Life is Digital Podcast Guest Bob Keefer

Using Effective Messaging to Combat Common Misperceptions in your Industry

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Elysia
: Well, hello everybody. Welcome to Life is Digital. I’m your host, Elysia Cadorniga. Get ready to learn about digital marketing as we share different knowledgeable perspectives, insights and current trends going on, best practices and actual tips to help you grow your business in the digital age. I’m really excited today because I have Dr. Robert Keefer, owner of Now Hear This Audiology and Hearing Aids with us today. Dr. Keefer has been a really good friend of mine and a client for… I don’t know, it’s been like what? Six years, I think. I’m really excited to have you on board, and we’re going to be talking a little bit more around the hearing industry, so really happy to have you on.

Bob: Very nice to be here. It’s always fun talking with you and I’m looking forward to this. 

Elysia: Yeah, we’ve been working together for quite some time now, so I feel like I’m probably just a couple of years away from being a professional audiologist. What do you think?

Bob: Maybe I am too…

Elysia:  Oh man. It’s exciting. I know you and I spend a lot of time offline talking about hearing aids and marketing, and you’d be surprised how much you can talk about just in that industry. So, I think it’s going to be really cool what we have going on today? Awesome Bob! 

Tell me a little bit about the hearing/audiology industry today? 

Bob: Sure, my name is Robert Keefer and my friends call me Bob. I think Elysia calls me Bob. I am the owner of Now Hear This Audiology and Hearing Aids in Raleigh, North Carolina. I’ve owned this business now for about 10 years, but prior to that, I had been doing a lot of consulting for other companies in the hearing industry, and even prior to that, I had been commercializing medical devices and pharmaceuticals and clinical diagnostics and other segments of the healthcare industry.

Elysia:  Yeah, how long have you been in business with Now Hear This? It’s been exactly 10 years. 10 years are you going to do something for that. Are you going to have a celebration?

Bob: That’s a good question. I haven’t given that any thought. My practice manager has some ideas along those lines, and I’m sure that you might have some ideas for that as well. That’s a good idea.

Elysia: Yeah, you guys should definitely do something. I know it’s really exciting right now because I know we’re helping you with the News and Observer best hearing clinic and we’re hoping to secure that award as well. So that’s exciting. Well, Bob before the show we were talking a little bit about the industry as a whole and I think it’d be good for the audience to hear.

What are common misperceptions around seeking proper patient care? 

Bob: Okay, well, I think that most people think of the hearing industry as those very large and very expensive full-page ads in the newspapers featuring hearing aids. I guess I said newspapers, but those same companies, they are our competitors. Yes, and they sponsor these commercials on television as well, and in fact, it is a large industry, but it extends beyond just the hearing aid manufacturers, it includes audiologists and hearing aid dealers. I understand there’s something like 20000 hearing aid dealers and audiologists spread across the United States. So that’s substantial and they are serving. What my research tells me is that there’s about 40 million people in the United States with hearing loss, and the sad part of this fact or this data, is that only about 20%, or 15% of all those people actually own and use her needs that could help them. And that tells you something about an unmet market need in the industry, and that’s what I formed now, this to address.

Elysia: Yeah, that’s really good and those numbers, that’s pretty dramatic. It almost sounds like an educational gap on the importance of it, for sure.

Bob: Yeah, I agree. And the sad part of this is that a lot of those same people, I think a lot of the populist in general, everyday citizen is not aware of recent data that’s been published by the National Institutes of Health and some really leading scientists at Johns Hopkins University that show that people with hearing loss have up to 500% higher risk of Alzheimer’s, imagine that five times the risk of Alzheimer’s, not to speak of falls with broken bones because falling is associated with hearing loss as well, and not to speak of clinical depression as well. When you can’t hear, especially elders, retreat, they socially isolate themselves, they’re tired of people making fun of their hearing aids or making fun of the fact that they can’t hear and they withdraw into the corner and people leave them alone, and their clinical depression just accelerates and many of those same people wind up in long-term care facilities, along with the same people that get Alzheimer’s as well, it’s a key health need, and it’s not being fully addressed in the United States Now Hear This is trying to do something about them.

Elysia: Yeah, that’s pretty staggering. You and I talk about this all the time because we’re constantly working on how to best communicate to your patients in the local area here about enhancing their quality of life and what that really means, but I think you’re also faced against these big box retailers and these companies out there that have really pretty much standardized hearing aids have not really allowed the education factor to really play a role, I don’t think people really know the purpose and the benefits of proper hearing care, and those feelings of isolation, those moments of life that they’re missing, these are huge, huge instances in their life that can affect their overall health and their well-being in their mental state, and I just don’t hear enough about it.

Bob: You’re exactly right, you’re referring to some of these other companies that are out there selling hearing aids, even including the audiologists that are selling hearing aids. Well, it’s an irony, the hearing aid manufacturers as well as the service providers have somehow allowed hearing aids to be considered as commodity products, when in fact their medical devices. I don’t think that the FDA does a particularly good job of establishing. They do a wonderful job of establishing the safety of the hearing aids, but they don’t address the efficacy or the outcomes of what her needs can do, and as a result, so many people just think of hearing as commodities. And it turns out the Congress falls victim to the very same thing, there is a bill winding his way through Congress right now to make over-the-counter hearing aids legal and yes, I do agree that over-the-counter hearings aids may be useful for some people, but for those people that are not satisfied with them and find out that they’re waste money, I think this is going to further contribute to this vision or what would you call Elysia. It’s a misconception. 

Elysia: Yeah, it’s interesting because there’s such a parallel, like I know I’m not in the hearing aid industry by any means, but even in the digital marketing and just the marketing industry. The same thing happens, right? Technology advances, time advances, and then you end up having these players that step into the industry that, like you said, that word commodity, they turn what you do into this product. It loses its purpose and its sentiment of what you’re doing to really provide a solution and the best solution, and it almost takes away that value, it does take away that value, and we’ve seen it, we hear when we’re talking to clients about their marketing needs and they could easily go online and buy a cheap package solution to have them chip away at their marketing and their online presence, or they can work with a dedicated team with the extensive experience to know what they should be spending their marketing budgets on and how they should be going about it and the process and the methodology, and so it’s interesting that you’re talking about this full circle because we go through that in a very similar way, but with you guys, it’s even more profound because this is people’s health. They’re missing the opportunity to really learn about true patient care and solving their hearing challenges, because they’re being told that it’s something that they can just grab off the shelf.

Bob: Yes, this is kind of a side note, but I’ve got data to support this. In America, I think I’ve already mentioned that scientists have shown that people with hearing loss have up to 500% higher risk of Alzheimer’s. Yes, I did mention that earlier. Well, considering that so few people have hearing aids when they should have them, you can only predict what an obvious thing that there’s going to be this huge increase of Alzheimer’s care costs over the next eight to ten years, it’s already 227 billion a year. Elysia, 227 billion a year and that’s going to increase. Even Medicare doesn’t cover hearing aids. Medicare is going to be paying for all of that. Alzheimer’s care, I mean, go figure.

Elysia: Right, right. Yeah, this is fascinating because there’s such a cry for the right conversation. Right, there really needs to be more conversation around it, and now I know, with Now Hear This, we’ve been working with you, but you’re obviously doing what you can to combat this and to communicate a message and to educate your patients about the value of appropriate care. While everything else, I think from the outside world is working against that.

What are you doing to combat misperceptions?

Bob:  Yes, in marketing terms, you and I would call this differentiating us from everyone else, and we must use very clear messaging, and with your help, in my long experience in this industry now, I think we’re doing a pretty good job. How you get the message out is the hard thing, we differentiate ourselves on the basis of service that we tell people in our messaging and on our website, that we use what are called the best practices of audiological care, and were careful to point out that most or actually very few of our competitors use these best practices. There’s actually two particular technologies that are considered to be part of the best practices, but just for short  purposes, we point out the fact that we use best practices of audiological care, and then we follow through in everything that we do from the way that we answer the phone when Don our practice manager answers the phone to how our audiologist treats the patients and uses the actual technologies and then shows them how these technologies made a difference in how their hearing aids were made, and then we offer a money back guarantee because we know that people come into us, they’ve got many choices out there, including Costco and all of the other national hearing need dealers, and they probably think, Oh yeah, so sure. Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard this kind of stuff. Prove it. Well, we try to prove it with a money back guarantee that they are going to be happy.

Elysia:  Yeah. I think when we look at it from a marketing perspective, I think you actually talked about this, I don’t know if you remember this, this is probably like a year and a half ago, maybe two years. You and I were talking about this triangle of three things that are the three pillars of how to differentiate yourself. Does this ring a bell to you?

Bob: I can hardly wait to hear what I said.

Elysia: I probably won’t be the best remembering it now. You provided the technology, like the best technology with the most affordable price at the best quality, or it was around… We were talking about how we can hit all those three pillars with what you guys provide, and we really must have to be in that sweet spot and position your messaging that way. I think the challenge now though is these big box retailers, they have big budgets, they’re rolling out messaging and easy access to hearing aids and technology that’s quick in and out, and they got money to spend around this core message and… It’s national, right? So now you’re talking, how do we continue to stand out in that kind of market, and I think with you, what I’ve admired so much about Now Hear This is you’ve stayed true to your technology and what you guys do to have the most cutting edge technology there and you stay true to your patient care ultimately, and then obviously, we’re not in business of being cheap, but we’re in the business of being an affordable solution.

Bob Thank you for saying that. I’m also pleased to say that you’re not the only one that believes that that we’ve served over 3000 patients, and one of our, I think our two biggest sources of other than digital marketing, are two biggest sources of referrals to or coming to the website, have to do with referrals from physicians, and you know that physicians do not refer their patients to someone they don’t trust, and our second big referral base are our patients ourselves are 3000 plus number of patients. We’ve got outstanding reviews on Google, and we do everything we can, including that task you’re involved in right now is trying to get us named as the best hearing aid and audiologist in North Carolina.

Elysia: Okay, we’ll get it. Well, win! Yeah, but you guys are doing a really good job combatting this, and I think it’s just really important for businesses out there that are kind of… This is such a parallel situation, like you’re a growing business in your industry, there’s these big players that do start to control the dialogue or that messaging or that narrative, and it’s actually… It changes over time, it changes the way your patients perceive the care, and so you guys are coming in and you’re disrupting that, and you’re making sure that you ground your patients and a better understanding of the industry and what good quality patient care looks like, and I think so many businesses out there can actually relate to this challenge across the board in many different ways, so I just find it really interesting. 

How has this misperception affected the patient’s view on hearing aids?

Bob: That is interesting, you know, while we were talking, it occurred to me one of the other misperceptions that patients have is that no, hearing aid works very well, because they’ve talked to their friends, their family, they could serve them their entire lifetime, they remember back when they were little kids and watching a grandpa or a grandma or an and or an uncle struggled with her hearing needs are always talking about having to take their hearing needs and for another adjustment, well who in the heck would ever want to buy hearing aids with that kind of a reputation. We’re always battling that as well, and I wish there was a magic bullet to change that perception, but the way we do it is by delivering the best in service, and then we as you know, we spend a lot of time on our website messaging, this exact same thing that we are not your father’s hearing aid company, right?

Elysia: Yeah, you have to know when you have to educate them? And then you’re in a competitive space, and you have to establish yourself. We talked about this a couple weeks ago, right, establishing yourself as the ultimate advisor to that industry and being able to provide them information around whether it’s Tenedos that they’re suffering with, or whether it’s key challenges like depression or onset Alzheimer’s, anything that they’re dealing with and you guys have created conversation around it, and that’s what they’re missing from these large companies. They’re missing that education and also, I think the other thing to note here with another perception is that just because you set up a hearing aid doesn’t mean it’s finally tuned to the person that’s using it. Right, and you’ve talked about that. It’s not a one-stop shop, and that’s kind of where the industries went, and you guys are basically saying, no, everyone has their own unique needs for their hearing aid, and you have to fit a solution and tune a solution that works for the patient.

Bob: Yeah, exactly, right. While we were talking, I think it’s an old marketing term, but I think what we’re always challenged to do is to establish and re-establish ourselves as thought leaders…

Elysia: That’s a good word for it. Thought leaders, for sure, yeah, absolutely. So, you clearly know what’s going on, and we’re excited to just continue pounding the pavement with that messaging with you and helping you guys grow. I think what would be cool, just as a key take away for our audiences, are there any goals or anything that you envision in the near future for Now Hear This, that you see. 

How is your company helping to make a difference?

Bob: Yeah, absolutely. There’s one big one. We know that even when it comes to healthcare people, the general population doesn’t wanna drive any further than 20 minutes for their healthcare. Now, there are exceptions, if you’ve got cancer or a heart disease, and you’ve heard that someone in Rhode Chester Minnesota or New York, New York as the latest and best treatment, you’ll spend buckets of money to travel there and a lot of time to get that kind of service, but generally speaking, all of healthcare, including hearing aids, people are seeking out a facility or a clinic within pretty easy drive of where they’re coming from, so our vision is to establish another clinic in the triangle area, and I would love it if we got two more clinics established, or maybe even three clinics established before I retire.

Elysia: That’s awesome. Well, you guys are already hopefully breaking ground soon, right

Bob: Now we’re still looking for the right site… The right site requires good parking. You have to think about most of the demographics of most of our people, they don’t want to take stairs, they don’t want to take escalators, they want easy access to get in on the first floor so it needs to be comfortable, so finding the places that have those kind of parking facilities, an access, that’s a key thing, and we’ve looked at many properties here locally, COVID has slowed this down but we’re picking up activity now and we’re starting to look at properties again.

Elysia: Well, that’s exciting. It’s fun when you can see your vision materialized like that and chip away at it. Yeah, we’re happy to continue serving you guys and helping you. I just really appreciate you, Bob, jumping on today. I think this has been a really cool topic that I think a lot of businesses can relate to.

Bob:  Well, I thank you for everything you do, preparing me for this and making it comfortable to participate. This is not one of those things I think I’m clever or keen enough to do, and as far as other people. That might learn something from this. If other people, other executives have gotten any value from this or have any ideas for me, or think I’ve got ideas for them, I’d love to of course, be able to talk to anyone and everyone.

Elysia: Absolutely, yeah, we’ll definitely share this online, and we’ll do a bit with you and Now Hear This to connect your social accounts and everything, so that people can also get in touch if they also have further questions. It’s been awesome! I really appreciate you jumping on today.

Bob:  Well, thank you so much, Elysia.

Elysia: Awesome, and I appreciate everyone else, the audience for joining this episode of Life is Digital. Again, I’m your host, Elysia Cadorniga, and please remember to rate, review, and subscribe to the show. Until next time, don’t stop marketing.

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