Spread the Word: How to choose the right advertising platform for your business

There are many ways you can advertise your business, product, or service and we often see this topic come up in the Community, from questions about how to advertise online to discussions on using local media to promote your business. Today, advertising is more accessible than ever, and the challenge is knowing which platform to use. 


In this article we’re going to focus on how to choose the right advertising platform for your business. We’ll look at what’s available across all kinds of media, from digital and print to broadcast advertising. We'll share some of the benefits of each platform and insights from sellers who have experience advertising their businesses.


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What’s the difference between advertising and marketing? 


The terms advertising and marketing are often used interchangeably, but there are key differences. Let’s start by clarifying them: 


  • Marketing is “the process or technique of promoting, selling, and distributing a product or service” (source). 
  • Advertising is “the action of calling something to the attention of the public, especially by paid announcements” (source). Advertising is one element of a planned marketing strategy. 


Think of it like this: Marketing is all of the work you do to promote your product or services to your customer base (this includes determining who and where your customers are) and making sales. Creating advertisements that display your products to your customers and persuade them to make a purchase is a part of marketing. 


Advertising and marketing platforms available today 


We’ve compiled a list of some platforms you can use to market your business and pay to advertise your business. Keep in mind that no matter which platform you use, you’ll need time to test different advertisements and make changes to improve them.


Digital Platforms


  • Social media platforms: You can set up a basic business profile on most social media platforms for free and then buy ads or pay to “boost” aka promote, your content to a specific or wider audience. Examples of social media platforms include Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, X (formerly Twitter), LinkedIn, Snapchat, Pinterest, and YouTube


  • Google
    • Google Business Profile (formerly Google My Business): This free tool by Google is essential for your business as it literally puts your business on the map, making it easier for customers to find your business from Google and apps like Google Maps. Once you’ve created a profile, you can also set up paid Google Ads. Learn how to set up a Google Business Profile.
    • Google Ads: Setup is user-friendly, and Google Ads will provide a wealth of data on the success of your advertisement. 


  • Email marketing tools: There are a variety of email marketing tools available that you can use to send messages by email to your mailing list. Your mailing list might be a customer database or a subscriber list from your website’s blog. Note: You should review data privacy laws for your region and spend time collecting email addresses from current and prospective customers before sending email messages. You should also consider sending an email newsletter, available with Square Marketing, which gives you room to share news about your business in addition to new products or offerings. Learn more about Square Marketing.  


  • [US] Text message or SMS marketing tools: Text message (SMS) marketing can be an effective way to promote a special offer or new product to customers. Sellers in the U.S. can subscribe to Square Text Message Marketing to reach their customers. Note that customers must opt in to receive text messages from your business. 


Print and Broadcast (Offline) Platforms


  • Direct mail advertising includes posters, letters, brochures, and leaflets that are distributed by you or a company. This method can be costly as you have to design the media (or pay a graphic designer to) and print and ship the final product. In addition, it is wise to consider the environmental impact of printing fliers or leaflets. Before you invest, check local legislation about handing out brochures or putting leaflets in the mail. 



  • Broadcast advertising is probably very familiar to us all as consumers; think of the “traditional” commercials you see on TV, hear on the radio, or experience on the internet. However, pitching, producing, and broadcasting an ad can be expensive and time-consuming, so you want to make sure it’s worth your time, effort, and money. Learn Best Practices for TV Advertising for Your Business.

Billboard advertisements are large-print or digital ads located alongside highways or in busy pedestrian areas. These can be a great way to expose your brand to a large audience. Keep in mind that a billboard may not make sense for your business unless you are certain your local customers will see it. Review Everything You Need to Know About Billboard Advertising to learn more.





How to decide which platform to use


So, now that you know what platforms are available, how will you decide which one to use? Here are just some of the factors to consider when you’re deciding which platform to use to advertise your business, product, or service. We’ve also included tips and insights shared by business owners around the Seller Community, and we’ve included their business names and industries too.


What is your budget? 

This is probably one of the most important questions. It’s possible to spend a lot on advertising, but before you get carried away, look at what you can spend and what you expect your return from that investment to be. Digital advertising methods are often a great place to start for small businesses in 2024, as they can be more cost-effective than traditional advertising while providing precise targeting options and measurable results for optimizing marketing strategies. Traditional advertising, for example, radio commercials, is known to be a larger financial investment but can be great if you have a broad audience where its wide reach pays off. 


If you do not have a large budget for paid advertising, consider low-budget or free options to spread the word. You could put aside some money each month to invest in advertising in the future. This could also give you more time to plan your overall marketing strategy. Learn how to develop your marketing budget


“In 2017 when we opened our current business, I did it all immediately. Google page. FB page. Newspaper blurb about this new business. Posting, sharing, networking. Anything and everything to get in front of people, for as little cost as possible. Everything I did in the beginning was free. Even the newspaper blurb. You just have to ask.” — @CareyJo, Arctic Heat, Professional Services How did you start marketing your business?


“I just partnered with a local resort so that when their customers come in with their guest key, they get a discount. So this advertising is free to me until a purchase is made. I like this since it does not cost $$ upfront, hoping to attract customers, but I give a discount when I get customers only.” — @Candlestore, Pocono Candle, Retail Digital Advertising?

What are your goals? 

Setting goals for your advertising can help ensure you spend your time and money most effectively. Are you trying to acquire new customers? Are you seeking to increase awareness? Do you want to get more traffic to your website? Establish a goal, and then identify the steps you need to take to reach that goal. 


“[...] Three years ago, we rebranded Piper’s. We dropped food service completely and concentrated on expanding frozen treat sales. We hired a local marketing firm to help us get the word out, and man was that worth every penny we spent on them. [...] They blanketed the local media with press releases that resulted in on-site interviews and more mentions than I could count. Some of those are still lurking around the internet because, as we all know, the internet never forgets.” — @TheRealChipA, Piper’s Ice Cream Bar, Food & Beverage How do you utilize local media to support your business? 

How much time can you invest in marketing and advertising efforts? 

Some methods, such as social media and content marketing, can require a lot of time and effort; you need to take photos or videos, write copy, organize it in a content calendar, schedule posts, and keep up with comments, feedback, and inbound contacts.

Ensure you have enough time scheduled for this work. We suggest blocking time on your calendar for marketing and advertising and assessing your efforts versus impact regularly. Your time spent on marketing and advertising is also a component of its ROI. 


“While it's tempting to throw money at social media, we find it's far more effective to do the occasional Google Ad and focus on providing great products at competitive pricing.” — @PartyManiaMD, Party Mania USA, Retail, Digital Advertising?

Consider which platform is most suitable for your business type.

Do some research to see where businesses similar to yours have found success in advertising. Businesses in the food and beverage industry might reach their audience on Instagram and benefit the most from advertising there, while some businesses in the beauty and wellness industries might be able to better connect with their target customers on YouTube by sharing tutorials or investing in content marketing. Retail business owners could find success by advertising on specific websites. For example, a wedding boutique could successfully promote their business on a wedding website, or a gift store could advertise on a lifestyle blog. 


“I stick to organic formats — Instagram and TikTok mostly. I have inquired about billboard and radio ads, but they need to be very close to me to make sense. I run a service-based business, so close to home makes the most sense. I am going to be updating my signage soon to advertise the business services and not the business name.” — @Bronze_Palms, Bronze Palms Spray Tan, Beauty and Wellness How do you advertise your business? 📰 📺 📻   

Research your customer base.

Who are your customers? Once you know who your customers are and their behaviors, you can utilize advertising platforms that best reach them and meet their needs. Start to understand your customers from an advertising perspective by answering these questions:

  • What age category do your best customers fall into? 
  • Are they students, parents, single, or married? 
  • How do they find out about other businesses like yours? 
  • Do they use social media? 
  • Will they sign up for an email list? 
  • Will they benefit from SMS notifications? 
  • Are your customers local? For example, let’s say you own a coffee shop and you serve a lot of students. How would those customers discover that you've added that viral iced coffee order to your menu? It’s unlikely they’ll pick up the local newspaper to find a coupon, but they might see an enticing post or reel on Instagram, or they might open an SMS message that has a link to your menu. 


“For my small studio, we use Google Ads, Instagram/TikTok/Facebook organic ads, and this weird tiny newspaper in the next town over that tourists and locals love. I'm always shocked at how many people bring that simple ad into the store. [...] I tried out a ton of things and noticed after about six months of hard testing that these three were the only things bringing in new customers. Email is still the best for customer retention.” — @Doran, Haute Beauty Guide, Retail and Beauty and Wellness What advertising platform works best for you? 

Start small and scale.

When deciding what advertising platforms to use, one important thing to keep in mind is to start small and scale. Choose a maximum of one to three platforms at a time and grow from there. If you’re trying to run too many campaigns on too many platforms, your budget is going to be spread thin, and you won’t be able to dedicate the time needed to run an effective campaign. It might also make it difficult to identify which platform had the greatest ROI. After you have dipped your toes into advertising, move on to testing the impact of your ads to see where you can make changes to optimize them. AB testing is a common practice used to test small changes in advertising in the hopes that one makes a significant impact over the other.  


“We've always had the most success with in-person marketing. I've talked about this before, but we first started as a farmers market stand, which was a great opportunity to connect with customers in a really low-stakes way. People are much more willing to pay $3 for some cookies than to stop by a new restaurant for the first time. Over the first few years, we became part of people's weekly routine, stopping by our stand for their sweet Saturday treat. And then, when we opened the doors on our brick-and-mortar, they were there with us. We've tried to keep this kind of marketing going. To promote our catering offerings, we'll often drop off little sandwich box samples/cookies/donuts, etc. at nearby offices along with a brochure. We call it "experiential marketing" – giving people an opportunity to see how good you are for free before they commit. There's definitely a cost to it, but it's been effective for us.” — @mksavage, Savage Goods, Food and Beverage How did you start marketing your business?

There is a lot to consider when choosing an advertising platform for your business, as each method has varying pros and cons. Taking the time to consider what will have the most impact for your business can make all the difference. Advertising might not always be the best fit for your business. Many business owners have also found success from marketing their business by organic content, partnerships, and attending events like fairs, trade shows, conferences, and farmers markets. 


If you have insights to share about your experience with advertising, comment below, reply to an existing thread linked above, or start a new thread on the topic. Thank you to all the sellers who have already shared theirs in the Community.

Helen is a Seller Community manager at Square and is the editor of the Seller Community Blog. She writes about small businesses and the owners and entrepreneurs who are a part of the Seller Community.


Hailey is the Seller Community Marketing Manager at Square. She promotes the Seller Community and also partners with Square teams to raise awareness of new programs, products, and features.


This article is only for informational purposes. The information provided in this article solely reflects the authors’ views and is not endorsed by Square. This article is limited in scope and is only intended as a high-level overview of the topics mentioned. Seller Community conversations are for educational purposes and do not constitute legal, financial, or tax advice. For guidance or advice specific to your business, you should consult with a qualified legal professional.

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