These days, people can’t remember the numbers to call their wives and children. They’re all programmed into their phone. But there’s one number most people over 40 will never forget — 867-5309. It was burned into their memories by the band Tommy Tutone in 1982. Since then, numerous businesses have used the number to grab consumers’ attention. One HVAC contractor even fought for the exclusive rights to those seven digits.

But do phone numbers even matter anymore? A number like 432-8669 (HEAT NOW) was extremely useful at the bottom of TV ads run in January up through the first decade of this century. Today, few people actually dial numbers, much less watch TV commercials. So how much should contractors invest in the phone numbers?

Much less than they used to, said Justin Jacobs, a marketing coach for Hudson Ink. Jacobs cites a study from the Kapersky Lab that shows people are not even bothering to remember numbers. They either have them programmed into their devices or depend on search engines. The “vanity numbers,” as Jacobs calls them, are no longer worth the effort or expense.

“Sure, it still looks cute, but now no one has to remember phone numbers at all and it can actually work against you because some phones don’t have the lettered keypad,” he said. “But all they have to do is remember the company name and they’re off to Google.”


Consumers Want Local

Still, HVAC contractors should keep their phone numbers, at least for now. Many consumers still prefer to call a business rather than conduct all communication online. It’s always better to give customers more options, Jacobs said.

One change that’s occurred in recent years is the decline in importance of toll-free numbers. These numbers traditionally came with a higher cost but were seen as valuable because they lowered a hurdle for potential customers to contact a business. Now, even though they come at a lower expense, they are worth less. That’s because modern phone plans work on a flat-fee model for billing, so long-distance costs no longer matter.

In some ways, a toll-free number acts as a negative. Some marketing experts say the greatest value of placing a phone number on the side of a van is that it provides information about an HVAC contractor’s service area. A local area code accomplishes that. Jacobs said people used to want to work with a larger company, under the idea that size meant dependability. Today, they take the opposite view, preferring smaller, local businesses.

“Many of our contractors who service multiple area codes also purchase other area-specific phone numbers and list them all on their website,” Jacobs said. “This makes it appear they have offices that are much closer to each community, even though they only have one central location.”

Multiple local numbers provide a few other benefits. One is that most people screen their calls these days via caller ID, so they are more likely to answer a local call. For the HVAC contractor, multiple local numbers help them measure the effectiveness of non-digital marketing, such as a radio ad or a billboard.

Even then, Jacobs said, people will likely reach the HVAC contractor via search rather than a direct phone call. He said a majority of digital activity is spurred by something the consumer saw offline, such as a TV ad or direct mail.

So phone numbers remain a tool for HVAC contractors when it comes to marketing. It serves as another way to create an impression in people’s memories and gives consumers a way to contact a live person. But the days of two firms fighting over a number made famous in a pop song are probably over.