If marketing is all about the message, which of these should a phone message at a pizzeria include?

A. A one-minute-long menu listing.
B. A rundown of every special you're running at the moment.
C. A single, quick blurb about one special.

According to Rick Stanbridge, president of Fidelity Communications, the answer is C.

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"Our attention span is less than 17 seconds long, so if you don't grab the customer right away, you've lost them," he said. "Some guys try to put too much on there, three to four specials right up front. So when the customer gets to a live order-taker, the first thing out of their mouth is, 'Could you repeat those for me?'"

Pizza operators who use phone marketing message machines say they work — if you know how to work them. The key, they say, is keeping the message brief and centered on a value offering that appeals to the greatest number of core customers.

Stanbridge said his company's research suggests that touting one bundled special in a 15- to 20-second message will get a 25 percent response.

Variety, the spice of sales

Operators know customers like variety, so it pays to suggest multiple specials throughout the week. Sound like a hassle? It was before modern phone marketing machines were capable of storing multiple messages. Now operators can easily plug-and-play messages for whatever specials they want to run, when they want to run them.

Want the machine to play a message signaling you're closed? Simply schedule it.

Don't like the sound of your voice on the machine? Phone marketing machine companies work with production companies that not only produce the messages, but download them remotely to your machine.

"On a weekly basis, we give (the production company) a schedule of what we want the answering machine messages to focus on," said Bob Rooyaker, an eight-store Little Caesar's operator in Michigan. "We don't have to do much of anything after that."

Mark Pectol, a 12-store Domino's Pizza franchisee in Oregon, said he once was in a desperate pinch and needed a message changed in a hurry.

"Some time ago, we had a tragedy, a death of an employee," Pectol began. "So we called our provider and explained our situation, and in six hours, they had a downloaded message telling the customers we were closed that day and why."

Under less trying circumstances, Pectol said he simply e-mails his message provider the information he wants mentioned in his special, and in about three days, it's downloaded to his message machine.

"You can put a dozen secondary messages in there, too, so there's never a blank time when the customer's listening to nothing," he said.

Do you have Spanish-speaking customers? Not a problem, said Stanbridge. Many marketing message companies handle those as well.

"That's just a matter of giving them a prompt to listen to the special in Spanish," he said.

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