The number 1-800-TAXHELP may look good on a business card, but the concept of vanity telephone numbers has serious drawbacks for professional services firms, according to one consultant.Writing in The Urbach Letter e-newsletter, consultant Victor Urbach said that vanity numbers "have their place, particularly in radio advertising. But I believe their value is overrated." He adds that some studies have shown that full-alpha[betical] 800 vanity numbers actually reduce response rates. "They claim it's because people think they'll remember the number, and thus put off calling until later," he says. "In marketing, later often means never."

Urbach recommends using vanity numbers only in cases of direct response radio ads and signage, and notes that, "There's a big difference between a 'good' number and a vanity number. A good number, such as 777-1234 or 800-333-1010, is easier to remember, at least for a few moments after hearing, than a totally random or unstructured number, and will increase response."

He also adds that the public still universally recognizes only an 800 number as toll-free. "Even after five years of use, the triple-eight numbers get poorer advertising response than equivalent 800s, while 877 and 866 numbers are still virtually unknown as toll-free. Few good full-alpha 800 numbers are still available, so you may be forced to use an 888, 877 or 866. If so, it's important to include the exact phrase 'Call toll-free' in your advertising," he says.

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