Getting 1-900′s number

Five months after the crtc gave the go-ahead for the 1-900 user-pay telephone line, observers say the key to unlocking its marketing potential lies in better awareness among advertisers and consumers as to what it has to offer.The provider of 900...

Five months after the crtc gave the go-ahead for the 1-900 user-pay telephone line, observers say the key to unlocking its marketing potential lies in better awareness among advertisers and consumers as to what it has to offer.

The provider of 900 services such as product information, contests, loyalty programs, popularity votes and the like decides how much each call costs the consumer.

Callers are usually charged by the minute.

The phone companies get 35 cents a minute for each call, plus 10% of the total cost of each call.

Callers have 18 seconds to hang up before charging begins.

Permission

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, the federal regulator, gave permission for 900 service Feb. 25.

The 900 service should not be confused with the 976 line.

The latter is usually used as a chat line or for phone sex and works in a local calling area only.

The 900 line operates on a national basis.

Peter Lockhard, partner at 2PM Group in Toronto, a telecommunications service bureau, says there are many keys to success for 900 service providers but principal among them is consumer and corporate education.

‘Perceived understanding’

Lockhard says there is a ‘perceived understanding’ of 900 service, but not a lot of knowledge, either public or corporate.

Charlie Bartlett, team leader at Toronto-based Phoneworks, a service bureau similar to 2PM Group, believes the 900 industry is set for a breakthrough, but says its potential needs to be better sold.

Bartlett thinks the tougher selling job will be that of convincing potential service providers, such as advertisers, that the concept is valid.

Consumers, he says, are more accepting of the 900 service than the corporate sector believes.

Bartlett says what corporations must do with the 900 service is make sure it provides callers with a strong reason to spend money on a phone call.

Bartlett gives a number of examples of companies making use of the 900 service for a variety of purposes.

He says New Brunswick used a 900 service earlier this year to allocate the limited number of moose hunting licences issued in the province.

Also, Bartlett says, The Toronto Sun has used a 900 service for reader contests.

Football teams

One features Canadian Football League teams. Entrants have to make sense of a 3-D graphic in the paper, decide what the players in it are doing, then phone their answer to the Sun.

The Sun charges $2 a call, plus gst and provincial sales tax.

At press-time, the Sun had not returned Strategy’s call about the 900 service.

The Canadian Country Music Association has also used the 900 service, allowing fans to vote for their favorite country artist of the year.

Another 900 service is MedQuest, which provides medical and health information.

Health line

This service provides callers with more than 145 pre-recorded messages about ill health, their symptoms, remedies and more.

MedQuest, in Orillia, Ont. and Toronto’s Maclean Hunter have just launched the service.

In Saskatchewan, SaskTel offers two 900 services.

One service is a horticultural line provided by the University of Saskatchewan and the second service is run by Saskatoon daily newspaper, The Star-Phoenix.

Ken Giles, a professor in the University of Saskatchewan’s department of horticultural science, says his 900 service began in May and costs $3 a call.

Giles says calls are answered live by senior students in the department.

He says when the department offered the horticultural line free to callers, there were about 2,000 calls a month.

‘Marked opposition’

However, budgetary restraints meant the free service was replaced by a 900 line, Giles says ‘there’s a marked opposition to paying for anything.’

He says calls to the 900 horticultural line now number 500 or so a month.

As for the packaged goods sector, it is understood a number of companies are quietly exploring the 900 service.

Bartlett says he is working with companies looking to use the 900 service for promotions, loyalty programs and more.

‘Strategic weapon’

He says clients are beginning to see the 900 number as a ‘strategic weapon’ in their arsenal.

Joanne Hyland, director of inward services at Stentor Resource Centre in Ottawa, says many applications to run the 900 service have been submitted to Stentor or its member phone companies, but she will not say who they come from.

Stentor is a consortium of most of Canada’s telephone companies.

But Hyland will disclose travel and tourism 900 services are a hot item at the moment, as are lines for the high-tech industry and the banking and financial institutions sectors.

In fact, Hyland says, the number of applications to provide a 900 service are already in year three or year four of Stentor’s projections.

How marketers and others will deploy 900 lines on any large scale remains to be seen.

Obvious guidelines

But observers say there are obvious guidelines to follow if the 900 venture is to be successful.

Lockhard says as well as the necessity of education, service providers also have to ensure their 900 line has a perceived value to callers, promotional support, and they must have clear understanding of what their objective is in establishing the line.

Moreover, Lockhard says, marketers must look at the 900 service as a cost-deferred or revenue-neutral item.

He says the 900 service for marketers is another part of the mix, not an end in itself.

Bartlett, who notes ‘people like the phone,’ also points out it is essential service providers make sure callers actually enjoy using a 900 number.

He says it is equally essential that the ‘brand character’ of the 900 service be in keeping with the product it is promoting and that product’s advertising.