Sonova has launched a new Direct To Consumer hearing aid strategy in Australia called HelloGo. Don't ask me about the name, I have no idea. This is their second iteration on the DTC strategy and it is obvious that they learned some lessons from their original Shift Hearing offering. The new aids are Bluetooth, rechargeable Receiver In Canal devices and they can be purchased for $1599, that's Australian Dollars. They are a completely new model type for Sonova and the new doesn't stop there. They also have a new type of receiver that I have never seen before. Let's talk HelloGo
I can see two very obvious changes from the Shift strategy, the first one is that while this is Direct To Consumer (DTC), it is also obviously a blended model. The hearing aids are self-programmable through the accompanying app, but a hearing care professional can also further customise them for you in a clinic. In fact, they offer an added Pro Service Package priced at $250 for just this reason. A professional should be able to offer Real Ear Measurements on them, that would be fantastic.
Blended Makes Sense For You, and Them
The blended model makes a whole heap of sense for you as a user and for the company. For you, you get an added level of service and back-up if you need it. For the business, it means that they can push you towards their captured retail.
I have said elsewhere that it makes sense for manufacturers to drive OTC (Over The Counter) and DTC in combination with their captured retail. The way the OTC regs are shaping up in the US, all hearing aids for mild to moderate loss will pretty much fall within that category.
It makes sense to drive a blended model through captured retail to allow them to capture the customer earlier in the journey and keep them loyal as they progress. Anyway, I digress. For your $250 dollars you get:
- A one-on-one in-person consultation with a hearing care professional
- Your devices are programmed by a professional - tailored to your hearing needs.
- Other services may include* - ear exams, pure tone hearing test, personal coaching
- Additional year of warranty coverage
Now that little asterisk besides other services is worth talking about. Below, it qualifies the services statement with this "Hearing care professional services may vary by clinic. Please discuss with your local professional."
I am surmising here, but I think that is there in case any Independent hearing clinics get involved with supporting the product. At the minute, all the professional entries are Connect Hearing, which is Sonova's captured retail. While the service offering is completely controllable with Connect, it isn't with an Independent practice.
The aids themselves are interesting, they are rechargeable RICs just like the Shift hearing aids before them. But they are unlike any Sonova hearing aid I have ever seen. The HelloGo aids are similar in concept to the Styletto aids from Signia, they are long and slim with a push button on the upper back. The site states that the battery is expected to give you 16 hours of use on a full charge. The charger is a clamshell charger, not unlike the charger offered by Phonak but a little taller because of the shape of the aids.
Made For Any Phone
The aids are built on the single platform strategy that Sonova has been following for a while so they are the same flavour Bluetooth as their other offerings. Basically, the aids will pretty much connect to any device that provides Bluetooth audio streaming. They will certainly provide audio streaming for calls, music and other audio from any of the cell phones available right now. From a DTC point of view, this makes a whole lot of sense.
That New Receiver
The receiver is a fascinating design, but one that makes sense for DTC I think. The receiver is enclosed in some sort of shell with lugs. The lugs are for handling I would imagine, and enclosing the speaker in the shell probably increases longevity immensely. The speaker is better protected in there and less likely to break down from wax and moisture incursion.
What is interesting is that the microphones are also placed in that receiver housing. That is a really interesting design. Moving the microphones to the ear makes space in the aid casing. But in the case of the HelloGo, room for what? It is a design quirk, but I think it would also make replacing that receiver assembly expensive.
Usually, when replacing the receiver, you are just replacing a speaker and a wire. With this device, you are changing a speaker and a microphone, which is definitely going to cost more. There are Interchangeable ear tips, which come in three sizes, click onto the receiver and there is a bucket-sized wax guard to protect the speaker. The receiver assembly also appears to be vented so that a user's ears aren't completely blocked up.
It is hard to tell if the receivers are easily replaced, the ports near the top of the aid could be a pin to allow the swapping of the receiver, but I am not sure. There is no mention on the site of replacement receivers that I can see. So I suspect that they don't want customers replacing them themselves. Of course, that doesn't mean that a professional couldn't do it in the office. Again, from a business strategy point of view, that would make sense. It would ensure that your ongoing journey involved a professional.
The app is the heart of the system, when first opened and connected to the devices, the app takes you through a process to set your personal sound profile. Once that is done, the app allows you to change volume, programmes (pre-sets for different situations), and certain settings on the aids
There is a dedicated support function that allows the user to go through the typical support needs and again, there is the option to find a professional to help them with any deeper needs or customisation.
An Interesting DTC Offering
The HelloGo product and strategy is a very interesting DTC offering, and it is obvious that Sonova has learned from its Shift experiment. It will be interesting to see how this runs and where they will offer it next. Because believe me, the learnings with this in Aus will just put Sonova in a stronger position as the global marketplace evolves.
I suppose as a professional you would probably expect me to hate this idea, but I don't. For myself and Steve, this offering represents the way we believe the market should go. I think the fact that Sonova has such a legacy in the hearing aid business is a good thing for consumers. It means that their DTC and OTC offerings when they happen will be pretty safe devices for people who want to give them a whirl.
Of course, Sonova, and other manufacturers who haven't entered the fray yet will also be pushing a blended model. While that is good for their balance sheet, it's also a good thing for consumers. It means that you can take control of your hearing care, but have the cushion of a professional when and if you need it.
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