Bandit signs are responsible for landing me some of the best deals of my career, and they can do the same for you.  

What’s a bandit sign?

In their simplest form, bandit signs are nothing more than small billboards. However, don’t let their small stature fool you. They are an intricate piece to any strategic direct-response marketing strategy.

Their versatility has become the topic of some rather polarizing debates. The nature of their placement, which typically has marketers staking them into the ground of heavily trafficked areas or hanging within eyesight of motorists, has become controversial, to say the least.

If for no other reason than their ambiguous relationship with strict city ordinances, these marketing tools have been dubbed “bandit signs.”

Keep in mind that although bandit signs are not permitted everywhere, they are still recognized as one of the best lead generating strategies for business owners of any type.

Outside of their placement, bandit signs are nothing more than posters conveying a specific message. Most people prefer using corrugated plastic because it is relatively cost-effective, lightweight, durable and weather-resistant.

For marketing purposes, businesses are advised to keep their wording short and to the point. Anything that takes longer than a second or two to read is too long. Real estate investors, for example, will typically provide a phone number and a variation of the phrase “we buy houses.”

Bandit sign regulations

Not every local municipality condones the placement of bandit signs. I want to be perfectly clear here: Always remember to check with local town officials regarding the regulations of sign placement. Any violation of city codes on your behalf could result in a punishment — typically, a fine.

Having said that, many cities have found it easier to enforce responsible bandit sign practices than to adhere to strict no-sign policies. Some local governments have even tried to accommodate investors willing to work with them.

It is not uncommon for certain municipalities to allow the use of bandit signs on certain days of the week, provided the owner of the signs registers them with the city.

Again, check with your local municipality before placing any signage. Once you are given the green light, you’ll have access to one of the simplest, most effective marketing tools in today’s real estate landscape.

Budget and plan

Assuming you have decided to move forward with your bandit sign strategy, and are comfortable that no laws are being broken, the next step will require you to draft a plan of attack within the confines of a budget you are comfortable spending.

Having said that, it’s one thing to randomly place bandit signs around a neighborhood, but it’s another to actually expect results. There must be a reason behind every move you make over the course of a bandit sign campaign. Understand where the best places are to put your signs and when people are most likely to see them.  

With an idea of what you want to do, impose a budget to supplement your desired goals. Understand what it will take to run a campaign of this size on a weekly basis. But how do you do that?

Allocate a healthy amount of funds to keep your bandit sign campaign up and running for the foreseeable future. It’s the top of your marketing funnel, and it will likely be in play for a long time.

It’s important to note that any money you spend on a bandit sign campaign should be viewed as an investment; they are a vehicle that will bring you more leads and help you close more deals. What you invest could potentially return tenfold in the event you land a deal.

Lead capturing

Your marketing efforts will all be for naught if you aren’t prepared to handle the influx of incoming leads. Having said that, dedicate resources to capture leads resulting from your bandit sign campaign.  

Wherever your signs direct leads, whether it is a phone number or an email, be prepared for what is coming next: curious — and sometimes desperate — sellers.

Have a lead intake system in place to cater to their inquiries. Whatever you put in place must enable you to keep track of incoming leads and permit you to respond to them in a timely fashion.

I have personally had the most luck with the following lead intake systems:

  • Google Voice
  • Call centers
  • Website squeeze pages or landing pages

Bandit sign creation

With all of the preparation out of the way, it’s time for the fun stuff: actually making the bandit sign. Now is when you will want to draft the final version of the signs you intend to display. There are a number of websites that specialize in this particular field. Feel free to shop around and work with one that meets your needs.

When creating your sign, consider the following:

  • Obtain an easy-to-remember phone number dedicated specifically to this marketing funnel. It also helps if the number isn’t traceable.
  • Refrain from putting your company name (and your name, for that matter) on the sign.
  • Keep your message short.
  • The font should be as big and bold as possible. People need to be able to read it from a distance.
  • Choose a color scheme that is consistent with your brand.

I recommend creating anywhere between 200 to 500 signs, knowing that unforeseen circumstances can result in lost signage. Anything from poor weather to competing businesses can subtract from your total.

Make sure you have enough in reserve to continue with your marketing efforts. Remember, consistency is essential for a marketing campaign of this nature.

Market research

The last thing you want to do is go through all the trouble of making hundreds of bandit signs, only to realize you don’t know what to do with them. Conduct the appropriate market research in your area.

Where is the best place to post your signs? Can you legally post on the corner you like? What area will get the most visibility? These are all questions you must know the answers to before you start.

I recommend evaluating the economic status of any neighborhoods you are interested in advertising in. Target distressed neighborhoods, if at all possible, because they are more likely to harbor owners intent on selling.

Studies have shown that response rates are substantially larger in areas that require more work. Sellers will only pursue the prospect of selling their property for a low price if it is less painful than continuing to own the home.

Having identified a neighborhood, you might begin to strategically place your signs. By no means should you place signs everywhere.  

Think about it from the perspective of a driver. Where are they most likely to see your signs? Busy intersections, highway ramps and main roads are all great candidates. I have captured great leads by placing signs in front of hardware stores and parking lots.  

Get creative, but be sure that your signs are reaching their intended audience.

Try to place approximately 15 to 20 signs per designated area, but avoid clustering them in unsightly clumps. The last thing you want is for your signs to be an eyesore and become associated with a negative connotation.

These campaigns are more successful the longer the signs can stay up, so avoid annoying anyone. You should be safe if you separate each cluster by roughly one-quarter to a half of a mile. Again, mind city ordinances, as you do not want to violate regulations.

Tracking incoming leads

Alexey Stiop / Shutterstock.com

Alexey Stiop / Shutterstock.com

Provided you have done your job correctly and leads are starting to trickle in, it’s easy to become complacent. However, your marketing efforts are just getting underway. It is now up to you to track said leads to make sure the rest of the campaign runs smoothly.

Understanding which signs are doing well will permit you to make wiser decisions and focus on the signs that achieve the highest results. With relative ease, you will determine where your money is best spent. Every marketing dollar counts, so it’s in your best interest to track which signs are outperforming others.

Ask every caller where they saw your respective signs; it takes no more than a few seconds and can make the difference between a good campaign and a great campaign.

Also, keep track of what type of lead the caller falls into. If your signs are generating a great deal of short-sale leads, maybe it’s time to focus your attention on that niche. Either way you look at it, there is no foreseeable way to run a bandit sign campaign unless you are tracking your results.  

Bandit signs are the backbone of any well-devised direct response marketing strategy. They have the potential to increase your company’s exposure exponentially, with relative ease might I add. Their real power lies in their self-sustainability.

Done correctly, a bandit sign campaign is perfectly capable of generating leads in your absence. With the right lead intake system and properly placed signs, it is conceivable to expect leads to come in when you aren’t even investing time on this particular strategy.

Than Merrill is the founder and CEO of FortuneBuilders Inc. and CT Homes. Connect with Than on LinkedIn or follow him on Twitter @ThanMerrill.

Email Than Merrill.