Upstream marketing: Is it a strategy or a process?

Actually…it’s neither.

Rather, it is a set of:

  • Principles
  • Framing questions
  • Underlying practices

…all of which must be applied consistently. It is about identifying opportunities and fulfilling customer needs. It takes place at a much earlier stage than downstream marketing by developing a clear market segmentation map, and then identifying and precisely defining which customer segments to focus on.

The Challenges & Opportunities of Upstream Marketing

For many companies, the challenge with upstream marketing is that they don’t know how to get started. Or, they treat upstream components as separate/distinct, as opposed to an integrated system.

The good news is that the opportunities almost always outweigh the challenges.

Upstream MarketingYou may be wondering why upstream marketing makes sense, and why now?

The main reason is the substantial business growth that results. Think:

  • New markets
  • New business models
  • New products
  • New channels
  • …and other growth areas

Imagine the entirely new revenue streams that can open up.

Expand Your Playing Field to Build Uncontested Market Space

Here are other factors to know:

  • Customer obsession helps focus the organization. Searching for answers to most marketing strategy questions? They reside in the marketplace. It’s no surprise: companies that invest in deep, proprietary insight about their customers are better equipped and inspired to meet their needs today – and in the future.
  • Upstream marketing expands the playing field by creating uncontested market space. Yet, many organizations have a narrow vision: overly fixated on the current state, driven to hit short-term numbers.
  • Benefit from the opportunity to be “roughly right” – rather than “precisely wrong.” While precision may be required in certain downstream business practices (in tracking metrics and sales, for example), upstream marketing thrives on being “roughly right.” Many business decisions are reversible.
  • New tools, techniques, and accelerators that support upstream marketing area always emerging & evolving. As a result, upstream marketing is more efficient today than in prior years. Generative artificial intelligence, agile planning, rapid prototyping, website mock-ups, and 3-D printing are huge time and cost-savers. New business incubators and entire innovation districts are increasingly available to assist with development.
  • Consumers are more comfortable with the concept of beta products and product updates. Customers have become conditioned to accept products that may not be 100%. “Ship and iterate” is an acceptable way tech companies gain early, loyal customers. After version 1, it’s 1.1, then 1.2, and eventually version 2.0. Consumers get this, are comfortable with it, and have become more forgiving over time.
  • Upstream marketing combines strategy formulation with execution. There is no centralized planning department, organizational silo or hand-off between functional groups. Rather, upstream marketing is built into strategy from the start and naturally flows to downstream implementation.

The Challenges of Upstream Marketing

Here are some of the dilemmas we see:

  • It takes time. Before realizing its benefits, upstream marketing requires thoughtful strategizing, planning, and testing; the payoff in new business is not immediate. Therefore, upstream marketing is a journey that requires displaying patience and a sense of urgency at the same time.
  • It lacks tangibility. Downstream efforts like an ad campaign, new website, or slick brochure are often more appealing than a marketing strategy or business plan. It can be challenging to envision the potential value of upstream marketing tools like framing questions, concept statements, and prototypes.
  • Tracking success can be hard. There are fewer ways to track upstream marketing successes in the short term. For instance, sales revenue, ad impressions, click-through rates, lead tracking, and other metrics provide a sense that downstream marketing is working.
  • Many organizations are not set up for success. Small to medium-sized businesses may lack the resources and training. Conversely, large organizations may have strategic planning departments staffed with MBAs and data scientists, but these groups are often functionally siloed, disconnected from other functions required to drive growth.

Would you like to learn more about upstream marketing opportunities and how to overcome any the challenges of implementing your strategy? We’re pleased to offer a free download of the first chapter of our popular book, Upstream Marketing. Access it here.