Smart exhibitors know that engaging with trade show attendees before the big day maximizes their return-on-investment. But with thousands of exhibitors competing for the same attention, it’s essential to use marketing campaigns to build and solidify relationships with attendees early on. This keeps your organization top-of-mind for the event.

With as much as 85% of exhibitors using some form of pre-show marketing, according to EXHIBITOR’s 2017 Pre-Show Marketing Survey, you need to be creative with your pre-show communication strategies.

The following traditional trade show marketing ideas have been done a million times over:

  • Email blasts
  • Social media updates
  • Raffles
  • Direct mailers
  • Print advertisements

These pre-show tactics can still be effective—when done correctly. But with more exhibitors courting attendees before a show, it takes a little more effort—and something unique—to stand apart from your competitors.

As you plan for your next trade show, use these methods to capture the attention of attendees before they even step foot on the trade show floor!

1. Create a Virtual Pre-Show Event

Virtual events are easy for people to attend. When hosted properly, they can significantly boost your pre-show engagement. Consider hosting a:

These can provide immense value to trade show attendees while demonstrating your brand’s expertise.

As you plan, think about the problems of your target audience. Show how your brand can help solve them, so your prospects have you in mind as a solution when they attend the trade show.

Social media channels like Facebook Live and platforms like GoToMeeting make hosting virtual events easy. While you’re broadcasting, engage with your audience by answering their questions via live chat. To sweeten their impression of you and the value you provide, consider offering them a free download, like an eBook or whitepaper. This will prime them further for meeting you in person at the trade show. And don’t forget to include a strong call-to-action in materials about your virtual event. It should encourage attendees to stop by your booth at the trade show.

2. Build Excitement with Pre-Show Gamification

Gamification is a hot topic in the trade show industry, and for good reason. Online polls and interactive assessments are tried-and-true strategies for exhibitors because they can engage even the most lukewarm and skeptical attendees.

While many exhibitors use gamification in their trade show displays, few use them prior to the show. By leveraging interactive content in your email campaigns and mobile apps, you can get a serious leg up on the competition.

For example, your organization could create a fun assessment for registered attendees, providing them with personalized recommendations based on their results. Consider creating a landing page for this assessment that encourages them to schedule a meeting at the show to discuss their results. This accomplishes a few important things:

  • It brings them to your website,
  • increases anticipation before the show,
  • and gives you an idea of how many interested parties you can expect at your exhibit.

Interactive polls and quizzes are also effective ways to get people to engage with your mobile app or open your emails.

Get creative with your pre-show gamification, and you’ll drum up plenty of excitement for your upcoming trade show!

3. Send a Handwritten Note to Existing Clients

As exciting as it is to generate new leads for your business, your existing clients are the real MVPs. According to an Adobe report, 40% of revenue is generated by repeat customers.

trade show marketing ideas

It’s in your best interest for those people to visit your trade show booth for two important reasons:

  1. It acts as valuable social proof for your business.
  2. It lets you strengthen your relationship with customers who don’t need to be convinced that you’re their solution.

To encourage existing clients to attend the show, put pen to paper, and craft a handwritten invitation. Handwritten notes are rare these days, so they’re even more impactful.

Keep it conversational. Express your appreciation for their patronage and your excitement for the show. For example, “Hi (attendee’s name), thanks for sticking with us for so long! As one of our VIP customers, we wanted to personally invite you to (trade show event) on (date of event). We have a couple new products we’d love to show you in action!”

Plan on timing your note, so it arrives 7 to 10 days before the event. You can make your invitation more enticing by including a VIP pass to the show or a special discount on one of your products.

4. Use Geofencing to Send Targeted Messages

The average American checks their smartphone every 12 minutes, so it’s not surprising that location-based targeting is on the rise. Geofencing is a type of location-based targeting technology that can benefit you as an exhibitor.

Think of geofencing as a digital fence. Anyone who enters this digital fence is targeted with marketing messages on their next mobile web-browsing session.

For instance, if you know which hotel attendees will be patronizing, you could create a zone around the hotel, and send targeted messages to trade show attendees prompting them to stop by your trade show booth.

Geofencing is ripe with possibilities for exhibitors. Don’t forget to test your ads in advance to maximize their impact.

5. Plan an Employee Social Media Takeover

Employee social media takeovers are a fun way to connect with attendees on a personal level. This is when an expert on your team other than your usual social media manager uses Facebook, Instagram, or another platform to:

  • Give a behind-the-scenes look as you plan for your trade show
  • Tease an upcoming product launch
  • Respond to follower comments

Allowing an upbeat, marketing- or sales-oriented employee to share their unique perspective accomplishes a couple of important things:

  • It humanizes your brand.
  • It adds variety to your social media account(s).
  • It’s a unique way to drum up excitement as your booth is being set up on the show floor.

Get creative with your takeovers. Have your employees leverage Facebook Live or Instagram Stories to give attendees tips, advice, or run a contest. This is an excellent opportunity to build hype over your booth before people even walk in the door.

6. Use Your Event App to Spark Pre-Show Engagement

Mobile event apps are on the rise in the trade show industry, and for good reason. Sophisticated event apps allow exhibitors to create a central hub for attendees where they can easily access all things related to the event.

Trade show attendees can:

  • Participate in online discussion boards with other attendees
  • Access important event information and content
  • Take polls and quizzes
  • Receive updates from your business in the form of push notifications

Not only do mobile event apps provide value to attendees, but they also make it easier for your organization to communicate with attendees before the show.

For instance, you could use your mobile event app to send out a pre-show survey to attendees, asking them what they hope to get from the event. Then you have the opportunity to meet their needs based on their feedback.

If you think mobile event apps are out of your budget, consider getting a sponsor to pay for it. Mobile event apps benefit sponsors just as much as exhibitors by giving them better exposure.  Once your sponsor realizes this, they will be more likely to pay for the app.

The right pre-show communication tactics can be the difference between success and failure at a trade show. After all, it doesn’t matter how much money and effort you put into designing a custom trade show booth if no one knows about it in the first place!

By using these creative trade show marketing ideas, you can hook your audience before the show and make qualified booth traffic a sure bet. Not only will you outshine the competition with your unique ideas, but you’ll also leave the trade show with tons of high-quality leads.