Let Your Digits Do the Talking: What Does Your Phone Number Spell?

Vanity numbers are used by big companies and individual entrepreneurs.

ByABC News
November 7, 2011, 4:06 PM

Nov. 7, 2011— -- For some, the 10-digit code others use to call them isn't just a phone number -- it carries a personal or practical significance.

Businesses often use vanity phone numbers, or numbers that spell a keyword to advertise their services. But some are choosy about their personal numbers as well because they find emotional or spiritual value in them.

The latter was the case for Jeremy Grodberg, founder of PhoneSpell.org, a website that converts phone numbers to see what words they spell. Grodberg started the site in 1995 because he was moving apartments and wanted a tool to help him find a meaningful phone number.

Grodberg's old number spelled the word "clarity."

This was fitting, because "that's kind of what I was trying to do in my personal and professional life; I was trying to bring clarity to people whether in business or in spirituality," Grodberg said.

Now, callers can reach him at a number that's a little bit less serious but every bit as catchy: One of his current phone numbers spells the name of a Himalayan mammal.

Grodberg stumbled upon the number when he registered for new digits using Google Talk, and it was too good to pass up.

When Grodberg started PhoneSpell.org, landlines were more commonly used than cell phones, and mnemonic devices were useful for remembering personal phone numbers. Now, vanity numbers are primarily used by businesses or individuals interested in personal branding, Grodberg said.

A number of companies specialize in securing vanity numbers for business owners who want a recognizable phone number to attract customers' attention.

Zoove, a 6-month old company, secures and then leases vanity numbers to clients across the country. Most of Zoove's clients are large companies that advertise on television, said Jim Stanley, head of marketing.

William Arruda, a personal branding specialist and co-author of "Career Distinction: Stand Out By Building Your Brand," said that most of his clients are increasingly interested in Web-based branding and marketing. For clients with common names, finding and registering a vanity website in their own names is increasingly difficult.

Vanity numbers are ideal for businesses targeting large groups of television viewers or radio listeners because potential consumers can remember the number even when they aren't in a position to write it down, Grodberg said.

Unfortunately for those seeking something a little bit more along the lines of Grodberg's customized digits, personal vanity numbers are usually quite difficult to secure.

Each phone company has its own policy on handing out customized phone numbers, Grodberg said. Some companies allow choosy customers to pick from a list of several dozen numbers, while others are less flexible.

T-Mobile, for instance, does not allow customers to choose vanity numbers, according to a company spokesperson.

Alternately, businesses and individuals can pay for a customized 800 number.

To Arruda, vanity numbers may have a limited impact in the digital age.

"You only really think about a phone number the first time you use it, and after that you have it stored in your phone," he said.

Yet regardless of the medium, personal branding will soon be key for securing businesses and jobs, Arruda said.

"I think that as the world changes, each of us is our own little mini brand," he said. "We all are free agents, and the need for having people be able to easily find us is critical in all aspects of our lives."