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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.

 

 

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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.

Contributors
16 Comments
Square Champion

So many great points! 

Admin

Super helpful! Thank you for putting this together 🙌

 

 

@TCSlaguna I feel like you'd enjoy this piece!

Admin
Thank you for your contributions on this topic @Doran!
Seller Community Mentor

This is a fantastic article!  So much great information and a great place to start for anyone just breaking into advertising!

 

I have a few tips to add:

 

Google Business Profile and ads:  A Google profile is a must!  I've actually taught a seminar on this for my local Chamber.  I condensed a full day training that I took a number of years ago into about 2 hours or so... the search rate on phones today is so astronomically high that if you don't have a Google profile, you won't be found.  That is unless literally every person in your town knows your business.  I will also tell you that if you are service based and work from home and don't provide your address to keep customers away from your home, you have to work harder for people to find you in a search.  Brick and mortar is so much better for Google.  Best tip for Google ads - watch that pay per click.  We tried it for 6 months and I spent a ton of money for very little ROI.  I know that the information online about these ads is much better than it used to be, but what most people don't realize is that every time someone uses a Google search just to call you, you are paying for that click.  So for someone who calls your pizza parlor every Friday to place an order and searches you instead of saving their number in their phone, you're paying for each search.  Every click in this case isn't necessarily good.  I tracked the clicks we were getting from search and just for one person who called me 5 times in one month, it was a lot and I got no income from it.  It's also really important when you shut down those ads after your campaign is over, that you don't just turn it off.  You must cancel the subscription to the service or you will continue to be charged.

 

Click rate on emails:  A lot of businesses and non-profits alike use emails.  Mail Chimp, Constant Contact, etc.  Think about how many marketing emails you receive in a day at your business.  Now... how many of them did you open?  One?  None?  This information is vital.  Email marketing only works IF the customer is completely grabbed by the subject line and cannot resist opening the email OR they are so regular at your business that they will open every email faithfully because they don't want to miss anything.  It is considered high to have a click rate of 30% or greater.  That means that out of 100 emails you sent, only about 30 of them will be opened.  So, what's the cost to you?  How much did you lose on those 70 that didn't get opened?  Any paid (service for hire) email marketing should be calculated before you begin so you know how much you're going to lose up front.  If you're doing them yourself, then you're only losing your time.  If your business has a rewards program that customers can use to get money off or discounts, they are far more likely to open your emails.  We all know what it's like to make a purchase online and the next thing we know we have a new email every day from that company, trying to sell us something and we didn't even sign up for their email list.  People don't want to be hounded.  If you're going to use rewards and emails, make sure you're not over doing it and that it always adds value.

 

Direct Mail Marketing:  We have done this.  More than once.  In our little town of about 2,000 people, we have about 850 personal mail boxes.  I had to pay for the designer, the printing, the permit and the postage.  Those 850 mailboxes cost me over 1k.  The first time we did it, we had a one year anniversary party for our business.  We served hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, soda and water.  Can't charge for it because that requires a food handlers license.  Giving away food does not.  (Varies by state.)  The flyer was the size of an election campaign card, full color, glossy on both sides.  Unfortunately, it rained that day, so we only had a handful of people show up.  Had enough food for 200 people.  The next year, we tried one more time and hosted a movie night in the park.  Paid for a permit to host it.  Paid for a license to show the movie.  Rented a popcorn machine, gave away popcorn, water and swag bags.  Did it on a much warmer night.  Thought maybe a 100 would show up.  We had about 2 dozen.  Never got any ROI from either of these campaigns, but more people now recognize and know our name.  Remember that even though the boxes get stuffed by the post office and they are not actually processed like a piece of mail, you still have to pay the postage for EACH PIECE you have delivered, on top of all your other costs.

 

Local Prints:  Our local town newspaper has been our BEST form of paid advertising.  It's cheap.  It's weekly.  I get additional opportunities to do other ads and hundreds of people see it.  We've gotten many calls from both of our local papers that have resulted in sales.  I have no idea what the rates would be in your area, but one of my papers is $110 for 10 weeks and it's a business card sized ad, full color.  The other one is a B/W 2x2 square for $30 a month.  These are cheap by comparison to other forms of advertising and I have most definitely gotten sales.

 

Lastly, testing:  This is the MOST IMPORTANT PART!!  You MUST test what you're doing!!  You must determine if your ROI is really there.  The sucky part is that you should do it for at least a year before you make a decision to continue or stop.  Six months won't cut it because you don't go through all of the seasons and holidays.  You need to be able to compare this Christmas to last Christmas.  What impact did we have?  What was our cost?  How much increase did we have?  Etc.  You must also ASK EVERY CALLER HOW THEY FOUND YOU!  If you don't ask, you won't know.  Now, if you're doing a digital campaign and all of your connections are made digitally, then yes, you will know, but in my world, where everything is done by phone and email, I have to ask.  I do not schedule appointments digitally and we don't utilize our website.  Why?  Are you stark raving mad woman?  What's wrong with you!?!  Let me ask you a question - You live in upstate New York.  It's -40 and there's 4' of snow on the ground in a blizzard.  Your heat goes out.  Are you going to spend an hour on your phone or on the computer to research who you should call?  Your house is at 60 degrees, it's 3:00 am, the baby is crying and your wife is about to kill you because you have no heat.  No.  You're going to GOOGLE who is open, close and will come RIGHT NOW!!!  This is why we don't utilize our website.  We only have it as a formality so that we can have an online presence for people to 'look' at us if they're planning ahead.  FB is my best friend for a good reason and the newspapers are worth it because our town is more than 40% elderly (over the age of 65) and they still use phone books and read the paper.  They cut out our little ads and put them on their fridge.

 

I know I'm long-winded, so for all of you who read this far, thank you!!  And thank you @Helen for the shout-out!!

Square Champion

So much useful information! 

 

Key takeaways I learned: 

 

"blocking time on your calendar for marketing and advertising and assessing your efforts versus impact regularly." If you don't establish dedicated time for it, you may put it off. You can also put in too much time on a campaign if you don't properly track it and assess whether its the best bang for your buck. 

 

"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." We are currently reaching out to our Instagram followers. We noticed that reaching out to early followers has had little impact, but reaching out to the most recent followers has led to an increase in newsletter subscribers. We have spent quite a bit of time on this campaign, and will likely move onto something else (Facebook ads) to see how effective that campaign is. Then we should be able to assess which on has a greater ROI. 

 

I LOVE @Candlestore's idea of partnering "with a local resort so that when their customers come in with their guest key, they get a discount." I have to definitely try that! 

 

We have had a lot of success reaching out to local newspapers that then cover the community events we offer. It's great coverage and other media sources see it (like TV) who then reach out to us to do a story. 

 

Thanks again for the great information! 

 

 

Admin

@CareyJo love all of these tips! Appreciate you sharing this knowledge!

Square Champion

@Helenthanks for the great article. A LOT Of essential information here. The point from @CareyJo about asking EVERYONE where they found or heard about your business is wonderful. I missed so many opportunities with this one. Customers will sometimes tell you, and I always appreciated getting that critical info, but asking everyone is key to assessing what channels are worthwhile for your particular business.

 

Similar to what @Candlestore did, I once used a local coupon clipper type newspaper, where instead of paying for ad space up front, they gave a special deal where if you offer a coupon deal (like 50% off or BOGO) they could sell on their website, the proceeds the publication received from the coupon deal would cover the ad space. I thought it was a great offer, but be careful. The length of this offer ended up spanning several years! I still got people wanting to use the coupon a year after it initial ran, and according to terms I had to honor it. The worst part about this is that in terms of tracking and expecting a certain increase of sales, it was difficult to know how much impact that advertising made in the long run (it was so spread out and diluted). But this may work for some businesses, especial food providers.

Square Champion

Lots of great tips here... I would also say that keep in mind strategies change over time as do platforms. So be flexible and don't be 10000% committed to any one type of advertising

Seller Community Mentor

I forgot to add a comment about having a community business partner to help you both increase sales... we have quite a few businesses around MT who do this.  For example, our local community theatre gets large sponsorships for the season.  That sponsor then gives you a discount on a drink when you visit their establishment and bring in your ticket stub.  Another hotel we frequent gives all guests coupons to the wine bar next door and it's 40% off just for staying at the hotel.

 

These are great ideas and I'm sure can be used in just about any application, with multiple businesses.

Square Champion

wow, this is like a whole marketing book condensed to the points that mater.  Awesome work.

Square Champion

Thanks a bunch for sharing this! It really hit the nail on the head in explaining the difference between marketing and advertising. The way you broke it down into visual terms made it so much easier to grasp. I appreciate the effort you put into making complex concepts accessible lol...because I would sometimes wonder 🙂

Admin

Thank you so much @CareyJo for your comments and highlighting the importance of reading the small print for any paid service, and for tracking your campaign efforts. It took me a long time to appreciate the importance of experimentation/tracking when it comes to marketing! 

Square Champion

Love all of these ideas! It sounds like our objective, regardless of industry, is to drive eyes even if it is not pointed to immediate sales. Super important to capture people during awareness, intent AND conversion. 

Good article, with mention of all the "conventional" elements of advertising, and certainly for those new to operating a business, a handy outline of what to do. Where and how one advertises is however, dependant largely on two factors:

1. What you're selling (your products / services)
2. To whom you're selling (people who want these products / services).

Coupled with this is a comprehensive understanding of your product / service, as well as a thorough understanding of the "typical" customer (be these individual consumers or companies - it can be both).

Businesses that use online selling should devote most of their attention and advertising spend to online resources, and in this area, one channel stands out by miles - Google Ads...

Unfortunately, Google is by far the dominant force in online search, and the vast majority of online shoppers will default to Google for their initial search. While it is also true that Amazon is now a dominant marketplace (and many people go straight to Amazon to search), Amazon is not an ideal place for sellers. Neither is eBay, nor any of the high-profile portals such as etsy, not-on-the-high-street (and all others like them).

It is better (in the medium to long-term) to have your own dedicated website - and while it has limitations, a Square Online Shop is OK for many small start-ups, and organsiations selling uncomplicated products / services.

Selling on a major portal (eBay, Amazon, etc) has some serious drawbacks:
1. You do not own the customer relationship - the customer belongs to Amazon / eBay. You are just a conduit for these large portals to earn commission fees. They take (and manage) the payments, and disputes are most often resolved in favour of the customer.
2. These portals are after one thing only - eyeball retention. They don't care if the sale goes through you or a competitor. Either way, they make their commission.
3. Relative to 1 and 2 above, these portals blatantly showcase your competitors on a product page - and given that many (most) shoppers on these portals are buying on price, shoppers simply look for the poor buffoon who's selling at the lowest price.
4. This results in what is called "a race to the bottom", where (desperate for a sale), competing sellers drop their prices in leap-frog activity, to a point where profitability is compromised. Making a SALE is not the same as making a PROFIT. You can get thousands of SALES on Amazon / eBay / etsy... and LOSE money doing so.

However... while your own independent website is (I believe) the only sensible way to sell online, the environment is increasingly challenging. While setting up a webshop on Square / Wix / Shopify can be done by almost anyone with half a braincell, it remains extremely challenging to grow a business.

Advertising is therefore key - and if you're running an independent webshop, then you will need to set an advertising budget and work carefully on a strategy.

Google Ads (which used to be relatively easy to configure back in 2004 when I first signed up) is now quite detailed and sophisticated - with plenty of complex methods and a lot of confusing terminology. You may need to bring on the services of a knowledgeable Google Ads consultant.

Ultimately, business is about establishing good relationships with customers, and customer retention is very important. But even here, there is the danger of overkill... Spamming existing customers with "newsletters", or marketing emails/texts can actually drive them away.

It's a complex arena... and you need to spend a LOT of time studying how it's best done for your business.

Admin

Thanks for your comment @Fairestcape. Tere is so much more we could have included on this topic, and hopefully we'll be able to share another article targeted at specific business types, e.g. online businesses soon. Thanks for sharing your insights in the meantime.

Good info !

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