I recently attended a San Francisco startup company party where framed, and hanging right on the cafeteria walls were the company's target customer personas. "Ted the IT technician," "Sally the sophisticated sales exec," and the like. The company-wide display of detailed buyer characteristics the startup goes after was ingrained in the entire culture and producing sales. No wonder they could afford an open bar.

It's no secret that businesses who know their key targets to this high level of detail tend to do well. Once a strategy reserved for the Apples of the business world (Apple knew it's iPad buyer persona before the product was ever built), startups and small businesses are finding that they too can leverage personas to use their resources more efficiently, as well.

Building Life-Long Customers

From multinational business leaders to marketing authorities and small business advocates, many agree that persona marketing is a go-to play for businesses that want to focus their efforts on the right customers, instead of squandering resources. Oracle offers marketers their "5 Key Questions to Ask Before Developing Customer Personas" advice. Leading authority, MarketingProfs, has identified five complaining persona types. And small business sales and marketing automation provider Hatchbuck is even helping small business owners to identify the customer personas they need on their team during their March Marketing Madness campaign.

"When you intimately know your player personas and communicate to them in a personal way," explains Hatchbuck Chief Sales and Marketing Officer, Jonathan Herrick, "you skyrocket your chances of turning them from just a contact in your database into a lifelong customer." There's evidence that marketers are actually wasting time and resources when they send unfiltered leads to sales. In fact, 61 percent of B2B marketers send unfiltered leads directly to sales, despite only 27 percent of those leads being qualified. And this is partly why demographic-based marketing is dying, because demographic groups themselves are too large and too diverse to serve as effective targets.

You Have to Go Deep

Recruiting those lifelong customers takes more than general segmentation. Customer personas go deeper than generic customer profiles. Whereas customer profiles break your potential customers into groups in broad, traditional segments, customer personas put a name, a face, a life, and a personality to people in customer groups. Buyer or customer personas consider detailed things, like a customer's unique approach to the buying process, buying intentions, communication preferences, and probable behaviors.

Depending on the brand, product, or service to which the persona will be linked, personas can take different forms. For small businesses, buyer personas will include business-related needs that the service can address for that hypothetical group of consumers. At the same time, customer personas created as a way of figuring out how to differentiate a brand may contain more data on how product or service can enhance the consumers' lifestyle, hobbies, or social status.

What is universal about personas, is that businesses become more competitive when they focus their game plan on a target buyer. For your small business, this can begin with redesigning your website. Your site isn't there just to serve you, it's mainly there so your visitors can solve their problems. Designing the site for your buyer personas can make it 2-5 times easier and effective for customers to navigate. You're no longer trying to appeal to a massive marketing segment (or worse, your own marketing team's conception of one). You're writing for Steve, the middle-aged restaurateur, who needs regularly scheduled deliveries, and related products on the same page.

Use these types of buyer personas to personalize your small business email campaigns, and you can drive 18 times more revenue than more general email campaigns. Just knowing that your target buyer is a frugal, weekend shopper and emailing them on a Saturday morning can potentially increase click through rates.

All the research points to the fact that having a deeper understanding of your biggest buyers can help bring your marketing efforts greater effectiveness, all with less effort on your part. And it's easier than you think. An abundance of free, step-by-step resources are available to help your small business create a more effective marketing playbook.