Our Profession is undergoing a paradigm shift, that shift has not been fully completed and there are several elements occurring at different pace that will probably change our profession for ever. I would like to address one element of that paradigm shift which is the change in online marketing. I came across Markus Hilbert and his company Earworks some time ago in the online world that we both inhabit. I watched with great interest his recent venture HearingPages burst onto the scene some time ago. I believe HearingPages represents the paradigm shift in marketing like no other online element.
It was particularly interesting for me because the HearingPages embodied a lot of my own conceptual thinking in reference to the future of marketing activities. It can also be leveraged as a tool to encourage Patient Retention and Engagement, two things I am sure you are sick of hearing me speak about. I have since been in correspondence with Markus and his partner in crime Florin on several occasions. They were even kind enough to invite me to write a foreword for a new e-book they released on online marketing. I was really interested in the evolution of the conceptual thinking behind Hearing Pages and I asked Markus to tell us all about it in a guest post. The following is what he wrote:
The Hearing Pages story began about ten years ago when we thought about how hearing aids are recommended. Unfortunately, it is not always done because of product features and benefits. So we created a selection tool – a way to identify the type of hearing aid you want by type of directionality, style, feedback management system, and more, and the database would query the suitable hearing aids. The goal was to objectivize the selection process with the technical and clinical expertise of a clinician to guide that process. This selection tool became the hearing aid engine of first the Ear Works practice management software and now in a much more detailed manner, the aid-finder in Hearing Pages.
As this was all being developed, the industry landscape changed. More clinics were Bing acquired by corporate bodies, fewer clinicians were autonomous. Competition became more fierce. Marketing took to new levels of desperation. More target clients were tuning us out. The recession hit and boomers lost a lot of money. Hearing aids were not a priority for many. The cost of doing business soared. Higher rents coupled with lower reimbursements and higher salaries resulted in the need for more sales, not less. In general, our marketing was bullet-spray, non-targeted, fragmented and sometimes not very clinically appropriate.
Any sales tactic seemed to be worth trying. The days of sanity seemed over. While we tried to encourage medical referrals and positive word of mouth, the price wars and accessibility seemed to render long-term relationships, standard of practice and credentials moot for patients seeking a care provider. In the midst of this, we realized that to be able to offer the best deals, clinics had to have a tight relationship with suppliers to support them. Hence hearing aid selection became increasingly economically based not just for the lowest consumer price but also for the best clinician arrangement.
In my opinion, this ethical gray area is dangerous. The image of our profession suffers, patients may get sub-optimal service, and consumers are essentially kept in the dark.
So we considered the research. Online advertising reaches more people and costs less than conventional advertising. It is on-demand, non-interruptive, and targeted. It is, however, terrible at converting consumers from online browsers to in-person clinic visits. This is despite manufacturers listing clinics, many sites listing clinics, in fact finding a clinic is easy. The problem is conversion. Then we consider that in any given clinic listing, how is the consumer to know who’s better? Anything can be claimed in marketing by clinics, but what about standards? The other problem is the online bias – if this manufacturer lists that clinic, isn’t there an inherent bias? The manufacturer sites try to sell their product. The clinic website tries to sell you on their offering. And information sites are not necessarily connected to the individual needs of the consumer.
We thought that if we replicate the traditional clinic rapport-building process online, with differentiation of clinics not necessarily by price but by credentials and their standard of practice, we may be on to something. And so, Hearing Pages was conceived. It was to be a site that converts the non-user better than other info sites because the information is interactive with ratings and reviews of clinics and hearing aids, with detailed hearing aid information in a proprietary one-of-a-kind hearing aid database that links visitors who like a certain product to those who sell it. Clinics are identified by location, service, their clinicians’ credentials and the standard of practice they adhere to. Information is provided by real clinicians. They can have articles, blogs, and more. When consumers have questions, they can ask and real clinicians in their area answer, because they are alerted to all questions asked in their vicinity. Hearing Pages helps build rapport with patients before they come in the office. Hearing Pages replaces fragmented online efforts and make them coherent.
We started getting really excited. Now all we needed was a non-consumer professional side only where manufacturers can launch new product, have forums on subjects important to their consumers: clinicians. Here the manufacturers can interface directly with clinicians and using social tools such as groups and forums, grow their market share. All contributions made by clinicians here can be rated and these kudos are reflected on the consumer side, making them look better to the public. Everyone wins.
But then we started considering who the players are – they aren’t just manufacturers, clinicians and consumers, they also include the non-profit sector. Special interest groups, professional associations, universities, and advocacy groups can all be a part of the conversation. By having a channel on Hearing Pages, linked back to their own site, all players optimize not only HearingPages but also their own site. The more contribution and activity there is, the better for everyone involved. This is an ecosystem, a community, not just another information website. And it works.
We are excited that within 6 months Hearing Pages shot to the top of the Google pages for key search terms. With all the online tools at our disposal, Hearing Pages addresses the needs of the industry to have a good image, provide useful non-platitude based marketing material on hearing aids, find clinics based on higher standards and a better criteria, and equip clinics with online marketing tools that integrate with their other online initiatives.
I would just like to point out that I have no financial relationship or vested interest with Markus, Earworks or HearingPages. However if he feels like donating to the Lets Get Geoff A Windows 8 Tablet, charity fund, of which I have been foisting on my Facebook friends!