexity of the audience, their expectations, and the extensive adoption of attention-absorbing media and tools.
Sure, marketing itself has gotten more sophisticated. If you are of a certain age you probably recall the days when a simple local newspaper ad would make your phone ring for a week. A good direct mail package could help you hit your monthly sales goals and mostly everyone was a private pay patient. Nostalgia inducing, isn’t it?
Over the past decade or so we’ve seen multiple technology improvements in the industry as the shift from analog to digital was completed in earnest. That digital transformation applies not just to devices, but to communications in general. But what of your marketing? Has it – or have you – kept pace?
A Closer Look
We can get prescriptive in a moment, first though, we need to see the landscape for what it is, with all its changes. Today’s (and tomorrow’s) consumers are connected and informed, they use any time spent thinking about hearing care to conduct research online.
They review manufacturers, they read articles, they ask friends, they ask the anonymous community at large, they seek reviews and feedback, they follow multiple links online into rabbit holes we can only imagine. Then they emerge with an armful of information and hopefully a commitment to proceed.
These consumers are also different than before in a few other ways… they are not as old as previous patients, they are more engaged in active lifestyles, and they want what they want, when they want it, and how they want it – on their terms. Today’s market also supports a variety of buying models. Traditional private pay still thrives, but increasingly other routes are becoming more prevalent. Namely third-party payer solutions.
Your feelings toward this shift in consumer may vary, yet there is no returning the Genie to the bottle. The market is reflective of what hearing care consumers want and need. Your choice is not about accepting it, the real choice is about how you’ll choose to manage your business to meet your needs.
What to Do?
Marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t get all caught up in the tactics, use your awareness of the market and today’s consumers to inform and direct your plan. Therein lies the key word, plan. Create one! If you don’t have it on paper it doesn’t count.
Adapt and adjust as situations change but knowing where you want to be makes getting there easier – that’s what a marketing plan does for you. Look at your previous performance to determine where you’ve had success and where you have no traction. And, if you are not recording results, you can’t improve the outcomes. Data rules, feelings and hunches won’t cut it.
Marketing is more than advertising; it is communication and perception as well. Influencing others to do something they may not want to do, but likely need to do, is hard work and takes time. Use all the tools at your disposal. Apply your message consistently, check frequently for feedback, and measure results.
Start with your existing customers. Your database is a critical success factor for marketing going forward. Are you in contact? How? Are you using email to keep top of mind? How about social media? Are your existing customers speaking proudly of their experiences with your practice?
So many practice owners focus on the need for new patients and the tools for attracting them (website, SEO, SEM, social media, advertising, direct mail, etc.) yet neglect to stay relevant with their existing customers. Keeping in touch and staying relevant are the keys to this challenge. If you don’t remain top of mind, someone else’s marketing will attract them.
Start small if you haven’t been working your database. Identify key segments of your customer list and speak to them about what’s in it for them. Do they need to come in for adjustments, updates, or even an upgrade from older tech? What about the more recently purchased group, what do they need from you to feel good about their decision – not just for the tech, but for selecting you as a provider? Can you prompt them to endorse your business, word of mouth is incredibly powerful marketing?
Lastly, evaluate your options for alliances and connect with sources of patients you do not need to market to. Let others do that work, adapt and adjust your processes to bring on clients from other source streams (insurance, affinity programs, VA, unions, etc.) and fit them into your practice schedule in a way that serves your business best.
No one should be treated less than completely, after all, hearing care is why you do what you do. Yet, if the predisposition is there to make a transaction, adjust your schedule to serve them and bank the time you normally spend convincing others why they want to act.
Open your doors and open your marketing to serve your practice while keeping the customer needs front and center. It isn’t new, just the situation is.
Jerry DeRosa is Vice President of Marketing for Your Hearing Network. He draws from more than 30 years of marketing experience with expertise in direct and retail marketing, along with advertising and digital media. Previously, Jerry was director of marketing with AHAA and director of marketing communications for Wolters Kluwer Health, a medical information, data and publishing company.