A Target by Any Other Name

February 18, 2008


The move away from using the words ‘prospect’ and ‘target’ to describe not-yet-customers is a good one. We want to establish long-lasting relationships with these people and we want them to speak well of us. The way we talk about someone illustrates what we think about them. Marketing lingo has scarcely evolved from ‘mark’ or ‘sucker’.

My wife may tell you that I’m not good with pickup lines (“Hey, wanna see my new car?” was the call-to-action that got us together 27 years ago). But I promise you’ll have less success with “I’ve profiled you and anecdotal data shows that you’re a high-value prospect. This messaging is optimized for the 18-to-24 year old unattached female demographic I’ve targeted. Hey, wanna see my new car?” Cue drink-to-face or restraining order…

Ben and Jackie proposed ‘Citizen’ some time ago, and today Seth makes a case for that term. As a respectful word that acknowledges the humanity (gasp!) of not-yet-customers, it’s major progress. But is it far enough?

‘Citizen’ has a couple of flaws. B2B marketers struggle with whether a ‘prospect’ is a person or a company. ‘Citizen’ doesn’t clarify that.

Depending on what you sell and where, ‘Citizen’ can also be inaccurate. It has a regulatory meaning that has nothing to do with the meaning of not-yet-customer. Folks with H1B visas and international tourists are prime customers for some products. I won’t go down the road of discussing undocumented immigrants to avoid attracting comments more suitable to other blogs, but they fill their cars with gas, buy groceries, etc – and are not ‘Citizens.’

I asked my four-year-old about this. She said “Dad, why don’t you just call them ‘people’?” Good question. (In B2B, we could call individuals ‘people’ and firms ‘companies’ and save a lot of misunderstanding.)

That’s my four-year-old’s opinion. Ask your child and let me know what they think. Pooling that unsullied perspective could help us find the right name. And until we do, ‘Citizen’ is a giant step forward.

Update: Couldn’t agree more with ‘The Prospect’s Protest‘ on Marketing Experiments. Makes me think of Joseph Merrick. “I am not a prospect…I am a human being!”


One Response to “A Target by Any Other Name”

  1. SEO Says:

    Many lose sight of the fact we are selling to people- real people. Good point.

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