Have we shot ourselves in the foot?

Are we victims of our own stupidity? Hell yes!

In the minds of the consumer, particularly the new consumer, hearing well has become all about the product and not about the process. We as a profession internationally are responsible for this state of affairs. Our marketing strategy and business model has encouraged this concept. We are in fact to blame for our current situation because we have not made it clear to the buying public that hearing better is about a process. About a product delivered with skilled work and an ongoing process involving much more than just technical servicing. I am afraid we are the victims of our own stupidity.

I have many interesting conversations in the ether, where are we going, what is the future? I don’t think we can really tell with any certainty, because there are so many possibilities. Possibilities that we now know, but also possibilities that we don’t. As technology changes and evolves it will present us with completely new possibilities for the delivery of products and indeed our services.

Self fit is becoming a reality, as we speak at least one company is gearing up for trials. Within some academic circles there is a growing call for self fit low cost instruments. The call is based or justified on not just the needs of the low income third world market place but also low income demographics everywhere. Is there a call for self fit in the wider customer demographic though? Possibly not right now, but there was no real call for smart phones when they were first launched either. If self fit becomes a main stream reality, where does that leave our profession?

Is it possible that we will become simply physiologists, involved in the simple testing of a physiological function? Will we then retreat into tinnitus therapy and VNG? I don’t think so, even if self fit becomes an accepted main stream enterprise, there will still be many that will not follow the DIY route. There will also be many who may self fit and then look for professional intervention. One way or the other I have no doubt that in some way we will be involved in the process.

Perhaps we will continue to work in Practices that are similar to the ones we work in today? It is possible though that Practices may be more akin to phone shops of today in the future. I made a throw away comment on one of the forums recently about the future of hearing instrument purchase. It boiled down to a shop assistant saying something like “The audiology team say that anything in the red range is suitable for your loss, the red range has four levels of technology at differing price points. If you would just like to choose your style and colour our audiology team can fit it”.

The more I consider it, the more I think it may well be a possibility. The merging of technologies is moving hearing instruments from medical device technology towards consumer goods technology. This combined with our historical ineptitude at putting ourselves at the centre of the process of hearing well has encouraged this state of affairs. The questions are, what are we to do about it, should we do anything about it, can we do anything about it.

My answers are there are many strategies we can follow, I think we should, I fear that we can not. I am beginning to be of the belief that the future of our profession, like your brand,  is in the hands of the consumer. The consumer assisted and fuelled by evolving disruptive technology will have a large impact on the future of our profession.  We can’t stop the evolvement of disruptive technology, it will happen and it will directly affect our profession. The question is, what will we do in response to it? I think it is an imperative that we take every step possible to place ourselves at the centre of the process of hearing well. How do you plan to do it today? 



About Geoffrey Cooling

Geoffrey Cooling is an Irish hearing care blogger and the author of The Little Book of Hearing Aids and Audiology Marketing in a Digital World. He has been involved in the Hearing Healthcare Profession since 2007 when he qualified as a hearing aid audiologist. He has worked in private practice and for a major hearing aid manufacturer. He has become recognised as an authority within the field of hearing care and hearing aids.


  1. Pissed off at rent-seeking audioloists

    Geoff, you state,
    “We are in fact to blame for our current situation because we have not made it clear to the buying public that hearing better is about a process.”

    In fact this may have been true back in the Bad Old Analogue Days, when we had to bullshit the clients into accepting poorly performing, 3-transistor Starkey ITE’s.

    Well, guess what? Digital WDRC circuits changed everything, makig the industry so profitable that Widex can piss away millions of dollars on a windmill in their parking lot, instead of plowing it back into R&D, or better, pass that back in savings to cash-strapped hard-of-hearing people getting hammered on all sides.

    In any case, just like the Internet has flattened entire business models such as “brick and mortar” bookstores, the hearing aid profession has shot themselves in the dick by trying to protect their own turf to make a few extra quid, instead of competing in the marketplace.

    Well, guess what, fellow hearing aid professionals? You spent your time seeking legislative & regulatory protection for your little “private turf” you would hope nobody would notice as you robbed blind your customers… And you’re about to get your ass handed to you by technology, such as self-fitting and the Internet.

    • I take umbrage at the suggestion that Widex is somehow negligent in its R&D budget. Widex in fact probably spends the most as a per cent age on R&D of all the manufacturers.

      The windmill is an investment made on commercial and social conscience grounds. Widex is the only manufacturer who can use the wind made claim because we are completely powered by wind and other green energies at our Denmark site.

      Whilst I understand that you are obviously passionate about you point of view, you simply damage your own argument through the use of your language. I am happy to have this debate, but I will allow no more comments that involve the use this type of language.

    • D#%, can you ever try to carry on a conversation without using profanity or being insulting?

  2. Geoffrey, Thank you for taking a stand regarding the profanity. Completely unnecessary at a professional level, but par for the course from this individual, as demonstrated in many forums.

  3. Great post that gives us lots to think about.

  4. Hi Geoff:
    Interesting food for thought. Enjoy reading your posts as it always gives me either a fresh perspective to keep me thinking. Thanks. A.U.

  5. I found this timely and relevant. Nice to see someone else espousing that it shouldn’t be about the product, it should be about the process. That has practically been the headline in my advertising recently. I do mostly educational and branding ads, which is a slow-growth way of building a business. It’s hard to find a good call to action when you actively avoid the retail model. Audiologists let manufacturer marketing departments lead us down the retail road and are now regretting it.

    I’m unbundled and working on refining my particular process, using AAA best practices as much as I can. Planning to measure then market satisfaction and success rates. I think the only way to keep your phone store scenario from coming true is to convince patients that if they want it done right, they can’t do it themselves. But “right” will have to be defined objectively, by speech audibility measures, because people might be satisfied with self-programmed devices that only help a little bit. They don’t know what normal is anymore. If we don’t push them to acclimate to the gain they need, some will never do as well as they could. We need studies done that really show the difference between what sounds good to someone versus what is best for them. Show them the data (lets hope it proves process matters). People will pay for results if they know what path to take to get there.

    • Sheryl I am with you on most things, two elements of your comment I disagree with. Manufacturer’s marketing
      departments forcing, that’s a cop out, did the manufacturer’s get us in a collective headlock? I hear this a lot, it’s the damned manufacturers! Grow up and take responsibility.

      Secondly you mentioned retail, I think that retail is not necessarily an evil, dependent on what you mean? Delivery of services and product in a retail type Practice can be very successful. If you mean stack em high sell em cheap, than I would agree that is a destructive model.

      • Geoff, my view of history is that when the first hearing aids were being retailed, manufacturers led us by the hand because audiology was in its infancy. Now that we’ve grown up, I agree we need to think for ourselves. I blame ASHA more for keeping those of us in the US from developing medical model dispensing as the norm in the early days. Things might have been quite different, but we’re stuck with our current reality. Doesn’t matter too much how we got here as long as we learn from it.

        To me the term “retail” isn’t about the look or location of your office, it’s the product focus (and the lack of a diagnostic/rehab outcomes focus). Marketing a process doesn’t lend itself to typical retail tactics, but I would love to see someone develop some new advertising along these lines. There must be examples from other industries, but I haven’t found them yet.

        • Other healthcare sectors are moving towards this type of marketing. It is advertising that focuses on the outcomes rather than treatment or medical device. Imagine an oncologist advert with “Isotope 543, guaranteed to act faster and destroy more of those rebellious cells!”

          Doesn’t bear thinking about really. 🙂 Their marketing focuses on either care or outcome. Perhaps ours should as well.

  6. I’d agree that in the marketing provided by the manufacturers, nobody has forced it down our throats. They’ve offered it, and it is for us to accept. For many practitioners–most of whom have had no formal training in marketing and have to rely on advice from the “experts”–they simply take advantage of marketing promos their preferred company might offer. It’s the easy way to do it when you don’t want to have to think about it.

    For my own office, our general marketing focuses on who we are, what we do, and how we are different. We will occasionally do manufacturer-specific promos, but we are a multi-line office so the practitioner always has the discretion as to what brand to recommend.

    I also haven’t been particularly impressed by a lot of the “canned” ads that the manufacturer marketing departments have come up with, and usually design my own and get better results.

    • First of all Sheryl, I have re read my comment. I realised the way I responded could easily be misconstrued, I apologise I meant my comments as a generalisation not a personal comment and I hope I have not offended you.

      Scot, you are correct, manufacturers tend to be B2B people, not B2C. This does affect their marketing bias. You are the expert at the B2C level, you should be structuring your advertising with the assistance of the Manufacturer.

      Again Scot you have nailed it, it is easier. Lots of people suffer with that, again I say, grow up, take responsibility. I like to help, I even like to advise, I badger, push and cajole. He’ll I have been known to roll up my sleeves and work on Practice management procedures and processes myself. But by god I won’t sit still and listen to self pitying rubbish.

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