There’s Nothing Wrong With Being A Prospect(ive Customer)

Seth Godin expresses 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 Seth 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? Seth is a brilliant thinker, but it seems a shark has been jumped. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t see the 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 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 segmenting me within their institution as a citizen.

If you 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 admire Seth Godin tremendously, but there’s nothing wrong with being a prospect.

For the record…I would’ve left this comment directly on Seth’s blog, but he doesn’t accept comments. I respect his choice, though I’ll point out that such a policy seems incompatible with the spirit of his post to begin with. But, as he points out, “Citizens are no longer the weak, isolated pre-consumers in front of a TV set in 1971, with few options. Now, citizens appear to be holding all the cards.” I suppose that explains my own ability to comment right here.

UPDATE: This post became my February 22, 2008 MediaPost Spin column. Yes, I’m guilty of regurgitation…again.

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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