StromAs the sophistication of hearing instruments grows more impressive, there also seems to be a concomitant temptation to focus only on technology and look past real-life benefits. It’s not hard to see why. One look at this month’s Hearing Review DSP/Programmable Instrument Buyer’s Guide demonstrates, in no uncertain terms, that the hearing industry has managed through great effort and research expense to amass an impressive array of advanced instruments for today’s consumer. This month’s Buyer’s Guide lists 100 product lines: 41 digital and 59 analog programmable lines from 21 manufacturers. To put this in perspective, just four years ago, there were 45 programmable lines (only two of which were DSP) from 17 manufacturers.

Programmable and DSP instruments now comprise half (49.1%) of all hearing instrument sales. Without question, the instruments listed in this year’s DSP/Programmable Buyer’s Guide are among the best that the field has to offer, and few (if any) hearing care professionals would argue against today’s technology being much improved over the instruments of only 10 years ago.

However, marketing messages have to mean something to the people for whom they are intended. It’s unlikely the average 70-year-old really understands the implications behind the number of channels or adjustable parameters that a hearing aid possesses. And, while we in the hearing care industry can get downright poetic and misty-eyed about how much easier it has become to match the target and verify a fitting, it’s a stretch to ask the patient to feel that same kind of passion for these kinds of product attributes.

The success of any practice—and the hearing industry itself—is dependent on continually getting people to positively address their hearing loss by either purchasing hearing instruments for the first time or by updating their existing instruments. When asking people to do something about their hearing loss, it’s not the medium, it’s the message. People need to know that the hearing care professional can help them hear better, improve communication with their spouse and family members, and even allow them to understand Dan Rather without forcing neighbors to listen to the nightly news as well. The message that hearing aids and quality hearing care can help people live better, more productive, meaningful lives needs to be placed in front of the message about the technological wizardry.

Additionally, the potential health benefits of hearing instruments also need to be emphasized. Last January, HR published the National Council on the Aging (NCOA) study that detailed how hearing instrument users on average are more socially active and avoid extended periods of depression, worry, paranoia and insecurity compared to non-users. The physical, emotional, mental and social wellness aspects of hearing—essentially, the “health” component of “hearing health”—needs to be reinforced on a continual basis. In fact, this message should be shouted from rooftops and dropped from planes at high altitudes. Other examples, like the recent VA study published in JAMA (Oct. 11, 2000), also document and provide excellent support for the importance of hearing instruments as communication devices.

With the arrival of the new year also comes the need to establish a consistent marketing and advertising plan that heralds what your services provide. Start the millennium out on a bold note: Let consumers know that hearing care products and your services have the ability to transform lives!

Karl Strom