In my August 2020 newsletter, I posed this poll question: In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge facing Audiology and its future? The fourth largest response selected (over 18%) was “Audiology Status in Healthcare”. You can view the poll results HERE. I have been discussing these issues monthly in my blog post.
This subject is a long-standing concern and something I broached in a blog post in July 2017. I, honestly, do not believe we have made much headway since I wrote this (which I am expanding upon today):
Audiology awareness…this is something that every audiologist, no matter their affiliation, agrees is important. Audiologists believe that consumers do not know about us, our profession or our value to the audiologic or vestibular evaluation or remediation processes. Audiologists believe that this work should be tackled by national associations, who should, using just dues, create national ad campaigns highlighting us and the work we do.
First, I believe that consumers know more about us than we believe. One of my students, in 2017, did a study where she posed the question to normal hearing consumers. Over 78% of respondents knew the term “audiologist”. I suspect that this number is higher than what most audiologists expect. I think though that, while consumers may know who we are, they most likely do not know the breadth of what we can do as it pertains to their hearing, balance, and communication and the impact we can have over overall quality of life. I do not think we have measured or communicated our potential impact on their overall quality of life. We have an identity crisis; some of which is self-created. It has also been exacerbated by the OTC debate, our roles within that debate, and what we market to the public As a result, some consumers see us merely as a hearing aid sales force and assign no value to our unique skillset.
Honestly, we have not, as a profession or as professionals, consistently marketed the practice of audiology. Instead, we have marketed a manufacturer’s products, hearing aid sales promotions and free services. These may have driven “sales” in the short run but they have done nothing to increase the visibility of the profession, its scope, and its value. In some ways, this marketing approach has been counter-productive. It has tied the practice of audiology solely to the sale of a hearing aid and no cost, free or bundled care. The consumer has lost sight of us and the evaluation and treatment we provide because the marketing has made us secondary to the device. We, again, are seem merely as a sales force.
Audiologists think this can be solved by a large, national ad campaign. They want and expect national associations, who receive $200-$400 worth of annual dues per member per year per association, to fund these campaigns. In my opinion, that is unrealistic and unreasonable, especially if, at the local level, audiologists are still going to market products, rather than audiology and its expansive services, in the same manner they always have. Let me give you some examples.
Let’s consider an ad in the Wall Street Journal (https://mediakit.wsjbarrons.com/media-kit/p/1). This would be an excellent publication for launching a national ad campaign. The cost, per inch, to run an ad one time is $2500+. Their ad contracts BEGIN at $50,000 and that affords you no discount off of the $2500+ per inch rate. A discount does not kick in until you have a $250,000 contract. And this cost is just for running the ads, not creating them, which typically adds tens of thousands of dollars to the price. And let’s talk about a national television campaign. Those cost over $50,000 to design and produce and the average 30-second spot is $300,000+ (https://www.webpagefx.com/blog/business-advice/the-cost-of-advertising-nationally-broken-down-by-medium/) to air. We all know that the most successful ad campaigns require repetitive publication across various mediums. How is out profession going to fund this type of action? In reality, the resources just do not currently exist to create, fund and maintain a national ad campaign presence, especially when audiologists are dividing their support across multiple national audiology associations? Most audiologists are also not known to consistently donate additional funds to associations for awareness or advocacy. Look at the funding and awareness challenges of the Audiology Awareness Campaign. Most audiologists do not even know that this has existed for the past 30 years!
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is another option that has been discussed. For me, the hiccups of this approach is that audiologists, in their own local markets, would be funding SEO to try to get a better Google placement than that of their national association. Also, SEO placement can only be maintained through the near constant commitment of creating novel content and sharing that novel content across multiple social media networks and platforms. Does any national association have the financial and human resources to create and maintain such an endeavor in perpetuity (because without perpetuity, you are merely committing to a short term strategy)?
There is a solution though to this conundrum. It is called grass roots marketing. What if every audiology practice across the country, in their own local markets, simultaneously marketed audiology and its value to consumers? Not hearing aid ads, just ads and communications related to audiologic and vestibular care. We could do press releases, health fairs, physician outreach, open houses, social media posts, newspaper ads, and direct mail and market audiology and audiologic and vestibular screening, evaluation and treatment. We would spend all or a significant portion of the same monies we normally spend (which is, typically, 8-10% of revenues) but just with pieces directed towards long-term branding and awareness, rather than short-term device sales. We could illustrate that we are more than salespeople. Maybe, in your community, several practices could collaborate and co-opt a local audiology campaign.
I have been attempting this approach since June 2019 with my self funded Think Audiology Campaign (which has re-emerged in January 2021 after a brief COVID shutdown). These ads are consumer "calls to action" (which is why I had to shutdown during COVID as many clinics closed and there was no one to evaluate or treat the patient when audiologists were told, and many believed, that they were not essential).
THIS is, for me, an approachable, realistic means of not only increasing audiology awareness but of also differentiating audiology in the marketplace. It shows consumers what we can offer them and the value of the care to their long-term health and communication abilities. I think this is an approach worth exploring in greater detail. Again though, the pressing question is whether or not a critical mass of audiologists are willing to look away, for a window of time, from the short-terms gains of retail, product based marketing in favor of the hope of long-term gains from professional, healthcare-type marketing and branding. That is something I cannot answer but I hope brings food for thought.
What are YOU willing to commit for audiology to
achieve long-term gains?