Energizer has used its brand identity to build its position in the marketplace

Ask anyone on the street for an advertising icon and in all likelihood they will answer—the Energizer Bunny. This pink symbol of the battery company has been its silent spokes “hare” since 1989, and has appeared in more than 115 television spots. He also holds the distinction of being one of the top five advertising icons of the twentieth century.

But St Louis-based Energizer is more than a haven for a cute cultural icon. It is also the supplier of a wide range of battery options, including those for hearing aids.

Founded in 1896 as the National Carbon Zinc Company, Energizer has seen several innovations. As Ever Ready, the company introduced the first zinc air battery in 1947, the first alkaline battery in 1959, and the first silver oxide button cell for use in miniature hearing aids and wristwatches in 1960, and developed the lithium battery in 1963. The company was well ensconced as a supplier of hearing aid batteries by the middle of the last century. The company renamed itself again in the mid-1980s as the Energizer Battery Company.

In addition to batteries for flashlights (another of its innovations), electronics, and wristwatches, Energizer still offers a full range of hearing aid batteries—all zinc air—in 10, 13, 312, and 675. The batteries are for use with hearing aids and with cochlear implants. The 13 and 312 batteries are the company’s top sellers. The 675 makes up just 7% of hearing aid battery sales.

These sales figures are on the verge of changing, explains Anne Bannister, brand group director for hearing aid batteries. The aging Baby Boomers are already making greater demands for more power and smaller devices, so the 10 battery is experiencing ever-increasing sales.

The company has locations all over the world—selling batteries in about 175 different nations—but does all of its manufacturing of hearing aid batteries in Bennington, Vt.

Even though batteries are a key component of hearing aids, Energizer never loses sight of the big picture. In all things, the audiologist and end user are considered.

EZ Does It
In 2001, Energizer introduced the EZ Change. This magnetic device allows for easier handling of the battery. The battery-changing device reflects the company’s customer-focused approach to developing new products. “The product-development process involves consumer input [end users and audiologists] about their requirements,” says Bannister. “We look at the human factor: what the user faces in terms of their power needs. And other issues—their dexterity and their eyesight.”

In the case of the EZ Change, for instance, the company found that since the batteries were getting smaller and the users were older with poorer eyesight and dexterity, they had a more difficult time handling the batteries, so they needed a way to easily change their batteries.

Packaging and handling innovation has not ended with EZ Change. The company is preparing to introduce a new form of packaging that will allow patients to carry a single, spare battery with them—an option driven by the needs of patients—without damaging or running the battery down by having it open and free in their pocket.

While Bannister and her team are gathering information from the users and audiologists, the research and development team, which is located in Westlake, Ohio, is working on technical innovations of the battery itself—the chemistry and other issues. For instance, corrosion of the battery housing is a serious problem because of the moist environment of the ear, which can cause it to not perform at an optimal level. The research and development group has worked to solve this problem by finding materials that are less apt to corrode in the ear environment.

The two groups meet regularly to exchange ideas and develop long-term strategies for solving problems—such as easier ways to change batteries. Bannister says that most innovation at the moment is tied to battery handling.

Bannister says that the hearing battery group is not parochial in their view, looking at the wider Energizer product line for ideas and solutions. For instance, the hearing group has looked at the other types of batteries the company produces, such as lithium, to determine whether this power source would be a better hearing aid battery than zinc air. Thus far, zinc air is still the technology best suited for hearing aid batteries.

If there is one word to summarize battery product development, it would be “power.” “We’re always looking at how to deliver [optimum] power [output], how to improve performance, and length of the charge,” says Bannister.

The development of products also, by necessity, extends beyond the walls of the St Louis headquarters. Bannister says she is in regular contact with hearing device manufacturers, working with them regarding the delivery of efficient power to the devices.

However, Bannister admits that the improvements in battery technology are “incremental” with the batteries—even though more efficient—still delivering a charge requiring that users change their batteries every 7 to 10 days. This is very similar to zinc air batteries offered by other companies.

But for the audiologist who wants to include Energizer batteries in the retail side of their practice, the company has an important weapon in its arsenal—the Energizer bunny.

…And Going, and Going, and Going
Bannister says that because customers are very savvy about their hearing device needs—including batteries—Energizer stands out beyond the fact that it offers a quality product. “One thing we do very well is our brand name, it is very recognizable,” she says.

And it is the pink bunny that the company has audiologists leverage when they sell Energizer batteries in their practice. The key is to get the patient coming back to the practice for their batteries—instead of going to places like Wal-Mart or Costco. And a strong connection with the Energizer bunny and, by extension, Energizer will help in building this hearing aid energy sideline.

To that end, Energizer has developed the Bunny Program. Those who sign up for the program receive a marketing toolbox. This includes a number of services aimed at getting the patient to return to the audiologist’s practice for their batteries, including setting up a battery club replete with rebates and using the bunny ears—with the human ear superimposed on it—as a fun way to educate patients about their hearing and further make the Energizer battery connection with the practice.

The company also provides other services to audiologists including the AudioPro service, in which the EZ Change packaging is personalized, and the Energizer Amplifier, a distributor program that can be leveraged to set up rebates for patients.

Energizer also motivates patients and audiologists to return to the company for battery needs by providing full support of the batteries through its Web site and a 24-hour battery hotline that is staffed round the clock. If a patient or audiologist informs the Energizer of a defective battery—which Bannister says is a rarity—they will be instructed to throw the battery away and will be sent a new one, no questions asked.

While the Energizer brand is a natural fit for audiologists and their patients, the hearing aid battery line is a natural fit for the company as well. “Energizer prides itself on its full range of products. Like the Bunny, they keep us going in a variety of ways,” says Bannister. “The [hearing aid line] keeps the full use of the senses going—so it fits into the overall company very cleanly.”

And it is here that the company shows another way it is committed to the human factor.

Hearing Health
The company is always looking for ways to help the hearing community, Bannister explains. “We sponsor an audiology intern at the House Ear Institute every year,” she says. “We do that because it’s not just important to sell batteries, but to help hearing.”

The company has also used music celebrities, such as Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac fame to help educate consumers—particularly Baby Boomers—about the importance of their hearing health.

Energizer even went one step further, sponsoring the World’s Quietest Rock Concert. At the concert, all attendees were given earphones that allowed them to control the volume of the music—allowing them to listen to the concert at a safe level. It was also another opportunity to discuss hearing health with the public.

But Energizer is still in the business of selling batteries, and with all of the devices Baby Boomers and Generation X, Y, and Z are placing in their ears, the future will need batteries but in a very different way.

The Future…is Now?
Bannister does not believe there will be much change in the hearing aid market, in terms of both devices and their power needs in the next 3 to 5 years. But after 5 years, she foresees a much different hearing device environment. “I see that the devices will have to be able to interact with electronic devices like cell phones and iPods,” she says.

She also sees what might be a huge opportunity for device manufacturers—which will benefit companies like Energizer. Because Americans who are under 60 will be used to having wireless headsets in their ears on a regular basis while they are out in public, the stigma of the hearing aid may become a thing of the past.

What this will mean for Energizer is that powering these hearing aid devices that can also interact with cell phones, iPods, and any new communication device that will be developed in the interim may change, making demands for power and efficiency continue to evolve.

What will not change, however, is Energizer’s motto “Keep Going.”

It is this motto that fuels everything the company does from its supply change to its support systems to its marketing efforts. “We keep going in everything that we do,” says Bannister. “ ‘Keep going’ is the thing that drives us.”

C.A. Wolski is a contributing writer for Hearing Products Report.