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Duracell Listens to Its Customers

Product Ventures, Ltd.
55 Walls Drive
Fairfield, CT 06430

Berkshire Corporate Park
Bethel, CT, 06801

Installing the batteryd

"You don't even have to think about whether it's right side up or upside down - there's only one way to do it".
Hearing aid user

Hearing Aids Get Better;
Batteries Get Smaller

"As hearing aids have gotten smaller, so have the batteries..."The number one issue is the batteries", says one hearing aid specialist. She adds that some users wear their hearing aids as little as possible to avoid the ordeal of battery changing or relying on someone else for help.

Hearing aids are better than ever. New advances include improved chip technology, which allows professional tuning to provide the specific sound and voice levels lost from hearing ability, plus filter out irritating ambient sound. New technology also allows specialists to better define individual needs in hearing correction.

The social stigma attached to wearing a hearing aid has been greatly reduced by the development of less detectable, digital models, some fitting entirely within the ear canal. However, these newer hearing aids require battery changes as often as every week. Arthritis and poor eyesight, compounded with smaller zinc-air batteries, make this weekly chore an ordeal for some users:

"Oops, I've got it upside down."

"...can't get the silly box open..."

"...and my eyesight isn't as great as it should be, either."

"I feel like an ass."

Hearing aid batteries have historically been sold in a "blister" card package with a dial type dispenser. The package requires the user to remove a single tiny button battery from the package and drop it into place inside the hearing aid. Sometimes, more than one battery drops from the package. "If you drop it over a thick carpet, you're sunk," says one user.

Market and Technology Shifts

In 2001, it was estimated that the U.S. market for hearing aid batteries is expected to grow six to eight percent in volume over the next five years (Gillette, 2001). Longer lifespans, higher levels of environmental noise, and increasingly powerful audio systems contribute to increasing incidence of hearing loss among the U.S. population. As hearing aid technology has improved, hearing aids have gotten smaller, and the stigma of using one has decreased. At the same time, these new smaller devices require more frequent battery replacement, some once per week.

As many as 28 million Americans have diminished hearing. Some 67 percent of these are over the age of 45, and 55 percent age 65-plus. Although hearing aids could benefit 95 percent of them, for a variety of reasons, only about 20 to 25 percent actually use them. Thirty percent of hearing loss in mature adults is caused by presbycusis, a condition in the aging process.

Sensorineural damage (nerve deafness) and loud noise over long periods of time are the other major causes of diminished hearing. In many persons, hearing loss is not a reduction in all hearing, but a reduced ability at certain ranges; for example, being able to hear a bass drum or a man's voice, while straining to hear a trumpet, a child's voice, or a song sung by a soprano (Hansen, 2001).

Company and Industry Overview

Part of the Boston-based Gillette Company, Duracell is the world's leading manufacturer and marketer of high-performance alkaline batteries. Duracell also sells primary lithium and zinc air batteries, as well as rechargeable nickel-metal hydride batteries.

The Gillette Company is the world leader in male grooming, a category that includes blades, razors and shaving preparations. Gillette also holds the number one position worldwide in selected female grooming products, such as wet shaving products and hair epilation devices. In addition, the Company is the world leader in manual and power toothbrushes.

More than 90 percent of the zinc air battery market is used for hearing aids (Frost & Sullivan, 2001). First introduced for hearing aids in the 1980's, zinc air batteries have become the battery of choice as the power demands of modern hearing aids have increased. Zinc air batteries have superior shelf life and higher energy density (more power in a smaller package) than the alternatives. However, zinc air batteries use oxygen from the air for their chemical reaction.

To prevent exposure to oxygen before use, zinc air batteries are packaged with a small tab that adheres to the battery to create a seal. The tab must be removed to "activate" the battery before insertion. Removing this tiny tab is difficult for seniors with manual dexterity problems.

The EASYTAB Solution

To reduce fumbling with these powerful but tiny batteries and the tab, Duracell turned to consultant designers Product Ventures, Ltd. According to Javier Verdura, Vice President for Design and Development at Product Ventures, "We took an essential component that was negative and turned it into a positive, improving both the function and the usability of the battery."

Duracell saw an opportunity to introduce an innovative package system unique in the market to ease hearing aid battery replacement for consumers. "Duracell was seeking differentiation from competitors who offered "circular-dial" packaging, which made hearing aid batteries difficult to retrieve, load and activate, "says Peter B. Clarke, president and founder of Product Ventures Ltd.

Development of this new package required management commitment to the risks inherent in any new product introduction, including the costs and difficulties of reinventing manufacturing and assembly processes. Duracell and Product Ventures turned to one-on-one interviews and usability testing with senior hearing aid users to guide the development of this entirely new approach.

Peter Clarke explains how user input was gathered and integrated into design development: "We conducted product use focus groups that illustrated the many shortfalls of existing packaging; and we determined that Duracell needed a new delivery system -- not just a new package. We recommended a custom designed tab to be used as a "tool" to easily remove the battery from newly developed packaging, which is rectangular and hinged for easy opening and closing. Inside the package, the batteries are secured in a single row with tabs facing outward for easy removal and discreet carrying. The tabs and packaging are color-coded, enabling consumers to easily identify their battery size."

The EASYTAB is grasped between the consumer's thumb and forefinger and used as a "tool" to remove the battery from its packaging to insert into even the smallest hearing aid. In addition, the long, brightly colored tab is clearly visible, even to people with limited vision, and even when the battery is dropped. Once the battery is placed in the hearing aid, the tab is removed, along with the seal, to activate the battery.

EasyTab packaged

Market Response and Awards

With the development of DURACELL's EASYTAB hearing aid batteries, Duracell took a bold step forward in design and marketing of a product targeted to seniors. Management made the decision to redesign the product based on demographic trends pointing to increased demand for hearing aids and batteries by older persons.

DURACELL EASYTAB was introduced to retail outlets in October 2001, after the Company announced the product to the media in April 2001. Post-use focus groups confirmed that consumers were elated with the new EASYTAB feature. User-testers of the new package responded with, "Voila", and "Oh, that was easy." In the first month of sales, DURACELL EASYTAB inventory was completely sold out.

Competitors Energizer and Rayovac have responded by developing their own designs for a more user-friendly package. In 2001, EASYTAB received Chicago Atheneum's Good Design Award, as well as a Universal Design Award from the American Society on Aging.


Frost & Sullivan (2001). New Zinc Air Battery Technology Sheds Light on Mature Market".

Hansen, L. (2001). New Advances in Hearing Aids, Batteries Enable Better Living. Senior Times. Flash Publishers.

The Gillette Company (2001). Duracell Launches its Most Powerful Hearing Aid Battery Ever with Breakthrough Customer Benefits.

The Wall Street Corporate Reporter (1998).

June, 2002
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