Advantages of Toll-Free Numbers
19, 2000 — No
matter where an ad is placed — TV, radio, magazine or
billboard — a toll-free number is sure to boost response
rates. Marketers who use toll-free numbers know this, but many
marketers have no idea how much business they are missing out
on by not using the toll-free strategy.
far outweigh the costs for marketers
Oppenheimer, president of New York-based ICB Inc., a purveyor
of news, intelligence, analysis and consulting about toll-free
numbers and dot-coms, says toll-free numbers are a major asset
for business-to-consumer marketers.
800 number by itself increases responses," Oppenheimer says.
"There are people out there who don't have them and, often
times, that's because they're accustomed to the thought that
they're going to have a massive phone bill."
spent $2 million in cash to buy a business with $7
million in debt. That means they spent $9 million on a
phone number. But look at what it's done for them."
reality is that rates for toll-free services, which now
include the prefixes 888 and 877, have dropped right along
with the rates for other kinds of long distance service. Not
too long ago, a company would have paid between 20 cents and
25 cents per minute for an 800 call. Today, they pay as little
as 7 cents per minute.
Toll-free numbers may not
always make sense for business-to-business advertising,
however. Winter Haven, Fla.-based HydroEnhanced Laboratories,
for example, has a toll-free number but does not display it on
the ads it buys in magazines like Entrepreneur and Business
Start-Ups. Nor is the number included in the firm's direct
Matthew Stichter, president of
HydroEnhanced Laboratories, a domestic water management
company, says management battled over the issue when they
obtained the toll-free number earlier this year. Ultimately,
they decided to leave it out — after all, anyone truly
interested in becoming a certified dealer through its program
would be willing to make that first call with their own dime.
"It's a screening process," Stichter says, "especially
for business opportunities, when people have a tendency to
call and just kind of kick the tires. If we put a 50 cent
phone call on there, it keeps some people who are not very
serious at all from just calling and getting our material."
The marketing package sent to potential clients costs
HydroEnhanced Labs between $7 and $10. Understandably, they
want to minimize waste by avoiding sending it to people who
are not likely to make good use of it. Once a potential dealer
demonstrates interest, or when HydroEnhanced Labs and a client
are in dialogue, the toll-free number is used.
says that, while it depends on the product or service, most
business-to-business marketers can count toll-free numbers as a
cost effective option. She recommends that businesses invest in
one, and that they use it in their advertising.
Vanity numbers, the toll-free numbers that spell out a word or
words associated with a product or brand, are seen as more of a
luxury item. The ROI for having a good one, however, can be
Unless you are incredibly lucky, setting one up is not as simple
as calling the phone company and asking for the rights to
800-COOKIES or 888-WINDOWS. In fact, it takes considerably more
effort. The first option, and the one Oppenheimer suggests, is
to call the number you're interested in to find out who
subscribes to it and whether they are willing to sell it. The
second option is to go through a broker who will handle that
legwork (the searching and calling).
Buying a toll-free vanity number can cost a mint. "One of
the more publicized purchases was made by Tickets.com, which
spent $60,000 for their domain name and $1 million, plus 6
percent interest, on their 800-TICKETS [number],"
Oppenheimer says. "800-FLOWERS spent $2 million in cash to
buy a business with $7 million in debt. That means they spent $9
million on a phone number. But look at what it's done for
An additional caveat: In 1997, the Federal Communications
Commission outlawed the selling of toll-free numbers.
"Which is really stupid," Oppenheimer continues.
"It makes just about everybody in any kind of business at
all a criminal. You can't get one without buying it from
If a company can get one, they stand to reap substantial
benefits. In January 1999, Michael J. Motto Advertising &
Public Relations, in Providence, N.J., compared the impact of
numeric toll-free numbers versus toll-free vanity numbers in
radio advertising. They ran 66 radio commercials on WDHA-FM for
a Cedar Knolls, N.J.-based Nissan dealerships. Half of the ads
mentioned a numeric phone number, and the other half mentioned a
vanity number. Both were aired on an equal rotation. The
results: The vanity number received 14 times more responses than
the 800 numeric.
To gauge the pervasiveness of toll-free numbers in advertising,
consider Super Bowl XXXIV. Response Marketing Group, a
Burlington, Vt., consulting firm that specializes in toll-free
vanity numbers, conducted a study and found that 16 percent of
the commercials that ran during the NFL championship included a
toll-free number, and all were vanity numbers.
Further online reading on this topic:
Response in Television Commercials: Super Bowl XXXIV
800 Directory Resource Page
Numbers More Popular
Document on Toll Free Service Access Codes: Second Report and
Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking
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