TypewriterFrom The Urbach Letter April 2003

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Question MarkVanity Numbers

Reader's Question: Should I get one of those alpha phone numbers for my beauty salon? Something like 1-800-CUT-HAIR?

My Answer: I've never been a big fan of "Vanity" numbers. Yes, I know they have their place, particularly in radio advertising. But, I believe their value is overrated. Sure, there are successful businesses built on vanity numbers like 1-800-FLOWERS, 1-800-LAWYERS, etc., but these are few and far between. They're also all alpha. I could never understand the logic of 1-800-587-HAIR. You're still asking someone to memorize a (albeit smaller) random number -- so what's the point?

Also, some studies have shown that full alpha 800 vanity numbers actually *reduce* response rates! How could this be? They claim it's because people think they'll remember the number and thus put off calling until "later" (and in marketing, later often means never). So, the only situations I can recommend use of vanity numbers are:

  1. Direct response radio ads. And even this is questionable. There is a big difference between a "GOOD" number and a Vanity number. A good number (like 777-1234 or 800-333-1010) is easier to remember at least for a few moments after hearing than a totally random or "unstructured" number, and will increase response.

  2. On your building signage. But only with sufficiently high drive-by numbers to warrant the expense, and only if you want people to call instead of come in.

  3. Signage on a vehicle.

I personally find vanity numbers irritating. I hate translating them into numerics to dial. And it's downright dangerous to attempt this while driving.

By the way, the general public still universally recognizes only an 800 number as toll-free. Even after five years of common use, the triple-eight numbers get poorer advertising response than equivalent 800's, while 877 and 866 numbers are still virtually unknown as toll-free. Unfortunately, few good full-alpha 800 numbers are still available and you may be forced to use an 888, 877, or 866. If so, it's important to include the exact phrase: "Call toll-free" in your advertising.

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