If you’re picking a toll-free number for your business, there are certain strategies you should consider to make it memorable. (And that’s the true benefit of customizing a toll-free number—making it memorable.) With toll-free numbers, you can customize by specifying a vanity number and/or the 800 prefix (i.e. 1-800. 1-888, 1-866, 1-855, or 1-844).
You’ve heard 1-800-BITE-ME jokes and graphic t-shirts. This is an example of a “vanity number.” A vanity number is a cleverly customized toll-free number. As a customized number, vanity numbers are often more expensive than a generic toll-free number. Yet, some businesses find value in vanity numbers because they can incorporate memorable, mnemonic devices. For example, it’s hard to forget how to order new contacts if the company’s toll-free number is 1-800-CONTACTS.
Along with the additional cost, here’s the downside of a vanity number: it’s very possible that all the memorable numbers are already taken. You can’t duplicate a telephone number. And since vanity numbers came in vogue in the mid 1980s, over the past few decades, most companies have claimed the most clever and memorable combinations.
And because we can’t duplicate toll-free numbers, the list of toll-free number prefixes continues to grow.
To create more toll-free numbers after outgrowing the 1-800 prefix, new 800 prefixes were born: 1-888, 1-877, 1-866, 1-855, and 1-844. So all of these prefixes denote a toll-free number.
Just to clarify, ALL vanity numbers, 1-800, 1-888, 1-877, 1-866, 1-855, and 1-844 numbers are toll-free. It’s not a con if a provider offers you a 1-877 number instead of 1-800 number.
The most recognized and memorable toll-free numbers are 1-800s. This means that if you purchase a 1-844 number for your business, it’s likely your customer won’t recognize it as a toll-free number. A 2011 whitepaper found that “97% of consumers recognize the 800 exchange as toll-free, but few connected with the toll-free exchanges 888, 877 and 866.” As a millennial, I can say this is true for me. For many years, I only associated free phone calls with 1-800 numbers.
So the best toll-free numbers are a 1-800 vanity numbers. The second best toll-free number is any number beginning with a 1-800 prefix. If you can’t get a 1-800 prefix, the next most memorable numbers are vanity numbers with an 800 variation (888, 877, 866, 855, 844).
There are some risks with intuitive or clever vanity numbers. If your client dials 1-877-CONTACTS instead of 1-866-CONTACTS, they’re likely calling your competitor directly. Or while 1-800-BitesMe could be an exterminator, but 1-877-BitesMe could be something very different.
Considering these risks, is the extra cash used to purchase clever toll-free numbers worth it?
Think about how you interact with phone numbers today. Do you dial them? Do you remember them? No. Most of us google a company on our smartphone, click on the hyperlinked phone number on the website, and then we’re instantly connected. You don’t even manually dial the number.
Here are some statistics Jive gathered, featured in the New York Post, that help illustrate this point about phone numbers and memory.
So while there is an argument for clever toll-free numbers, if you’re a bootstrapping SMB with a limited marketing budget, you may want to remember just how useful “memorable” numbers are in today’s information age.