Photo: Kristie Kuo Photography
First-of-its-Kind Survey Tracks Consumer Acceptance of Hearing Aid Brands, Features and Product Innovations
Internet and iPhone connectivity may be the sizzle in today’s hearing aid market, but sound quality is still the steak. That’s one of many takeaways from a groundbreaking audiologist survey conducted this fall by Hearing Tracker and UBS Evidence Lab, the research arm of global investment banking giant UBS AG.
The first-of-its-kind survey polled more than 360 audiologists on the brands and features hearing aid patients are asking for. The responses indicate that investments by major hearing aid brands in new high-performance sound processing technologies are paying off in more sales to consumers with hearing loss.
Better Sound Quality Still the Holy Grail
When asked what they considered the single-most important feature of a hearing aid, 56% of the audiologists responded with “sound quality,” followed by “reliability” (17%), “value for money” (12%), “service” (6%), “ease of use” (4%) and “ease of fit” (2%). Only 1% of respondents rated “connectivity” as the most important attribute for consumers they are fitting with hearing aids.
Major Brands Get Top Marks for Customer Satisfaction
The top hearing-aid manufacturers generally got high marks from audiologists. Among the “Big Six” (the small group of manufacturers that control more than 80% of global hearing aid markets), William Demant Holding Group’s Oticon brand earned highest marks for current customer satisfaction, sales momentum and overall popularity:
- Patient Satisfaction: A whopping 86% responded that patients were “somewhat” or “very” satisfied with Oticon hearing aids, followed by Sonova Group’s Phonak brand (82%) and GN Group’s ReSound brand (81%).
- Sales Momentum: More than half (57%) said they expect sales of Oticon hearing aids to be “somewhat” or “significantly” higher over the past three months, with Phonak (46%) and ReSound (40%) following.
- Popularity: Oticon also won the current patient popularity parade, with 61% of respondents saying the brand’s popularity was “somewhat” or “definitely going up,” followed by ReSound (54%) and Phonak (51%).
There was a strong indication that new products play a role in determining brand popularity. Among the Big Six, Oticon had the most recent “next-generation” product introduction, giving it a boost in brand momentum.
Oticon Hits a Home Run with New Opn Hearing Aids
Oticon may have benefitted especially from the emphasis audiologists placed on sound quality. When it introduced its new Opn hearing aid architecture early this year, Oticon delivered next-generation new sound processing software on an entirely new high-performance chipset. It heavily promoted its measured improvements in patients’ comprehension of speech in noise.
Video: Oticon People First
Before Opn, some observers had said Oticon needed to catch up to the competition but now, according to a number of open comments from respondents, Oticon has snuck into the lead:
“The Oticon OPN hearing aid has turned things around. People can now handle group conversations which was extremely difficult before.” – Survey respondent
The Opn launch was the latest move in a technology “leapfrog” game that the industry leaders have played since the dawn of digital hearing aids. The new Opn product came a year or more after Phonak, ReSound, Signia, Starkey and other industry leaders had introduced their own new products and technology platforms.
“The computing power in this (Opn) chip amazing, and I think it’s one step closer to potentially solving the age old issue of listening in background noise.” – Survey respondent
Because digital signal processing chips deliver higher performance and lower costs every year, the latest product often has the greatest technology. Oticon this year was able to take advantage of the most recent advances in signal processing chips. Its competitors, on the other hand, had introduced their next-generation sound-processing platforms based on prior years’ technologies.
Audiologists Stock “Big-Six” Brands
Given the high levels of satisfaction with the current generation of hearing aids, it’s no surprise that audiologists reported stocking brands from Big Six manufacturers—Sonova Group, William Demant Holdings, GN Group, Starkey Hearing Technologies, Widex, and Sivantos (formerly Siemens Hearing).
Global market share leader Sonova Group earned the top spot among audiologists, with 78% reporting they stock Sonova’s Phonak hearing aids:
Connectivity Matters, Too
While survey respondents did not make connectivity an attribute of critical importance to current hearing aid patients, they did say it was the most exciting technological improvement the industry has seen recently.
When asked “What is the most exciting recent hearing aid innovation in recent years?” more than half the open written responses mentioned “Made for iPhone hearing aids”, “Bluetooth connectivity,” “direct connection to smartphones,” “wireless technology,” and numerous other connectivity features.
It would have been interesting to see results of a similar survey two years ago when ReSound introduced the first Made-for-iPhone hearing aids. The new product made a big splash in the media. Then when ReSound’s parent company GN Store Nord reported its financial results, it said the new iPhone connectivity feature had driven the company to significant market share gains and strong profitability. It would not have been surprising if a survey done at that time ranked “connectivity” much higher as an important attribute, with ReSound benefitting from higher “brand momentum” scores.
More Survey Results Coming
This initial review of the topline results from our Hearing Tracker/UBS Survey indicates strong demand for new high-quality hearing-aid solutions based on new technologies. They indicate satisfaction among audiologists with the leading hearing aid brands, especially with recent improvements in sound processing quality.
Hearing Tracker will provide additional insights as we dive deeper into the results of our survey, and we are planning future collaborations with UBS Evidence Lab to deliver more useful information about hearing aid features and patient benefits.
The Hearing Tracker/UBS Survey was conducted in September-October, 2016. Responses were gathered from over 360 audiologists, in a variety of work settings. The survey was designed and administered by the UBS Evidence Lab, and promoted by HearingTracker.com, primarily to its professional member directory.
About UBS Evidence Lab
The UBS Evidence Lab is the largest, most experienced primary research team in sell-side research. In order to uncover new evidence that is not yet fully reflected in the market price, UBS research analysts often collaborate with the UBS Evidence Lab team on quantitative market research, digital footprint analysis, and data science and statistical modeling.
Last modified: December 6, 2016