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Introducing Lyric 3, Phonak’s Tinnitus Program & Other Practice Development Opportunities

Maarten Barmentlo, Bryan Holmes

April 21, 2014

Interview with Maarten Bartmentlo and Bryan Holmes

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Carolyn Smaka:  Maarten and Bryan, nice to see you both again.  My first question is regarding trends you see in the market and how can professionals leverage them for their businesses.  What are some of your thoughts?

 Bryan Holmes

Bryan Holmes:  I think one obvious trend is demographics, and the aging population.  As you know, the percentages of hearing aid penetration have not changed, when we look at how many people need hearing aids versus how many actually use them.  Now, we see a very active aging baby boomer population.  There is a saying that 60 is the new 40.  Seniors today have a very different lifestyle than the previous generation.  People are working longer and staying active longer. Lyric appeals to the active lifestyle of the baby boomers – they’re invisible and can be worn throughout all daily activities like exercising, showering and sleeping.

Our data show that Lyric is making a difference with this demographic that we have failed to penetrate with other hearing aids in the past.  We have talked about the 25/7, with the 25% percent penetration rate that has been stable for many years, and with a 7 year waiting period from when they find out they have a hearing loss to when they actually do something about it.  What we see with Lyric is that younger, active patients and those who are still in the workforce are enthusiastic about it.  Adding Lyric to your portfolio will incrementally bring in new patients from this demographic. 

With the recently launched Lyric 3, there are many technical advancements including the next generation, low-power chip that enables enhanced signal processing; increased fitting flexibility; easier programming; additional moisture protection and more. 

Carolyn:  It seems like a whole new product from the first generation. 

Bryan:  It is.  Lyric has gone through three iterations.  It originally launched in 2007 and was in development for years before that as well. The miniaturization and the extreme low power consumption of the new chip is a technological marvel.  There is nothing else like it, which is why I think it has been so successful making inroads with patients that we have not been able to reach with other hearing aids.

 Maarten Barmentlo

Maarten Barmentlo:  In today’s market, there is always a need to evolve and stay competitive.  Mark Sanford recently published an article in Hearing Review about how Lyric is growing his audiology practice, and he provides suggestions on how other practices can utilize this opportunity.

Carolyn: In addition to the baby boomers and aging population, what other trends or opportunities do you see today?

Maarten: Another trend we see is a growing acceptance of tinnitus treatment.  In the past, there were misperceptions about tinnitus, both among consumers as well as professionals.  The majority of professionals still do not offer tinnitus treatment services, which may be missed opportunities.  The misperceptions include that you can’t make money offering tinnitus services, and that it takes too much time.  In reality, 80% of people with tinnitus also have hearing loss, which is an enormous business development opportunity. 

Last year, we launched a Tinnitus Program for professionals who already offered tinnitus services in their practices, and it was extremely well received. However, we found that particularly in the U.S., there were many professionals who wanted to expand into tinnitus treatment, but were uncertain how to do so.  To address this need, we are launching a new program to help these practices be successful in adding tinnitus management to their services. 

Carolyn: What does the Tinnitus Program include?

Maarten: Our Tinnitus Balance Portfolio contains the technology and tools necessary to treat both tinnitus and hearing loss effectively, regardless of the professional’s preferred approach or philosophy to tinnitus treatment.  

In addition to hearing solutions with a unique broadband noise generator, we offer the Tinnitus Balance App to enable patients to build a personal library of music and sounds to help them relax.

One important component of our program is education for professionals on tinnitus basics, treatment approaches, and determining who is a candidate for treatment.  We have also created great counseling materials so that they can have a confident conversation with consumers about tinnitus and treatment options.  We also provide in-depth training about the solutions that we offer.  We are covering the whole picture in order to help practices to be successful.

“We make sure to make Lyric as accessible as possible for our patients. The exceptional way that patients hear with Lyric and the resulting renewal success has been phenomenal,” said Shelley Borgia, Au.D, CCC-A, FAAA, Founder and Doctor of Audiology at NYC Hearing Associates in New York City. “Given the fact that you can’t find it online has played a big part in leveraging it to differentiate our practice. Speaking for myself , Lyric is the product that I lead with when talking to patients about hearing technology options. It’s been instrumental in changing my career, my passion for this field and my patients’ lives.”

Carolyn: What kind of results have you seen?

Maarten:  First, we have seen that tinnitus is a very good marketing tool.  If you look at searches online, there are far more searches done on tinnitus than there are on hearing aids. Marketing campaigns focusing on tinnitus definitely drive patients to your door.

Carolyn: Yes, I believe tinnitus is searched more than 100,000 times per month just in North America.

Maarten:  Right.  There are a lot of people out there looking for information about it.  In addition, people are more motivated to seek treatment for tinnitus than for hearing loss, as there is less of a stigma associated with tinnitus.  Tinnitus is viewed as a medical problem that requires treatment, while unfortunately hearing loss is often associated with getting old.  So, the prevalence of tinnitus is high, the need is generally unmet, and consumers are very motivated.  This is why tinnitus is a good lead generator, as we have seen in a number of markets across the country.

Bryan:  That is exactly right. Maarten hit on an important point.  Most people with tinnitus also have hearing loss.  What we see time and again is that when patients come in and get a solution for their tinnitus, they then enjoy better hearing as a result as well.  As we know, amplification often improves tinnitus.

Maarten:  We see that 75% of consumers report relief as a result of amplification alone.

Tinnitus treatment also creates differentiation that highly trained clinicians are interested in.  It has a more clinical component, as does Lyric, which involves working deeper in the ear canal.  This differentiation helps practices stand out against competition.

Lyric by Phonak

Lyric by Phonak.

Carolyn:  That brings me to my next question.  As a manufacturer, you have the collective knowledge or insight into hundreds or maybe thousands of practices. Are there independent practices that are really thriving today, and what are they doing differently?

Maarten:  There are certainly practices that are thriving, and Mark Sanford is a good example.  There are many others.  We do an annual survey of hearing care practices where we look at various aspects of their business and correlate them with business results.  The data provides insight as to what practices that have above-average profitability are doing differently. 

Carolyn: Does size of the practice play a role in profitability?

Maarten: It is not in the size of the practice that is one of the big drivers of profitability, because there are profitable practices that are very small and there are profitable practices that are large.

So what are the more successful practices doing?  There are several things.  If you compensate your staff partly with a fixed salary and partly on a commission, that correlates with success.  Marketing also plays a role in differentiating the more profitable practices. Having a formal marketing plan and a marketing budget is highly correlated with higher profitability.  Tracking the effectiveness of marketing activities is another activity that separates the more successful practices.  

Then you can look at some of the tools that are associated with more successful businesses, such as websites. Websites that are tailored to generate leads from consumers correlate with success. We also see that practices that use web analytics consistently are more successful. 

In terms of post-fitting activities, we see that patient follow-up, patient referral programs, and patient retention programs drive business.  The point is to ensure customers return to your practice regularly so that you can maintain that relationship. Lyric is great in this regard, because patients have a subscription and return for device replacement.

So, these are some of the insights that we have found in these surveys, which we have conducted for the past 7 years.  We share these insights with the industry, and use the information in our business development program to help all practices to be more successful.  In the end, that is what we want as it helps all of us - we want every channel of distribution to be efficient and successful. 

Carolyn:  And we can’t leave the consumer out of the equation.  They certainly benefit from the programs and services you’re talking about as well.   

Maarten:  Definitely.  It is a win-win.  Lyric is an example.  Ninety-four percent of consumers who use Lyric would recommend it to a friend.  That is an amazingly high number and speaks to patient satisfaction.  Our Tinnitus Program is another example. Another example is professionals who are recommending Roger for a broader patient population outside of the traditional school setting. These are all opportunities for practices that also bring fantastic new benefits to consumers. In the long-term, these types of patient successes will translate into business success for the practice. 

One other program that fills a large consumer need is our initiative to teens.  If you look at the needs of teens, they are very different from pediatrics or adults.  They are in a phase in life where they start to challenge the traditional authorities.  Their peers become the truth.  We see use of traditional hearing solutions – hearing aids and FM – may go down. Teens do not want to be different from anyone else - they want to blend in. 

We conducted extensive market research to understand what drives and motivates teens and how we can make hearing solutions compelling to them.  What is important to them?  Their social life is very important.  For some it is activities, sports, or music. We developed a dedicated micro site,, specifically tailored to teens. On this micro site, we have used their interests to show how technology fits in and enhances their experience. 

The first hook that we used is music.  We created a video that starts with a teen wearing hearing aids and listening to music through the Roger Pen, which has brought connectivity to each and every cellphone, MP3 player and TV. Then she connects to her cellphone to call her boyfriend and arrange a date.  Then she will go in a noisy club and use her Roger Pen to have a conversation.  The site also includes a number of interactive elements, including a playlist of songs that sound great with hearing aids, a color customization tool for Sky Q and Roger Pen, and an “Ask your audiologist” tool to ensure teens get the most out of the micro site according to their individual needs and preferences. This site really speaks to teens, and we are very excited about it.

Carolyn:  What I like about the teen micro site along with the other programs we discussed is that they speak to the whole solution for treatment of hearing loss.  It is not just about the latest gadget but a total package that includes services and resources and expert guidance from a professional.  Thanks for your time in detailing these with me today.

For more information about Phonak’s solutions and business development opportunities, please visit or the Phonak Expo on AudiologyOnline.  Continuing education and training courses from Phonak can be found in the Phonak course library on AudiologyOnline.

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maarten barmentlo

Maarten Barmentlo

Group Vice President Marketing, Phonak

Maarten Barmentlo is Group Vice President Marketing, Phonak.

bryan holmes

Bryan Holmes

Managing Director, Lyric Hearing Aids

Bryan Holmes is Managing Director, Lyric Hearing Aids.

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