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Think Easy Number, Not Easy Phrase

Posted by: Rod Kurtz on August 11, 2008

Common marketing wisdom used to lead companies to secure vanity or custom 800 numbers to make it easier to respond. The theory was that people could remember "1-800-New-Home" and similar phrases upon encountering them in marketing promotions. Sheer ownership of such a number conveyed credibility. Promotions using vanity numbers outperformed those that did not.

But today, people who might remember a vanity phrase discover there’s no way to spell it out on their cell phones, which lack the alpha characters of traditional phones. In addition, the increase of new toll-free prefixes to four has served to decrease the value of a memorable phrase, even if one is available. The unreliability of human memory makes it likely that anything other than 1-800 will lead to a high number of misdials (was it 866 or 877?), and that is not good for business. The final strike against traditional vanity numbers is that going forward not only will they fail on cell phones, but they will also fail in the "click to dial" scenarios that are part of the unified communications capability coming to us on PCs and smartphones.

Securing an easy-to-remember number for your business is still a good idea, however, if only to facilitate the transition from Googling to dialing. The key nowadays is to think in terms of easy numbers, not easy phrases. Below is a table of easy-to-remember patterns to ask your toll-free provider for, presuming 1-800-450-XXXX is the starting point:

Pattern Examples
450-XXXX (450-1111, 450-3333)
450-450X (450-4501, 450-4505)
450-XXXY (450-2223, 450-3334)
450-XYYY (450-0111, 450-4222)
450-ABCD (450-1234, 450-4321)
450-XXYY (450-2244, 450-6633)
450-XYYX (450-7117, 450-3223)
450-XYXY (450-3232, 450-5050)

Kevin Strehlo
Senior Vice-President, Global Client Services
San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

Reader Comments

Bill Quimby

August 31, 2008 6:09 PM

These are great theories, but they're just that. The use of vanity numbers hasn't decreased in the age of cell phones. You forgot to include the theory that the internet and websites was going to kill 800 numbers. That's just about as valid as yours.

In reality vanity numbers are much easier to get than nice numeric numbers. We help people get both and actually make more for getting numeric numbers because they cost more. Numeric numbers like you're suggesting cost more because they're harder to get, not because they work better.

Vanity numbers always out perform numeric numbers for the same reason you need a domain name that relates to your business. You could probably get a name that is shorter and easier to type than the typical domain name companies register today. And the same argument could be made that it's easier, like numeric numbers.

But for phone numbers just like domain names it's more important for it to be memorable than just easy to type. The same is equally true for phone numbers. Nice numeric numbers may be easier to dial but if they don’t relate to anything in your business they won’t be remembered. I liken them to commercials that people like but they can't remember the product or service it was for.

Another interesting analogy is a used car dealer or a politician. In surveys everyone says they like quieter more professional used car ads, and they say they like positive polite political advertising. So why do car dealers use loud in your face advertising and why do politicians always revert to negative ads? One reason, because they're just more effective. So regardless of what people say they want, the car dealer who’s income depends on selling the most cars, and the politician who’s job is on the line will always do what works best regardless of what his neighbor says they like.

Bill Quimby
President of

Bill Quimby

August 31, 2008 9:55 PM

I also wrote a post about vanity numbers, bouncing off of and mentioning your article at It won't be up until Monday morning about 9:45am in case you look tonight.

Bill Quimby
President of

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