Standing out from the competition at a trade show is a big challenge. You work hard to design just the right exhibit, display your products in the best way, and make sure your people are prepared to engage customers at the show.

But are you doing enough to stand out before the show even starts? I mean, long before the show starts -- several weeks or even months.

Engaging your customers in the time leading up to the show can have several benefits:

  • You can generate excitement and anticipation so customers and potential customers will be actively seeking you out.

  • It can make interactions between your salespeople and your customers at the show much more productive.

  • You can connect with customers, even if they miss your booth or don’t have time to see you.

But standing out before the show can be easier said than done. So here are some tips and ideas for how you can engage customers long before the show floor even opens:

Provide Value

This is the first thing you need to remember, and apply it to whatever you do. Your customers and prospects are being bombarded with information, even more so prior to a trade show. For every message they see, they will apply the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) standard.

To combat this, you need to provide value -- real value -- to your customers and prospects. They should be able to quickly determine that the messages they receive from you are centered on their needs, not yours.

“Value,” can mean a lot of things. It can be education, actionable information, advice, even entertainment. However you decide to reach out to your customers and prospects before the show, make sure you provide value.

Amp Up Your Digital Presence

You should already have a well-established presence on several digital channels, including social media sites, YouTube, email, and/or your own blog. The right combination of channels depends on your business and your customers.

With those channels already established, you have the opportunity to push out content that promotes your presence at the show. Tell customers where you’ll be and what you’ll be showing. Give them a preview to generate excitement.

Or you can use your digital channels to give customers an assignment…

Give Customers an Assignment

One of the best ways to reach customers and provide value is to get them actively engaged in the pre-show experience. And one of the best ways to do that is to give them an assignment.

By “assignment,” I mean anything that requires some action on their part. The possibilities here are endless, but here are a few ideas:

  • Have them bring in a specific challenge, problem or question your people can help them solve.

  • Create a contest for which they can claim their prizes at your booth.

  • Develop a content series that encourages them to share, comment or otherwise participate.

This is an advanced tactic, and will require some careful thought and planning. But if you do it right it can be very effective.

Get Creative with Offline Communication

I know I just told you amp up your digital channels, but in addition to that, you might also consider some offline tactics. People are so used to seeing marketing messages on their screens, it might be easier to stand out by sending postcards, printed newsletters, or other direct mail.

Every show and every industry is different, of course. But being top-of-mind among your customers leading into the show is a universal need. The key is to be creative and to always keep your customers’ needs in mind.