If you are a marketer or small business owner, you likely have a sense of who is buying what you’re selling. If you don’t, you have bigger problems.

In the past, we have referred to this group of people as your target market. They are the consumers most likely to shop with you, the ones that you “target” with your advertising and marketing efforts.

For a local bakery, this might be adults and families in a 10-mile radius. For an online college, this may be adult learners who wish to go back to school and get their degree.

But as you can see from both examples above, the target market likely includes a wide variety of different people. That’s where marketing (or buyer) personas come in.

The marketing community realized that generalizing about their target market, trying to create strategies that apply equally to the broadest swath of people, wasn’t the right approach. A better one would be dividing that group up into sub-groups, based on different demographic or psychographic qualities that they share.

Using our examples above, the bakery might divide their market up by age and gender, or cake buyers and bread buyers. The online college might divider their market up by physical location, degree or job type.

Doing this allows the company to develop marketing strategies that are more directly targeted at individuals within the larger group.

Then, to make these groups feel more real, we assign names to them. We create a “persona,” a profile of a customer that most accurately represents the real people in that group.

So instead of your bakery marketing to “young moms,” you market to Jennifer. And instead of your college marketing to “technical careers in California,” you market to Dave.

These personas are representations of customers that help your team develop strategies that relate to them as real people, and not just some vague group of consumers in your target market.

Are you using marketing personas? If not, you should be.