hearing aids

© Paul Broadrick - GN Hearing

What market magic does GN Hearing adjure with its Jabra Enhance Plus "as and when" hearing device? CEO Gitte Aabo keeps the spell enigmatic despite the curiosity of Audio Infos UK.

GN Hearing’s announcement of JABRA ENHANCE PLUS, a hearing aid styled as a lifestyle earbud device, but with self-fitting capability as a hearing aid, will only be available through HCPs. Some of the mist around this needs to be lifted. Who better to ask to do so than the multinational group’s CEO and President Gitte Aabo.

Lifestyle factor

Set against cool London and Copenhagen cityscapes, the product video for the global announcement of Jabra Enhance Plus makes it clear that this is a pitch to the denizens of a space infused with today’s tech-equipped zeitgeist and where-it's-at credibility.

“We always strive to find venues that have an international look to demonstrate our products, so they appeal to different cultures and markets,” says GN Hearing CEO and President Gitte Aabo about the urban backdrop image for the Enhance Plus marketing. But it is clear today that lifestyle is just as important as it ever was, and going with it in marketing is probably more effective than ever.

© Paul Broadrick - GN Hearing    Jabra Enhance Plus was launched with imagery immersed in urban cool.

Lifestyle is defeating stigma, and in terms of audiological solutions, among which Enhance Plus was introduced as an “as and when” device, this means a technologically potent hearing aid in the shape of a trendy earbud. And another major clue to the pitch behind its beyond-cool mystique is that GN has released it under the name of the audio company it purchased in the year 2000, Jabra, whose Senior Vice President of Marketing, Calum MacDougall led the video announcement this August, stressing the uncompromising nature of a true wireless, hearing-enhancing product unique on the market for its combination of consumer, enterprise, and medical grade.

The lure to beginning a hearing treatment journey

This isn’t the first hearing aid to come out in the stigma-busting earbud form factor, but neither is it being sold essentially as a hearing aid, and flying it under the Jabra flag is a decoy that can help those noticing some hearing loss to stay in denial by believing they are buying a top-of-the-range device with connectivity for music listening. The user can easily believe that no one will think they are wearing the device because of a hearing problem.

This “new and innovative alternative to current offerings on the market” could, as GN CEO Gitte Aabo points out, lead from “lifestyle usage” to a visit to an HCP. “We hope the product will grab the attention of consumers and drive traffic to clinics,” says Aabo.

Something for those who delay in seeking a solution

In addition to the “as and when” epithet, Jabra executive MacDougall also carefully inserted the term “an on your own terms solution” into the launch patter. The idea, of course, is that there are many millions of people with diagnosed mild-to-moderate hearing loss who delay in looking for a solution, and then many millions who begin to recognise a slight deficiency but who are still some five or six years from seeking help for it.

© PW AWN    Jabra Senior Vice President of Marketing, Calum MacDougall stressing the combined nature of Enhance Plus as consumer, enterprise, and medical grade device.

Curious, though, is the announcement that Jabra Enhance Plus is fully equipped for self-fitting, although in the US at least the Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA) needs to respond to GN’s application for the device to fall under self-fitting regulations. Despite this capacity, GN announced that the product will only be available through qualified hearing care professionals.

Cool, petite, and desirable, Jabra Enhance Plus teasingly provides the hearing market with questions, many of which will be apparent to close observers, some of which will hopefully be less mysterious thanks to the following questions and answers:

Interview - Gitte Aabo, CEO and President GN Hearing

© Ehrhorn Hummerston - GN Hearing       Gitte Aabo CEO GN Hearing

Audio Infos (AI): In its marketing pitch with Jabra Enhance Plus looks like GN is being clever here and moving for a space that big tech companies—Apple, for one—have long been edging towards: high quality, voguish lifestyle device for connectivity and music, but with hearing enhancement for the teeterers. This gap-bridging aspect of the announcement is interesting: a bit of a sugared pill for the user, but a Trojan horse to take up good position in the changing hearing aid market?

Gitte Aabo (GA): Jabra Enhance Plus is for people who are not yet ready for a traditional hearing aid. The hearing industry is struggling to encourage people living with mild-to-moderate hearing loss to take the first step on their hearing journey and this is the gap Jabra Enhance Plus is helping to bridge. As Jabra Enhance Plus is intended for situational use, we hope people yet to find a solution for their hearing challenges will see the product as proportional to their level of hearing loss and therefore be more likely to take action. Whilst the hearing aid market, like all markets, is changing, traditional hearing aids will always have their place when users need more counselling or higher levels of amplification. The ambition with Jabra Enhance Plus is simply to introduce a new and innovative alternative to current offerings on the market.

AI: This is obviously a hearing aid, but it is riding on a Jabra horse, in other words the name of a GN-owned audio equipment brand with a good consumer track record. Calum MacDougall himself emphasised the surge in people seeking digital solutions, and the millions with mild to moderate hearing loss who take so long to seek a solution. So is it the trusted Jabra name that is the lure, or the fact that a bona fide hearing technology company has put all its knowledge into Enhance Plus?

GA: The combination of GNs best-in-class hearing innovation and Jabra’s consumer electronics expertise makes Jabra Enhance Plus the perfect product for people looking to take the first step on their hearing loss journey. Through several rounds of testing with consumers, we have found that a lifestyle offering targeting a younger demographic fits the Jabra brand perfectly.

AI: And does GN feel - or have any evidence to conclude - that a good percentage of users would rather take that step towards help for hearing loss through a reputable hearing aid company than through a tech giant that wants to take over everything?

GA: Only one in five people treat their hearing loss, meaning a huge number of people are currently neglecting their hearing health. Some feel that there isn’t a solution that fits their individual needs or lifestyle. Jabra Enhance provides these people with a new option to get the help they need by enabling situational and lifestyle usage, such as streaming music and calls. Jabra Enhance Plus is designed and developed to combine the best of great earbud functionality with high-quality amplification (i.e., hearing aid technology), which GN are uniquely placed to deliver due to the pooled expertise across the Hearing and Audio sides of the business.

© GN Hearing - A pair of water and dust resistant Jabra Enhance Plus devices in their charging case.

AI: GN has Jabra. Sonova now has Sennheiser. Demant had Sennheiser for many years, until recently. What do these acquisitions and partnerships bring to hearing healthcare groups? And how important is it really to the user that there is an audio or headset outfit linked to a device such as Enhance Plus? Or put another way: why is it not GN or Resound Enhance Plus?

GA: Through several rounds of testing with consumers, we have found that a lifestyle offering like Jabra Enhance Plus, that targets a younger demographic, fits perfectly with the Jabra brand. It is a known consumer brand that millions know and trust.

AI: GN is applying for FDA approval for this product to fall under self-fitting regulations, yet the announcement made it clear that Enhance Plus will only be available through HCPs. Will delivery always be through the HCP, even if the product gets the regulation green light? And should professionals be looking at this as a clear sign that GN is betting on their involvement in hearing aid delivery long beyond fully green-lit OTC times, or could this be seen as a token last gesture of respect before the hearing aid becomes part of the earbud for all mild and moderate hearing loss cases?

GA: We are monitoring the developments in the market closely (regulatory, competition, etc.), and we are actively assessing how best to launch our new product. Since we still do not know what the FDA is preparing with the OTC category, we have not yet taken a stand on OTC. However, regardless of regulation, the purpose of Jabra Enhance Plus is to provide more choice for the millions of people struggling either with mild-to-moderate hearing loss who have not yet taken action. We await to see the actual regulation before being able to comment further.

AI: Although delivery is through the HCP, does GN plan to upscale its marketing direct to the user? If so, what’s the strategy, and what are the words?

GA: As we launch Jabra Enhance Plus via hearing care professionals, we hope the product will grab the attention of consumers and drive traffic to clinics. The product also provides a new option for those people that have considered traditional hearing aids, before deciding they are not quite right for them. In this situation, earbud style hearing aids for situational use are a good alternative and a stepping stone between untreated hearing loss and traditional devices. Unfortunately, we are not currently able to share information on next steps.

AI: It was mentioned in the announcement that Jabra Enhance Plus will be launched to be a “new standard”. Can you tell us what that means exactly, and how the group aims to make the product be accepted as a new standard?

GA: We are creating a new standard in hearing care with these miniaturised earbuds with hearing enhancement. Although hearables have been around for a while, Jabra Enhance Plus combines advanced hearing enhancement technology with the highly valued consumer benefits of true wireless earbuds, which far outperforms the current offering in this segment. Not only is Jabra Enhance Plus 50% smaller than our smallest earbuds, Jabra Enhance Elite 75t, but the solution also delivers advanced hearing enhancement and connectivity. This truly is a ground-breaking innovation.

Source: Audio infos UK #144 September-October