Interview with Kathy Landon, Vice President Branding and Professional Services, Sonic
Carolyn Smaka: Welcome back, Kathy. Today we are talking about Sonic as a “value brand”. What exactly does that mean?
Kathy Landon: Value can be defined as anything that increases the chances that the other person will achieve what they want to achieve. If you can help someone achieve what they want, you will be seen as a provider of value. To put it more simply, we can think of value as an equation.
The value equation is “value equals improvement divided by cost”. The improvement is the outcome you’re seeking, such as “I want to hear better”, or, “I want to fit products that have benefits for my patients”. Cost isn’t just dollars; it can also be the time and effort you have to put in, or the fuss factor, in order to reach the desired outcome.
The value equation: Value equals improvement divided by cost.
In order to create value as a company, you need to be able to leverage your strengths in order to help your customer achieve their desired outcome. You need to keep the cost proportional to the outcome, or at least in balance with it. When you think of value in these terms, it helps you to weigh every decision you make as a company.
Carolyn: When you’re talking about Sonic providing value, are we talking about value to the professionals who are doing business with Sonic or are we talking about value to the end consumer?
Kathy: Our mission statement at Sonic is to improve life through enhanced hearing. We need to provide value to our customers so that they can use to provide value to their customers, the consumer. Both of these groups want different outcomes. Hearing care professionals want it to be easy to do business with Sonic, and products that sound good so that their patients are successful. The consumer doesn’t care about how easy it is to do business with Sonic; they want products that provide the benefits they are seeking.
Carolyn: So taking a step back, why does value matter?
Kathy: Changes in the economy over the last five years have put the focus back on value for consumers today. We have been taught by other brands to expect value. The marketplace is full of value brands that are very successful. Southwest Airlines is a good example. Especially when they launched, they were all about low-cost flights. It’s the same plane you’re going to fly on as Delta, but at a lower price because of some of the business practices that they put into effect, and they have passed those savings along. Target is another great value brand. They offer good products in nice stores, and their pricing is good, so the value equation balances out.
Today’s consumer is concerned about stretching their dollars, and they’re expecting more than just a good price. They want good service. They want convenience, because that’s what they’ve been taught to expect through other brands and other industries.
Carolyn: Let’s get into more specifics. How does Sonic create value for professionals and consumers?
Kathy: To create value, the improvement you want at the cost that you’re willing to expend must be in balance. There’s three ways that you can create value based on this. The first way is to reduce the cost to match the perceived improvement that you’re going to get. The second way is to increase the perception of the improvement to match the current cost. This means you relate the hassle back to the cost, but you make it obvious why the cost is the way it is because it provides a lot of benefit or makes life easier.
Sonic has chosen to do both: to help reduce the cost and also to increase the perception of the improvement. We’ve laid out a strategy where we’re creating improvements for people and we’re reducing costs.
One way we have created improvements for our customers is through quality products. Products that are robust, reliable, and don’t need to be serviced, create a good impression and reduce the hassle factor.
Improvement must outweigh cost to create value.
Our manufacturing data provides evidence of this quality. Our Minnesota manufacturing facility delivers outstanding quality products because we design in quality during the design process, which allows us to craft great products. We have special features in our custom and BTE products to help keep moisture and debris out, and to help keep the devices stable and reliable. A major focus for us is to continually drive down remake and repair rates because we understand how important this is to everyone. We believe we have some of the lowest rates in the industry and these reflect the high levels of satisfaction we hear on a regular basis from our customers.
The other area where we provide value to both our customers and end users is with our technology. Technology is meant to be beneficial. When we create products and choose which features go into a product, our goal is always true, appreciable benefit, which comes back to our 4S Foundation. Sound that’s natural is one of our signatures. Our new Bliss product is a great example of this.
The technologies that deliver natural sound include our speech variable processing, impulse noise reduction, wind noise reduction and our feedback canceller. Of course, we also focus on Speech understanding, especially in noise. Our speech priority noise reduction and the directional systems that we include in our products are all designed to keep speech understanding at the forefront.
Simplicity in all we do is the third S of our 4S Foundation. The products are very complex from a technological perspective, but simple to the end user. One example is universal environment. We create a robust, adaptive system so that the patient doesn’t have to fiddle around with their hearing instruments. The benefit there is that it is easy to wear. It just works. And then, we have Style that stands out. Our products are designed in such a way that they give the patient confidence.
We also use our strengths of being part of the William Demant group to lower costs. We can take advantage of some of the resources of being part of a larger organization with shared company functions such as IT, human resources and finance support. Ultimately, that saves money.
We have a small, agile management team at Sonic so we are able to make decisions quickly and implement changes that will benefit our customers or end users. We have the unique advantage of being a smaller company within a larger organization, with the benefits of both to help reduce costs and add value.
We use technology to help reduce the costs associated with sales and support. We have a strong inside sales and support team that are enabled to make decisions and help customers, so professionals don’t have to take time out of their schedule for a field rep to visit. We offer telephone training, live software demos, and online training in our AudiologyOnline classroom, to reduce costs and make training as convenient as possible.
We’re taking it another step further in marketing, by reducing paper materials that often end up in landfills, and choosing to focus a lot of our message delivery on things like e-mail and online training. We have a portal available through our Website called mysonici.com where professionals can access materials and resources for marketing. There’s also training available and promotion information, too.
I mentioned that cost isn’t just dollars, and one of the things that I love about Sonic is our customer service team - they have a phrase that they mean with all sincerity: “not a problem.” At Sonic, we have a great attitude about being happy to help you. That kind of support and going the extra mile greatly reduces the hassles and the headaches of doing business with us.
Carolyn: Professionals reading this may be thinking, “That’s nice. Sonic sounds like a nice company to do business with. But how does that help me directly when I am trying to run my business?”
Kathy: I think there are a few things professionals directly benefit from as a result of Sonic being a value brand. One of the most important is providing great products and great services at a reasonable cost. That kind of value allows hearing care professionals to be competitive with either other independent practices in their area or big box providers.
Remember that consumers today are looking for value. They come in your looking for a product that’s going to help them achieve their listening goals at a price that they think is fair. Sonic products are going to allow you to provide value through great products and features. Moreover, happy patients mean fewer returns for you in your practice, and it also means an increase in positive word-of-mouth advertising.
At Sonic, we want to create value for our customers. We hope that leads you to a relationship with Sonic as a trusted partner. We know that the only way for us to accomplish our mission of improving lives through enhanced hearing is to provide the best value we can to our hearing care partners.
Carolyn: Kathy, when you first introduced this topic and you said, “Some people think value is just all about low cost,” and I had no idea all the different things that you were going to go into to support the idea of the value brand.
Kathy: We take it seriously. We have a video that kind of summarizes what we’ve talked about today, and you might want to check it out.
Carolyn: Better yet, we’ve included it here for our readers as well. Thanks for your time today.