Few things cause me to let out a primal scream like an ad that ends with “look for us in the yellow pages.” Aaaaiiieee!!! Why in the world would anyone spend good money to grab your attention with an ad, then refer you to the competition pages?

The yellow pages may be a necessary evil. In some categories, they may even be the single most effective advertising medium. That doesn't mean I want my prospects or my customers to look for me in the yellow pages if I can help it.

“Interested in our product or service? Look for us in the yellow pages along with 30 or 40 of our closest competitors.” Aaaaiiieee!!! Sorry, it's an involuntary reaction.

Memorable Numbers
Frankly, you should do everything you possibly can to keep customers away from the yellow pages. The best way is to grab a memorable phone number so they don't even need to look it up. In Waco, Texas, Jim Stewart Realtors snagged 776-0000. I don't know how they got it, but whatever it cost them was worth the investment — 776 is a common prefix in their town. When combined with the 0000, it's certainly given them an edge. They have the most memorable phone number of any realtor. It's no coincidence that they are the largest realtor in town, far larger than any of the name brand, national companies.

Anytime you have an opportunity to seize a number with the same four last digits or a series, grab it. XXX-2222 and XXX-1234 are a great numbers, if available. 234-5678 is even better.

Alpha Numbers
What if you can't get a memorable number? What if the phone company is uncooperative? What if you market to a wide area? The answer is to use an alpha phone number, possibly as a toll free number. An alpha phone number, you say, I hate those! Sure, but do you remember them?

There are two reverse directory publishers I frequently refer people to: Cole's and R.L. Polk. I can never remember the number for Cole's, but can easily for Polk. Polk's number is 800-ASK-POLK. I heard it once and have never forgotten it.

One of my favorite hotel chains is Homewood Suites. I frequently call their toll free number to identify the location of a Homewood Suites when I'm planning a trip. The number is 800-CALL-HOME. I heard the CALL HOME number once and never forgot it.

If a Homewood Suites is not available and I'm in a hurry and feel the need to lock down a room reservation, I might call Holiday Inn (800-HOLIDAY). Holiday Inn's not my favorite hotel, but they probably get two reservations a year from me that they otherwise would miss simply because I know their phone number. I heard it once and have never forgotten it.

It took me the better part of a million miles with American Airlines before I could remember their 800 number for gold customers (i.e., their best customers) without looking it up. However, I've known Hertz' gold number for years (800-CAR-GOLD).

Where I live, there's only one plumbing company who's number I can recall. It's Drain Doctor. They repeat their number incessantly through a jingle on local radio . . . “For Drain Doctor calls, call D-R-A-I-N-D-R.” I've never used this company, yet I know their phone number by heart. I can't recall the number of a single plumbing company I have used, anywhere, ever. I know the owners of several plumbing companies in the area and can't recall a single one of their numbers.

If Drain Doctor's number sticks that well with me, and the numbers for other companies with stronger ties to me don't stick, imagine how well Drain Doctor's number sticks with a satisfied customer. If they do a good job, it's doubtful they'll ever lose a customer to a competitor in the yellow pages. That is power!

The Number Is The Strategy
The marketing success stories built around a simple phone number are legendary. Almost everyone's heard of 1-800-FLOWERS. It's a company mission statement, unique selling proposition, marketing program, and phone number all rolled into one. 1-800-FLOWERS is a lifesaver. Literally. I know it saved my life once when I was out-of-town and remembered a nearly forgotten anniversary. I was standing at a pay phone wondering, “Who do I call?” Then it struck me. Just call 1-800-FLOWERS.

John Shanahan designed the original Hooked On Phonics program to help his son learn to read. In a flash of genius, he thought of marketing it direct using the phone number, 800-ABCDEFG. The phone number wasn't available so he bought it. Simplistic, you might say. Brilliant, I say. Of course, the best, most brilliant marketing is often the simplest.

Perhaps the strongest testimony for alpha numbers is AT&T. If anyone should know what works and what doesn't work when it comes to the telephone, it's AT&T. Their toll free access number is 800-CALL-ATT.

Pitfalls
There are perils to using an alpha phone number. When I was with Decision Analyst and we couldn't get 800-2DECIDE, 800-RESEARCH, or 800-ANALYST, we settled on 800-ANALYSIS. I can remember leaving the number with an engineer who never returned my calls. This was out of character for this individual, so I asked him about it.

“Just give me the blankety-blank phone number,” he said, “I don't want to have to get out a dictionary to figure out how to call you.” Whoops.

Make the alpha number easy to remember and easy to spell, especially if you do business with the occasional linguistically challenged engineer.

Whenever you present an alpha phone number in print, it's always a good idea to have the numeric beside it. For Decision Analyst, it might read “800-ANALYSIS (800-262-5974).” You're making it easy on the customer who's looking at your number, while helping him remember it when it's not in front of him.

I've also found that some people are thrown by an eight letter alpha number. ANALYSIS is an example. It's eight letters long. The last letter, an S, doesn't do anything if dialed at the end of the string, yet I've heard from people who hesitated to dial the number because it had more than seven letters. Use an eight letter alpha number if it's the best you can get, but try for seven.

Time Savers
There are several websites that will convert words to phone numbers or vice versa. Type in your phone number and they'll give you all possible combinations. These can be real time savers. It's tedious to take a list of available numbers and come up with combinations, so do it the easy way. Visit www.phonespell.org or www.phonetic.com.

Matt Michel is president of the Service Roundtable (www.ServiceRoundtable.com), an organization dedicated to helping contractors prosper. Matt is also the publisher of Comanche Marketing, a free marketing e-zine. Subscriptions are available at www.ComancheMarketing.com. You can contact him directly at matt.michel@serviceroundtable.com. Or send your comments to Contracting Business at letters@contractingbusiness.com.