January 25, 2008

Seth Godin recently expressed on his blog dissatisfaction with marketing-centric terms , where a person is defined by the marketer, not the other way around. This includes the words "prospect" and "target". He then asks: "Isn't it interesting that there isn't even a name for someone who doesn't yet have a relationship with the marketer?" So Godin settles on "citizen."

I agree with Godin in spirit, and especially with his dislike of the word "target" (which, similar to the common marketing term "penetrate," sounds phallic and motivated by testosterone). But throw out prospect and replace it with citizen? Godin is a brilliant thinker, but it seems a shark has been jumped in this instance.

Call me old-fashioned, but I don't see a problem with "prospect," which is actually short-form for "prospective customer." In fact, I believe prospect is a very respectable and accurate name for someone who's not yet a customer. It's analogous to a prospective friend, partner, spouse or mate -- someone whom you don't yet have a relationship with, but would like to.

But citizen? According to, a citizen is:

1. a native or naturalized member of a state or nation who owes allegiance to its government and is entitled to its protection (distinguished from alien).

2. an inhabitant of a city or town, esp. one entitled to its privileges or franchises.

3. an inhabitant, or denizen: The deer is a citizen of our woods.

4. a civilian, as distinguished from a soldier, police officer, etc.

Now, if you're a marketer and I'm someone you want to have a relationship with, I don't think any of these definitions above would describe me. In fact, if I knew a company was vying for a relationship with me, I'd probably get a little freaked out if I learned that company was also segmenting or branding me as a citizen. I'm a citizen of the United States, not of any marketer's world!

If you're a marketer and want a relationship with me as a customer, then please --just consider me prospective, and treat me as such. Treat me with respect, relevance and delight. Nothing more, nothing less. I'll do the same by considering you a prospective company - one I just may do business with.

I admire Godin tremendously, but there's simply nothing wrong with being a prospect.

By Max Kalehoff
Max Kalehoff is vice president of marketing for Clickable, a search-marketing solution for small and mid-size businesses. He also writes
Courtesy of

Leave a reply

Enter the characters shown in the image.