By Robyn Davis, Trade Show Strategy Specialist

ExhibitingIn business, many experts will encourage you to “run your own race” or know that “your true competitor is yourself.” While this advice may work well as a guiding principle for growing a business in general, at trade shows, you are (literally) being judged, side-by-side, against others.

So you can’t just do your personal best. In order to win the business, you have to do better than your competition.

The first step to winning is knowledge. In this article, you’ll learn the three things you must know in order to compete at the highest level. 

Without further ado...

1. Know Yourself

First, consider your company’s strengths and weaknesses. With limited time in front of your audience, you’ll need to emphasize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. Many exhibitors already know to show off what they’re best at, but few adequately address what they don’t do as well. As is the case when attending a job interview, the goal isn’t to hide your weaknesses completely – it’s to show either how you’ve been working to improve them or why they won’t hinder your (proposed future) work together.

2. Know Your Audience

Next, consider your audience’s needs, goals, motivation, process, and “starting point” (what they already know, have considered/experienced, etc. before they come to your booth). The better you can personalize your message and interaction to support your audience, where they are when you meet and throughout their buying process (according to what you already know about them), the easier it will be for them to:

  • Understand your offering
  • Imagine using it
  • Commit to continued engagement through appropriate next steps

3. Know Your Competition

Finally, because you’re being judged against others, you also need to consider the strengths and weaknesses of others, along with their plans for your trade show. Although you may not know exactly what their booths will look like or what activities/opportunities they’ll offer to attendees, you should know who they are and be able to anticipate the general energy and focus of their on-site efforts. Once you’ve researched your competition, use what you know in order to set yourself apart in the right ways, so that your audience can determine whose overall solution is the better fit for them.

In the end, if you lose business because it isn’t a good fit, that doesn’t feel like a loss and, in many cases, you can actually call it a win, because you’ll have more time/resources to focus on better clients! However, if you lose business because you weren’t able to demonstrate that you’re the better option, that hurts… So, at your next trade show, get to know yourself, your audience, and your competition. That way, you can play to win.

Need help getting to know your competition? Join Robyn for her next Trade Show Summer School webinar, “What You Need to Know about CEIR’s “Marketing Spend Decision” Study” (which explains how other exhibitors allocate their marketing dollars, make trade show-related decisions, and more) on June 19 at 2 p.m. ET. Learn more and register (for free!) at

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