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Does Your Business Need a Vanity Phone Number?

If you’ve read Why Your Business Needs a Toll-Free Phone Number (or if you just happen to be exceptionally intelligent, handsome, and available) you already know why you definitely need a regular toll-free number.

But now, the next question is do you need a Vanity number?

In a perfect world where everything is free this question would have been redundant. The simple answer would have been a resounding ‘of course!’ But since down here on earth things are not quite as peachy, Vanity numbers (like most other things) come at a price, and we must find out what advantages, if any, a Vanity number has over plain vanilla toll-free numbers to determine if any of them apply in your case.

What’s the difference?

Vanity numbers are technically exactly the same as regular toll-free numbers: a three digit prefix, followed by seven additional digits. The difference only becomes apparent when you consider the letters assigned to each number on your alpha-numeric keypad. Unlike the plain vanilla variety, where the seven digits have been randomly snapped together, your moca-frappoccino-mango-latte-with-a-twirl vanity number has been carefully selected to spell out a message— like ‘WHY COOK’, ‘FLOWERS’, or ‘WE PAINT’.

This message serves two purposes:

Establish Your Brand

In a fun and whimsical way, the words create an associative thought that reflects both the nature of your business AND your corporate identity. For instance, 'WHY COOK’ suggests ‘Hey, why bother cooking when you can hire us to cook for you!’ This evidently indicates a catering business, but it also suggests a fun and friendly personality behind the counter. Talk about hitting two birds with one tone!

Reduce Units of Information, Ease Perception

Everything has limits. This includes human perception. We can only process so many distinct units of information at a time before they’re simply registered as ‘many’—that’s just our brain’s method of compression (just like a computer)

To bring this lofty philosophical discussion down to our earthly problem, by switching the perceived objects from numbers to letters (or words) we’ve essentially reduced the amount of data your prospects have to process from seven units (the digits in a phone number) to a single word or a phrase.

See the benefits yet?

1+1=2, or Making Memorization a Snap

While vanity numbers share in all the benefits of toll-free numbers, the switch from random figures to coherent words adds the further advantages of eased perception and associative thinking. The combined effect makes memorization a snap.

Who needs them?

So now that we know why and where vanity numbers have a leg over the plain vanilla variety—the question remains: do YOU need to go out on a limb and get one?

We can work our way backwards by asking where memorization might play a crucial part.

Advertising on the Run

If your advertising efforts mostly target people when they’re on the run (radio ads, billboards, car bumpers, etc), time is of the essence. Your prospective clients might only hear or glimpse your ad for a few seconds, so you want to make memorization as quick and as easy as can be.

This is different from a newspaper or a website, where the number is right there in front of their eyes and isn’t going anywhere.

Primarily Relying on the Phone for Sales

Perhaps more generally, if you’re offering a service that relies heavily on the phone more than on any other source of traffic (website, etc), a vanity number might be a worthwhile investment. This is usually the case with trades and other local services (as opposed to internet based firms, for instance, who may be found online through search engines or ads).

Who might do without them?

Reversing the above, if you mainly advertise via traditional channels such as newspaper ads, classifieds, yellow pages, etc, chances are any interested prospects will be able to make a note of your phone number or simply tear out the relevant page (not that we encourage this, unless you own the paper kids), so memorization is not as crucial.

Likewise, if you own a web-based business with an online shopping cart you could probably do without one, as your customers likely use your website more than your phone.

That said, just because it’s not crucial doesn’t mean it can’t be helpful, so you may still want to get one just the same.

Where do I get one?

Vanity numbers can usually be ordered directly from your virtual PBX provider, or from a third party like and ported over. If you own one already, it can be ported over as well. Most providers will even set you up with a temporary toll-free just to get you going until you actually get the vanity number you have ordered.

A word of caution: read the merchant’s policy before ordering a vanity number to make sure that it’ll actually be yours to own, not only to rent for as long as you’re subscribed to their service. Things can change down the road, and you don't want to be 'married' to a provider simply because all of your advertisements and contacts are tied to their number.


While vanity numbers can be a great asset in some cases, their edge might be a bit duller in others. Ultimately, a onetime fee of $50 (give or take) is not so prohibitive for a number that's yours for life, so you may choose to get one just to be on the safe side.

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posted by Maty Grosman @ 8:29 AM