Information about Toll Free
Your phone number is your
front door for new business and a good personalized number gives you an
attractive and easy to find door that helps bring in more business! You've
heard the adage, "Location, Location, Location!" Well, if you do business
over the phone, your phone number is your location and a good number will
increase your response and sales for the life of your business.
What is a
Toll Free Number?
toll-free numbers work?
Why are Toll
Free Numbers so popular?
toll free numbers for small businesses
History of Toll Free Numbers
about toll free numbers
Why have we
run out of "800" Numbers?
What is a
Why use a
vanity numbers obtained and what do they cost?
numbers really improve your results in advertising?
or easier to dial numbers
Numbers vs. Toll Free Numbers
difference between Direct Response and Spontaneous Recall
How do you
calculate the value of a Vanity Number?
of toll free vanity numbers
What is a Toll Free
This probably seems a
little basic, but a toll free number is a telephone number that can be
called at no cost to the caller, because the recipient pays for the cost
of the call. Also referred to as ?00?numbers after the original area
code, although toll free numbers today can start with the area codes, 800,
888, 877, and 866. The area codes 855, 844, 833, and 822 have also been
reserved for toll free activation in the future if and when
How do toll-free numbers
A toll free number just forwards to or
or redirects to a regular local number. No special equipment or additional
line or installation is required. When a call is placed to a toll free
number, the Local Exchange Company (LEC) queries the SMS800 Database to
determine the inter-exchange carrier (long distance company) responsible
for carrying the call. The inter-exchange carrier then picks up the call,
applies the appropriate features or routing, creates a call record for
billing, and routes the call to the terminating number, trunk ID or
circuit ID to which the toll free number is programmed to ring to. This
entire process takes milliseconds and is virtually transparent to the
Why are Toll
Free Numbers so popular?
Consumers like them
because they're free to call. Advertisers like them because customers are
more likely to call. Companies also like them because they are portable
and they create a more national presence and they have additional
capabilities in terms of reporting and routing that local numbers don't
have. Another major reason for their popularity is that they have dropped
so dramatically in price and ease of use. When they were first introduced
they were expensive and hard to get. But now they are so cheap and simple
to set up that even the smallest part time business or residential user,
almost can't afford not to use one.
toll free numbers for small
Portability - One of the most
important benefits of toll free numbers for small businesses is the
ability to change the ring to number, called portability. If you move your
business or your needs change, it's easy to change the ring to number,
usually by just calling your carrier at no cost. To bad you can't move
your whole business around that easy...
Larger company image - Toll
free numbers create a larger more significant corporate image, even for
the smallest home based business.
Expanded marketing reach - A local
number is ok if you only market locally (see Local Vanity Numbers). But if
you want to market outside your local area, a toll free number is
practically a necessity for business in the US.
Scalability - Another
benefit for smaller start up businesses is that you basically just pay for
the usage or calls to your toll free number. This means that a new or
small business with little usage will pay very little for their service
and their bills will only increase as their usage and business increases.
Too bad all of your business expenses don't work like that!
of Toll Free Numbers
were developed in the late 60s by AT&T as a convenient way for
businesses to pay the tolls for their customers who contacted them.
(Remember when everyone thought long distance was so expensive?) As the
service became more popular, toll free subscribers began finding new and
innovative uses for the service. As usages and popularity began to grow
companies began to realize that consumers preferred to do business with
companies with 800 numbers.
By 1984, when the Bell System was
dismantled by the Justice Department, there were over 3 million 800
numbers in service by AT&T, and new long distance carriers were
clamoring to provide 800 service. These carriers were assigned blocks of
800 numbers with common NXX (prefixes), so the phone numbers available
depended on the carrier you spoke to and if you left your carrier, you
would have to change your 800 number. The numbers weren't portable.
One of the steps in creating a more competitive toll free market,
was to implement the current SMS/800 system which allowed true portability
of 800 numbers so you could change phone companies without having to
change your number. This gave toll free number subscribers much more
ownership rights and made the popularity and value of good 800 numbers sky
rocket, so much so that within 18 months of the introduction of number
portability, very few of the 7 million 800 numbers were left for new
Then after rationing 800 numbers, the
telecommunications industry chose 888 as the next toll free area code,
introducing another 8 million new numbers to the toll free pool (less a
couple hundred 888 numbers that were held out of the pool at the request
of the 800 owner). 888 numbers have been in use now for several years and
are fairly well accepted and understood by a large part of the country as
equivalent to 800 numbers. But as 888 numbers began to dwindle, 877 and
later 866 area codes were introduced as well. 855, 844, 833 and 822 are
also reserved for toll free use as they are required.
Some facts about toll
90% of Americans say
they use toll free numbers.
More than one-third of Americans estimate
that they make 60 or more toll free calls per year.
new toll free 888 numbers for business and personal uses averaged above
238,000 requests per month, since introduction of the 888 code on March 1,
1996. That's in excess of 2,800,000 new 888 numbers per year. This led to
the creation of 877 numbers.
calling generates an estimated $157 billion in annual sales of goods and
services in 1997.
experts say that 84% of current Internet users rely on electronic media to
search for product or service information in order to make a purchase.
Being able to locate the 800 number on the Internet greatly improves the
success rate of any Internet ad or Web site.
The average phone order
from a catalog can be 30% to 70% higher than the average mail order.
buyers generally use credit cards, they will order more merchandise and
higher ticket items 95% of the time.
ad featuring an 800 number can generate approximately 30% more orders.
In a study,
paper ads that were almost identical were displayed and monitored. One
group had an 800 toll-free number and the others didn't. The toll-free
number ads received six times the number of calls as did the regular
long-distance listings. It also seems that this will hold true regardless
of the socioeconomic level of the caller.
If you want to decrease
returns by as much as 50%, use an 800/888 number on product literature.
This encourages customers to call in and resolve difficulties with a
organizations have increased their response approximately 25% by adding
that 800/888 number in commercials, print ads or direct mail pieces which
previously used only addresses. That抯 the difference between 800, 888,
877 and 866
800 numbers are the original area code and have been so
wide spread and accepted that "800 numbers" is basically a generic term
for toll free numbers. And 800, or 1-800 is more than just a toll free
area code but it's a brand name. That's the real difference between 800
and 888 at this point.
were introduced in 1996 after several months of rationing. 888 is
intrinsically a good and memorable number and has some uniqueness since
there is no 777 or 999 area code. There has also been a fair amount of
use, particularly with companies that couldn't get a good 800 number
because of the way they were issued. So although the biggest companies
still tend to use 800, 888s are extremely popular and recognized as toll
877 was introduced in 1998, and 866 numbers were later added
in 1999. They function exactly the same as 800 and 888 numbers, but they
will never catch up to 888 for two reasons. First of all, 877 and 866 look
like any other new area code and have no intrinsic numerical significance
or memorability. Secondly, they don抰 have the same amount of public use.
Both 877 and 866 had only a fraction of the promotion that 888's did at
their introduction and they simply haven抰 had the volume of public use
that 888 had, even at the same stage in it抯 life. Additional area codes
such as 866 have also added to the confusion.
Before 888 numbers
were introduced, 800 numbers were rationed for several months. There was
also a lot of pent up demand for vanity numbers that weren抰 available in
800. All of these factors helped 888 numbers but were not true of 877 or
866 numbers. And in fact, many of the reasons for wanting a vanity number
in the first place, prestige, credibility, memorability, and it抯
recognition as toll free are reasons against 877 and 866.
877 have their place, but that's generally only for personal non-business
uses because they get fewer wrong numbers. If the calls are revenue
generating and you are spending money in advertising to generate the
calls, 866 or 877 numbers will cost you money. Just as it is harder to
build a brand name around a .cc domain name. They may technically function
the same as .com, but they don't generate the same results in marketing.
800 is the .com. It's the default prefix. The one that the big
money and fortune 500 companies have used and will continue to use. 888 is
the equivalent of .net. It has some uniqueness and is somewhat memorable.
It's seen and understood by most as an alternative. The main difference
between .com and .net is the brand name, and the same is true for 800 and
888. You'll still lose some calls to the 800 version, especially for
applications which involve spontaneous recall or require the caller to
dial from memory but at least it gives you an alternative. That doesn't
mean though, that if you can't get the first 800 you wanted, that your
second choice should automatically be the 888 version of this number.
If you're a small start up and you're not spending a lot of money
in your advertising, you have to be realistic and may have to make do. It
would be silly to insist that someone in Florida or Georgia needs a
powerful snow blower if they hardly ever get much snow. But if you lived
in Buffalo or Vermont, and you were getting a lot of snow (meaning you're
doing a lot of advertising) it would be stupid not to get a good snow
blower. If you're doing serious advertising, you need a serious "800"
number that will help increase the response rates to all your
have we run out of "800" Numbers?
popularity and value are obvious and have made 800 numbers an absolute
necessity in business. That combined with the limited availability caused
a run on them in 1995 when they were rationed until 888 numbers were
released. Additional toll free area codes 877 and 866 have also been
released since then because of the continued demand for toll free numbers.
So the "800" area code has essentially been used up a couple times over.
Add to that the fact that some adult phone services have become proficient
at sucking up every 800 number the instant they are returned to the pool
in order to make money from the wrong numbers.
have literally hundreds of thousands of 800 numbers, and in order to avoid
being accused of hoarding and brokering, they basically never sell or
release any numbers for anyone at any price. Finally, many phone companies
don't follow the guidelines and quietly tuck any real "800" numbers and
keep them for themselves or their biggest customers. All of these things
make it virtually impossible to get real "800" numbers from any phone
company any more.
What is a Vanity Number?
Our telephone keypad has letters as well as numbers. And
although most of us refer mostly to the numbers when dialing, vanity phone
numbers are 憂umbers?whose letter equivalent also happen to spell
something. They are not treated any differently by the phone company, or
in the way they work, but this mnemonic spelling helps to make a phone
number more memorable or easier to recall and in many cases also helps to
describe or identify its use.
A good vanity number can have a
tremendous impact on your business and can literally be worth millions of
dollars to your business. And the best part is that a powerful vanity
number doesn抰 cost any more than a standard one, which isn抰 much. (See
Finding your own vanity number)
Why use a Vanity Number?
are much more memorable and attract more attention, two huge benefits of
advertising. This increased memorability or recognition is extremely
valuable in marketing. They increase the effectiveness of nearly all forms
of advertising and can be invaluable in terms of branding. Toll Free
numbers are often used as vanity numbers because of their portability, and
their nationwide appeal to the consumer. A good toll free vanity number
will provide several great benefits to any business:
桝ttracts more attention
credibility and prestige
梇our phone number becomes part of your
桹ver the phone sales increase
桟reates a larger, more
customer focused image
桾akes less time/space in your advertising
and/or allows you to repeat your message more often
How are vanity numbers obtained and what do they
The standard way to find a vanity number is to
submit a request to a Resporg (the technical term for phone companies with
access to the national SMS800 database). You talk to and submit your
request to a phone company rep, who sends that request internally to their
Resporg Department who checks and returns the results to the rep who gets
back to the end customer. If one carrier cannot provide a certain vanity
number, other carriers won't be able to either.
This is often a
long and difficult process given the lack of availability and explains the
phone company's desire to push customers to 866 or 877 alternatives. Our
Vanity Number Lookup searches the same national SMS database and therefore
has equally limited availability but speeds up greatly the process of
checking and searching and makes it infinitely easier to check for and
come up with a good toll free number. (see the LOOKUP section for more
information on our unique Vanity Number Lookup)
Vanity Number Assumption?
Many of your
customers may already assume that your company has a toll-free number and
guess or assume that it matches your name. My number 1-800 MARKETER also
translates to 1-800 MARKET DAY. I consistently get calls from customers
looking for this company, guessing this was their number. Another company
recently found that only 2% of their customers knew their correct number,
while another 4% guessed that it was 1-800 followed by the company name.
This is especially true for companies who's competitors use vanity
One company was surprised to find that one of their
automated payment numbers had a huge number of hang ups and found that it
spelled a national satellite companies name and that it was getting over
2,500 calls per month. How many lost sales do you think that would that
The same concept holds true for good category vanity
numbers. Consumers in the market for a particular product or service will
often guess or assume that a marketer of that product or service can be
reached by calling 1-800 plus the product/service name. 1-800 CONTACTS is
a great example of this. In the November 29th 2000 issue of USA Today,
Jonathan Coon, CEO of 1-800 CONTACTS stated that they automatically
received 2000 new calls per month when they obtained and activated 1-800
CONTACTS which in turn generated $38,000 in additional sales. Before being
obtained by Jonathan Coon's company, 1-800 266-8228 was not published and
when called, went unanswered.
Consumers wanting to purchase
contact lens were guessing that a company that sells contact lenses would
answer the number! This is what makes category numbers so valuable and at
the same time, so difficult and expensive to obtain.
What should the
Marketer's name, product, industry, slogan, benefit,
feature or claim, clever word or phrase.
Do vanity numbers really
improve your results in advertising?
Can I use more than 7 digits?
Phone numbers have 7
digits, so you obviously can抰 do less than 7 digits. 7 digits may be the
ideal number of digits, but there is certainly no limit to only seven
digits. In the past, before the public understood that 1-800 MATTRESS was
a phone number. It may have been helpful for them to say, leave off the
last S for savings at one time but that抯 no longer a concern since
everyone realizes what a vanity number is. The only exception is that if
callers dial 8 digits on their cell phone it may not go through. And if
you have a Z near the end of your name or a part of your name that抯
difficult to spell it may be a good idea to push that off the end of the
vanity number. But in general, there is absolutely no reason to limit
yourself to only seven digits. Some clients try to do that, but end up
overly limiting their options. My number 1-800 MARKETER is 8, but nobody
ever has any problem.
Memorable or easier to dial
It comes down to whether it is more important to
make your phone number easier to remember or easier to dial. Easy to dial
numbers certainly have their place and some value, especially when the
numbers can have some special significance. But memorability is almost
always more important and more valuable than ease of dialing. Many people
often refer to a numeric number such as 1-800 221-2121 as being easy to
remember because it seems like it would be. But you have to ask yourself
one simple question. How many numeric numbers can you remember off the top
of your head, including what they're used for. Most people are lucky if
they can remember one and that's usually only one that they call
repeatedly. Numeric numbers really are NOT more memorable. Numeric numbers
are also much more interchangeable. That could be a good thing if you have
a call center, but it also means that any nice number is as good as any
other, and depending on your definition of a nice number there are
literally 10s of thousands of possible numbers. And since they are also
visible or recognizable to the phone companies, they are more difficult to
get. Numeric numbers may be alright in some applications but they are
clearly no where near as valuable in marketing as good vanity
Local Numbers vs. Toll Free Numbers
Local numbers such as 201-EXTRA CHEESE or 201-TAKE OUT
can be used as vanity numbers as well. They are particularly appropriate
for some businesses which want to maintain a real local feel, and for
which the toll free equivalents are completely unavailable. Toll free
numbers however, have several advantages over local numbers for most
businesses. They are portable and can move with you if you relocate and
can save you from the expense of area code splits. Nearly all exchanges
are active and available from anywhere, unlike local numbers which only
give you a limited selection of exchanges for each area. Toll Free numbers
have a good customer oriented image since they are toll free and 1-800 is
really more than an area code. It抯 a powerful brand name.
isn抰 to say that local numbers don抰 have their place. Local numbers will
be an increasingly attractive alternative as the price of long distance
calls continues to decline toward a fixed monthly rate for unlimited
calls. So, although 1-800 will be a powerful brand name for a long time,
essentially the need for toll free numbers drops as the price of calls
decreases. Local numbers are also extremely well suited for information
intensive or content rich services and businesses that are intrinsically
What makes a Mega-Number?
There are a
lot of valuable vanity numbers, but some numbers and businesses seem to
rise above the crowd to become true 憁ega?numbers like 1-800 FLOWERS or
1-800 COLLECT. These numbers don抰 just make successful businesses, but
they change an entire industry. It takes more than just a real prime
vanity number to do this. It obviously takes a successful and powerful
business behind the number and it takes a lot of powerful advertising to
build a national brand name. But it also takes a large consumer market
with what I call "Spontaneous Recall." (see below) Most 800 numbers are
used in direct response and nearly all vanity numbers are valuable, but
with the combination of these things, you have the raw potential to create
a true industry leader.
The difference between Direct Response and Spontaneous
Direct response is designed to illicit an immediate
or direct response from an advertisement, where as Spontaneous Recall is
designed to get the consumer to spontaneously respond or recall the
company when the need arises. Most commercials with 800 numbers are direct
response, so they want you to be able to remember the phone number long
enough to call it. But did you ever see a commercial for 1-800 COLLECT and
say to yourself, "Hey, I could really use a collect call." Of course not.
But now when you need to make a collect call, you can抰 help but think of
1-800 COLLECT. That抯 Spontaneous Recall. It takes a lot of time and
effort to get to that point, but that creates the multi-million dollar
industry leading "Mega Number."
One quick tip, if you are looking for the owner of a
number because of any type of fraud, go to Consumer Sentinel (http://www.consumer.gov/sentinel/) to file complaints that go to clearing
house for all US government agencies.
How does the Internet relate to
and effect Vanity phone numbers?
The internet isn抰 going to
replace the telephone any more than the TV replaced the radio or the fax
machine replace the mail. They are both important doorways to new business
and customers for nearly every business and when combined properly they
create an extremely powerful marketing package.
The consumer value
of a vanity domain name is multiplied with the corresponding 800 number
and vice versa. Could Price line have started without both the telephone
number or the domain name? Ultimately even Internet businesses need a good
toll free number and toll free vanity businesses need a domain name. So,
good toll free numbers will be in demand and valuable business assets for
some time to come. (see Future of Toll Free Vanity Numbers
How do you calculate the value of a Vanity Number?
The simplest way to calculate the value of a vanity
number to your business is to multiply the percentage of increased
response by the amount of advertising you do. The more you are
advertising, the more valuable your vanity number becomes. However, that
doesn抰 take into account the value a vanity number may have to a small
business in credibility and prestige or the value of the name as a
There are also two other ways to calculate the value of a
vanity number for transaction purposes. One would be the cost of giving up
a number, which includes the cost of reprinting materials, notifying
customers, etc. The other way, would be the market value approach, citing
This is not easy to do since most transactions
are confidential and not public. One other important item about
transactions is that in most cases getting a good alternative number is
important to minimize the cost of the giving up the number to the seller.
This is especially true of larger companies and in some cases it is
possible to get them to trade up to a better number for them while getting
them to release the number that you want.
The future of toll free vanity numbers
One very powerful trend that will definitely effect toll
free numbers is the decreasing costs of long distance. It's basically a
foregone conclusion that long distance calls will be virtually free in the
near future. They will be a fixed monthly rate like your internet service
(and may be included with your internet service) for free unlimited long
distance calls. That isn't going to happen in the next century but I
believe it will happen around the middle of the next decades.
The consumer's reluctance to make long distance calls is
already dropping dramatically and will continue to drop until it totally
disappears. That won't immediately eliminate the need for toll free
numbers, since good 1-800 numbers will always be a powerful brand name,
but all I can say is that they may open up 866 or even 855 but I don't
think they'll get to 822 before free long distance calling hits and
eliminates the need for most toll free. Things are changing faster and
faster, but that creates bigger and bigger opportunities for those able to
see them and be in the right place at the right time.
You may look
at the successful vanity number businesses and figure that the best
numbers and businesses have already been done. Well I have good news for
you. The biggest vanity number businesses haven抰 even been built yet (but
I抦 working on correcting that). This is an exciting time for an
entrepreneur. Be creative, and there is more huge potential than anyone
realizes in this area.
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