Starkey Hearing Innovations Expo 2014: Ideas, innovation and inspiration

Starkey Hearing Technologies returned to Las Vegas for the 2nd Hearing Innovations Expo from 15th to 19th January. The American manufacturer was joined by 3,400 audiologists from across the world for three days of talks based on the theme “Tomorrow starts today.”

The first Expo in 2012 at The Cosmopolitan hotel in Las Vegas was about inspiring new thinking, and pushing the boundaries. It proved such a success for Starkey that they returned two years later in January 2014 to “Inspire you to take action,” said Brandon Sawalich, Senior Vice President at Starkey, “The overall purpose, whether 2012 or 2014 or beyond, is to bring together a group of likeminded people that are here for the greater good of better hearing.”

Brandon Sawalich took to the stage following the first of many videos that highlighted the work that the Starkey Hearing Foundation is doing around the world to fit hundreds of thousands of hearing impaired adults and children. “Tomorrow starts today,” he declared and so started three days devoted to “ideas, innovation and inspiration.” There was inspiration from many guest speakers; President Bill Clinton, President George W. Bush, hugely successful business entrepreneurs such as Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina and Guy Kawasaki and authors and renowned experts in their fields like Simon Sinek, Dan Ariely, Bill Rancic and Tanya Reiman.

The innovation came from Starkey. The spark talks - innovative ideas in action - are 15 minute presentations designed to give an insight to new technologies or concepts. The first set of spark talks for ‘Research and Hearing Science Day’, were provided by Dr Tom Burns, Dr Brent Edwards, Jerry Ruzicka, President of Starkey, and Chris Howes who gave the 3,400 audiologists a brief introduction to the new technology coming from Starkey in 2014.

Wearable Technology

Dr Tom Burns introduced SurfLink 1.5 to the audience. This software and firmware upgrade will significantly reduce background noise, has double the dynamic range of previous products and allows hearing aid users to talk on the phone with anyone, anytime, anywhere using ‘JustTalk’ technology. JustTalk, with an “own voice vibration sensor”, captures earmould vibrations and cuts out the background noise. Even CIC wearers will benefit from this. Fortune magazine said in November, “Done right, a tiny earpiece that can help you hear better and communicate wirelessly with an iPhone - taking phone calls, for example - could be a cool product.” “This is the product that Fortune magazine was looking for!” said Tom Burns.

Vice President of Research Dr Brent Edwards spoke about ‘imergence’ and design research. Imergence is about improving a technology so it can be merged with other technologies. All the talk is about wearable technology and Dr Edwards reminded delegates that the hearing aid, not Google Glass, was the first accepted wearable technology in society. Other trends in the design world are for augmented, diminished and mediated reality. Once again, this already exists in hearing aid technology. Some people have been concerned that an app on an iPhone could replace hearing aids but “hearing aids have developed way beyond iPhones,” Edwards pointed out. “It is the integration of the two that will provide outstanding results.”

When is a secret no longer a secret? When you tell 3,400 people!

The highlight for many during the morning session was Starkey’s ‘Made for iPhone’ (MFi) hearing instrument Halo. Whilst no photographs were allowed during the session and Jerry Ruzicka asked the 3,400 people in the audience to keep it a secret, images of the product and the iPhone app were shown. Starkey President Jerry Ruzicka and Chris Howes, Senior Software Product Manager made the audience ooh and aah when they showed how the product would work. Ruzicka called the Halo hearing aid “The science of simplicity." Chris Howes also hypothesised about future applications, “It’s about making connections. Anything you can dream of is a possibility for us,” Howes concluded.

The Twitter spike of the morning came during Donald Trump’s speech. Trump became a friend of the Starkey Hearing Foundation through the work of Marlee Matlin. The actress raised $1 million on the American Apprentice TV programme, donating it all to the Hearing Foundation, “That’s how I heard of Starkey and it is my honour to be here,” Trump said. The entrepreneur has gone from extreme success to huge failure and back again. At one point in the nineties, Trump owed $900 million, “Today my company is bigger and stronger.” Taking questions from the audience via Twitter, Trump said he didn’t define success by money, but by happiness, “Some of the wealthiest people I know are miserable,” he said.

Creating the impossible

The afternoon consisted of 13 different classes that focused on research and hearing science. Attendees could go to three of these sessions on a rotation basis. One of these sessions was “Limitless Wireless Connectivity: What Can You Expect in 2014?” Senior Director of Education and Training Sara Burdak and Kyle Acker, Manager of Education and Training, looked at wireless hearing aid technologies, the three different wireless protocols that are used in the hearing industry and detailed the many Starkey wireless products currently available for patients, including SurfLink Mobile. Whilst wireless products now account for 68% of hearing instruments sold in the US, only 50% of these people know what wireless is and only 10% have accessories to use with the wireless function. The industry needs to work on the complexity of accessories and the barriers that exist. Burdak talked about some of the new wireless technologies in the Starkey product pipeline, including an extreme power product in all custom styles, including a CIC. There will also be new additions to the BTE range, which will see the smallest wireless BTE offering 80/138 (ANSI).

Another of the elective sessions was a series of spark talks looking at innovative ideas in action. Dr John Dzarnoski (on the picture above with Kaluri, Valentine and Fitz) talked about the impossible happening. He gave the example of transistors that started life as carbon systems, eventually becoming 3 inches in size in 1952 to 2012 when more than 44 million transistors are in the next generation hearing aid chip. Starkey are working on the connections of the future in 2020 where technologies will adapt and heal themselves like human biology. Dzarnoski said, “If you think we are crazy, wait until tomorrow. We are creating technology that we thought was impossible.” Dr Sridhar Kaluri looked at the psychoacoustics of listening in noise. The key to overcoming this is to understand the interference in the brain. What is one person’s noise is another person’s desired sound. “We will have technology in the future to read people’s minds to see what they are intending to listen to, what the focus of their attention will be.” Scientists in Boston are already working on this ability.

With one million years of healthy life lost each year to noise in Europe, scientists are working on noise management tools that will really help. Kelly Fitz, Principle Research Engineer spoke a new system being researched in Ohio which is showing huge improvements in intelligibility to the extent that hearing impaired subjects were performing better in noise than normal hearing people.

The day ended with a keynote address from Guy Kawasaki. Kawasaki was the brains behind the marketing at Apple; he is now a bestselling author and business advisor. He spoke about the “Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions”, offering 10 tips to enchant customers.

Change… or sell your business

Day 2 at the Starkey Hearing Innovations Expo was about patient engagement and Randy Schoenborn (above picture), owner of New Sound Hearing Aid Centers, spoke about serving the next generation. Schoenborn is a long-term business owner; his business started with 3 shops and has now grown to more than 50 hearing centres. Things have changed dramatically since Schoenborn first started in business, but the battle between the commoditisation of hearing aids and better hearing still continues. “We can frame the distribution channels of the future,” Schoenborn believes. He said business owners need to change, “If you are not prepared to change for the next generation then you should sell your business!” He offered delegates five points to consider to ensure their business thrives.

Build trust and credibility

Carol Olsen, Director of Consumer and Digital Marketing discussed “New consumers, new opportunities”, which included an overview of the different stages in the journey that patients’ go through and how marketing can be used to help them through the stages. Olsen assessed the different generational considerations for the Seniors, Boomers, Gen X and the Millennials and which traditional marketing tools and social media platforms should be used to influence each generation. Tanya Reiman, an expert in body language, author and regular TV contributor spoke about “Patient Body Language”. To put a more personal touch to this, Reiman videoed an audiologist with her patients. Reiman then analysed these video clips, offering practical critique and praise where it was due. The point of this was to help hearing care professionals gain the trust of their patients and build their credibility. Reiman reminded people, “Words convey information; body language conveys emotions.”

Predictably Irrational Theory

Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Economics and bestselling author, Dan Ariely, closed the morning session with a funny, thoughtful and hearing care practice-changing presentation. “If people are irrational in predictable ways, we can help them,” said Ariely. “You need to help people think about the problem in the right way and by helping them do this we can help them make the best decision.” Hundreds of behavioural studies have formed the basis for Ariely’s theories. It is about ‘choice architecture’. If decisions are complex, the consumer will do nothing! So when talking patients through hearing aid options, don’t make the decision complex as the default is to not buy. If you offer less choice, more people will buy. Phil Lyons, Vice President of International Sales, put Ariely’s theory into practice with an American hearing care professional, the results they achieved were impressive.

Predictably Irrational in a Hearing Care Practice

Gyl Kasewurm has spent 30 years in practice, always looking for new ways to drive business. Kasewurm has tried every conceivable marketing tool to try to achieve the results she attained with the predictably irrational theory. During the test period, Kasewurm increased her ASP by 20% and converted more people (her ASP hadn’t changed in 19 years prior to this experiment). She cut down her options, had a dominant pricing policy and went from selling a small percentage of premium products to predominantly top-end. In addition to the increase in ASP and revenue, Kasewurm saw her patient referrals increase, her returns for credit drop below 2% and her patient satisfaction rise significantly. To look at the predictably irrational theory in a completely different market from the US, Phil Lyons persuaded some businesses in Japan to see what results they could achieve. The Japanese market is very much a commoditybased market with hearing aids sold in electronics shops as well as through hearing aid dispensers. Using the three principles of predictably irrational -customer select pricing, the anchor and the power of FREE - ASPs in the test shops increased by 30%. Shops that were selling 5% premium prior to the experiment ended up selling 63% premium by using the predictably irrational principles.

President Bill Clinton

Day two finished with a speech from a famous hearing aid wearer. A video of President Bill Clinton on a Starkey Hearing Foundation mission showed the former president fitting hearing instruments with Bill Austin. President Clinton said, “That video clip you saw understates what the Starkey Foundation is doing. Thanks to customers, like me, these trips are possible.” The former President cited Starkey Hearing Foundation’s partnership with the Global Clinton Initiative as an example made possible by a network of collaboration. Clinton challenged Bill Austin(above picture)to provide 100,000 hearing aids a year across the world to those in need; he had previously been delivering 50,000 per year. Mr. Austin answered the call and gave away 165,000 in 2013. “Personal empowerment and being part of a network of cooperation make the biggest difference to society,” Clinton said. In a speech covering a multitude of topics from spending $3 billion sequencing the human genome to personal security issues and from obesity to the fact that humans are the greatest co-operators, Clinton said his “mission in life is to find out how we can do things faster, better and cheaper.” President Clinton concluded, “It is a great thing to be in the business that you are in, fitting hearing aids to people like me!” At this point Clinton removed his Starkey hearing aid from his left ear and received the biggest roar of approval from the audience!

It’s about changing people’s lives

The final day of the Hearing Innovation Expo focused on business and the best practices for entrepreneurial success. Dr Dave Fabry welcomed to the stage bestselling author and speaker Simon Sinek who talked about “Why leaders eat last”. Sinek spoke about the chemicals that make us who we are. Endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and cortisol are the basic chemicals that drive human behaviour. It is the right environment that makes remarkable people; serotonin and oxytocin are released when we are recognised by our people, when we are valued by our companies. Serotonin is the leadership chemical. Great leaders and organisations inspire their employees and serotonin and oxytocin are generated. Cortisol is the stress chemical, “Our jobs are literally killing us,” Sinek said. “It is the responsibility of the leader of the company, not to grow the business. You need to look after the people and they will grow the business.”

Carly Fiorina went from being a secretary in a small business to being the first woman to lead a Fortune 20 company, serving as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer for Hewlett-Packard for six years. She was also named Fortune magazine’s most powerful woman in business for six consecutive years. She spoke a lot about managing change and leadership, “Change is like heaven; everyone wants to go there but no one wants to die!” She encouraged delegates to “choose to lead as there is nothing more rewarding.”

The morning session ended with Starkey HearingTechnologies CEO and founder of the Starkey Hearing Foundation, Bill Austin. He asked the audience if they were ready for tomorrow. Austin said, “We’re together in the business of changing people’s lives through the art of better hearing. We have to work hard to achieve that potential. Somebody has to do something. Share something together that allows us to be more than we can be alone.”

He added, “We sell better hearing, not hearing aids. I don’t think about budgets, I think about how to help people hear better.” He concluded, “We are at the brink of the greatest opportunity I have ever known.” Austin’s speech ended with a quick look at what’s to come with a new global movement, Operation Change, which will be on television soon!

The final event of the Hearing Innovations Expo was the General Assembly Keynote Address from President George W Bush. An informal interview conducted by Dave Fabry showed President George W. Bush to be very different from expectations and provided a surprising end to the expo. Subjects covered ranged from his parents and daughters, leadership and dealing with a crisis like 9/11, to what he is doing now with his charitable work in Africa. Bush recently joined the Starkey Hearing Foundation on a mission to Tanzania and was hands-on fitting some hearing aids with Bill Austin.

Social Media Impact Lounge

Tweets, hashtags and Facebook messages from audiology conferences have been slowly increasing over the past few years. At the Starkey Hearing Innovation Expo they reached a new level. Nearly 10,000 tweets were sent during the event from established and new accounts. 200 new Twitter accounts were started in the special area dedicated to online marketing – the Social Media Impact Lounge. As well as helping audiologists to open new Facebook and Twitter accounts, the team were answering attendees’ questions about how to make the most of these new marketing tools for their independent businesses. There were display screens showing live tweets during the Expo and some fun charts showing the tweets per speaker, top tweeters, newbies and most retweets. Twitter was put to good use during the presentations with delegates asked to tweet their questions to many speakers.

The Twitter stats from the expo

  • Total Tweets during Expo: 9,920
  • Total Tweeters: 795
  • Total Retweets: 4,448
  • Total Twitter Photos: 2,889
  • Total Instagram Photos: 178

Victoria Adshead, editor in chief of Audio infos UK


Photos: Starkey, V.A.