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How Toll-free Numbers Work


Vanity Toll-free Numbers
Callers often retain vanity numbers that spell out company information better than numbers.
Callers often retain vanity numbers that spell out company information better than numbers.
© Photographer: Stuart Miles | Agency: Dreamstime

Much of the "sizzle" of toll-free numbers comes from getting a good vanity toll-free number. A vanity number can be a powerful marketing and branding tool. Some of the more well-known and effective vanity numbers are 1-800-FLOWERS, 1-800-GO-FED-EX, and 1-800-MICROSOFT. The mnemonic word spelled out can be seven or more digits, as these examples show.

A good vanity number can make a big difference for a business. A 2007 study by the RespOrg 800response showed an 84 percent improvement in recall rates over numeric phone numbers from billboard and TV advertisements. In addition, 72 percent of survey participants were also able to remember a vanity number in a 30-second radio ad as compared to 5 percent when the toll-free number was numerical [source: "Consumer Recall Rates of Phone Numbers in Advertising," January, 2008].

Because of vanity numbers' popularity, many customers are disappointed to find out that their number has already been taken. That's where the work begins.

Quimby says that customers tend to initially want what he calls a "generic" vanity number -- a number that is a literal description of the business at hand, such as 1-800-PLASTER or 1-888-MASSAGE. He says people need to be creative to find an appropriate available toll-free number.

"People usually think of a generic name for their business," he said. "If it's popcorn, it's 1-800-POPCORN. If it's mortgages, it's 1-800-MORTGAGE. In reality, you don't need to just tell people you're in the mortgage business; you need to explain why you're the best mortgage broker. Vanity numbers like 1-800-FASTCLOSER or 1-800-QUICKLOAN are better than the generics, because they have the benefit built in."

What does the future hold for toll-free numbers? With the omnipresence of cell phones and flat-rate long-distance plans, it might seem that toll-free numbers are becoming outdated.

These innovations in telecommunications have been around for a long time, and toll-free numbers have not gone away. Much more than simply a way to reverse charges, toll-free numbers can be powerful branding tools for small and large businesses.

For more information on toll-free numbers and related topics, check out the links on the next page.