Business owners and managers are facing a litany of new tools and technologies to improve business performance, generate more leads, and grow.  Often though, they are not given good direction on how to incorporate all of those tools into marketing strategies so that they work together to deliver optimal results.

Which response methods are most effective at reaching customers and getting them to respond? The top response methods include phone, web, and social media, but is one better than the rest?

We’ve found through recent consumer surveys, that advertisers will benefit by providing multiple response methods to address the needs of all of their customers – including those who prefer to make a phone call, and those that would rather complete a contact form or send a tweet.  Using multiple response tools allows for optimal lead generation by the advertising business, and therefore success in growing their business.

Here is an overview of the benefits of several response tools, and how they’ll improve campaign performance:

1. Phone Numbers: The original direct response method and one that is still very much alive today. That said, there are many different types of phone numbers now available. And not all of these phone number types perform well in advertising.  A vanity 800 number is the strongest tool in terms of being remembered by customers, thereby generating more leads.

In June 2011, an independent survey of over one thousand consumers tested recall of vanity 800 numbers, numeric toll-free numbers, and URLs in advertising.  The study data shows that consumers have a 75.4 percent average higher recall for a vanity number over a numeric phone number.  Vanity 800 numbers, like numeric toll-free numbers, provide businesses with critical call data via call tracking systems, but vanity 800 numbers are better at building strong credibility and brand image for a business.  Think of the companies you know of that use a vanity 800 number, 1-800-GOT-JUNK®, 1-800-FLOWERS®, 1-800-CONTACTS®.  These successful businesses have built impressive reputations all around their vanity 800 numbers.

It is, however, common to see businesses advertising a numeric toll-free phone number.  This may be because they could not obtain a vanity toll-free number.  Either way, a ten-digit numeric toll-free number can be effective at tracking leads, but it is not as easily remembered by customers, nor as effective as a vanity 800 number at generating leads.

For businesses that do not spend a lot of money on advertising – typically smaller businesses – using a local phone number on marketing materials can be effective.  In rural areas, where competition is less, a local business using a local phone number may resonate with their local customers.  For larger businesses, or those in more competitive markets, it is not always the best response tool.  Today, when a business lists their local phone number, they most often have to include the area code as well, making it a full ten-digit phone number, which is nearly impossible for people to recall when they need to.  In fact, the research shows that when presented with two options, a ten-digit local phone number or a vanity 800 toll-free phone number, 57 percent of respondents stated that they would prefer to dial the vanity 800 number over the local phone number, citing reasons such as “because the vanity number is easier to remember” and “is more professional looking..”

2. Websites:  It is undeniable – a company’s website is becoming increasingly important as a resource for their customers, but it is still not always the preferred, or most easily remembered, method of contact for those customers.  Infosurv, Inc. research shows that consumers have a 57.6 percent average higher recall for a vanity 800 number than a URL after being exposed to both response tools in advertising.  This information proves that it is important for businesses to realize that although driving traffic to a website may be a goal of an advertising campaign, it is critical to continue to provide another avenue for their customers to contact them.  A recent study conducted by American Express Co. finds that 90 percent of respondents said they still want their inquiries handled by live representatives over the telephone.  And, a BIA/Kelsey & Constat Local Commerce Monitor Wave study found that 65 percent of businesses rate phone calls as their highest quality lead source.

3. Social Media:  Sites like Twitter and Facebook are growing their user base every week.  As with a website, this is not necessarily always the best way for customers to interact with a company.  Sure, following a company’s promotions and special events can be done effectively on these social media sites (and it’s fun, let’s admit it!), but they are not as user-friendly when it comes to resolving a customer issue as a live conversation is.

Most businesses agree, building relationships is half the battle. That’s why having a customer on the phone is more valuable than a contact form.

So, while there are many response options to provide to your customers, choosing the right mix that makes your business the first to be recalled may be the best business strategy.  Consumer preferences of having live interactions with companies, as well as their higher recall of a vanity 800 number, demonstrates that it is prudent for businesses to include a phone number – and preferably a vanity 800 number – in their advertising campaigns.  Doing so ensures customer satisfaction, higher customer recall, as well as improved lead generation and quality.

You’ll rise above your competitors when it comes to consumer recall, they’ll appreciate that you’re offering them a toll-free call, and they’ll receive the personal touch that they prefer, while your business captures higher quality leads.