[IMGCAP(1)]Every accounting firm has a focus all its own. You serve some special niche or deliver services with a distinctive style that differentiates your firm from the rest of the crowd.

You’ve put careful thought into firm-wide analysis and discussion of exactly what sets you apart. This deep level of understanding about your firm and its services allows you to establish strong branding and craft precise, descriptive marketing messages to your target market.

By applying the same kind of intense scrutiny to the individuals who make up your target audience, you’ll gain valuable nuanced insight about these, your clients—your firm’s raison d’etre. This is an exercise very much worthy of your attention. After all, if you want to sing to your audience, you’ve got to know exactly what qualifies as music to their ears. Here’s how to start learning what makes them tick:

Create a profile. Describe your ideal client. List everything you know about her (or him or the business) and give her a name. Think about what goes on in her life (business) not just as it relates to your services, but the whole package. Think in her terms, use her language to describe events and get as inside her head as you possibly can. In all your marketing, mentally refer to this model client (make a few for the different individuals and businesses you tend to see or want to see more of) and tailor your message to your model.

Network. Join your audience where it lives—on LinkedIn, Twitter, other social media platforms, professional organizations and elsewhere. Participate in community events of all kinds, be active in your alumni groups, join the PTA or other groups that are stakeholders in the schools of your community and join a church or volunteer organization. When you hang out with your audience in the wild, you get to see them in action in a way that imparts a far more comprehensive understanding of who they are and what they need. Who are they associating with? What’s on their minds? What are the pain points that are referenced frequently in each of these contexts?

Perform demographic studies. You may think you know who your clients are, but it can be surprising to actually analyze who they are in demographic terms. Assess by sex, age, income, industry, location (actual and relative) and family status. Even explore, as far as you are able with the knowledge you have, such personal elements as religious inclination, sexual preference and political persuasion. Revealing this information publicly or using it to discriminate against any client would be uncool in the extreme, but observing the patterns can be quite informative and helpful as you begin to think about life through your clients’ eyes.

Listen. You’re always listening to your clients of course, but focusing on the words they use and the linguistic styles you hear is a valuable tool for learning how they think. Let language clues guide you toward an effective communication strategy, allowing you to deliver your message in the way your audience is most likely to welcome and relate to it.

As you focus on your audience, remember your years on the playground. “It takes one to know one!” is a solid response to general taunting, but it’s a sound principle for marketing too. Try to “be” one of your own clients and you’ll be way ahead when it comes to delivering a message they want to hear.

Sarah Warlick is content director at bbr marketing.