Author: Aaron Call, Principal at Jaunt LLC
When you work exclusively in upstream marketing…you better have a good definition for it right? Well the fact of the matter is that Upstream Marketing is a term that was derived in order to give light to a function of business that everyone knew was important, but nobody knew what to call it. I’m not here to necessarily define it further, I’m here to tell you that it is IMPORTANT (yes, all caps important); and until you give it a name and dedicate resources to it, you are going to keep producing products or making investments that get crushed by the competition.
Several great articles exist on Upstream Marketing, and I encourage you to read every one you can. Here are a few:
- Need More Organic Growth? Focus on Upstream Marketing
- Upstream vs. Downstream Marketing; Why do so many companies focus solely on downstream marketing?
- Upstream Marketing vs Downstream Marketing: Which Way Are You Going?
- What Distinguishes Best In Class Marketers?
- Best Practices in Upstream Marketing
Additionally, Tim Koelzer has spent much of his career developing a mindset around the subject. In fact, he recently has written a book entitled Upstream Marketing and you can pre-order it here. Tim defines it as “the strategic process of identifying and fulfilling customer needs. Upstream marketing takes place at a much earlier stage by developing a clear market segmentation map and then identifying and precisely defining which customer segments to focus on. It analyzes how the end-user uses the product or service and what competitive advantage will be required to win the customer and at what price point. It is done very early in the product or service development cycle and is one of the missing links for generating revenue growth at many companies.”
It is truly one of the missing links at many companies. Upstream marketing is where every entrepreneur’s mind begins. It’s recognizing a market need and inventing or believing a product can be built to better address the need. The problem however, is that too often, entrepreneurs, investors and managers develop ‘founders’ blinders’. They put a plan together that ignores the competition and other market influences. Their plan invariably requires the stars to align in their favor and they are blindsided by opposition along the way.
Successful companies don’t work this way. New products are like a ship setting sail into a metaphorical stream. The ship moves along with downstream marketers onboard rowing as quickly as possible. The boat is subject to the twists and turns of the market and is bombarded by the other, sometimes much larger, ships floating down the same stream. As business owners and investors we take time trying to steer around obstacles, colliding with the competition, inflicting damage, receiving damage, repairing and firefighting all along the way.
But what if we could explore and map out the stream ahead of time? What if we could understand the source from which it came from? What if we could predict the obstacles? What if we could know the number of other ships on the river, the size of the ships, where they were steering, how fast they were moving, which tributaries they would be heading down and whether those tributaries were going to end up at a blissful oasis or at barren land?
This is Upstream Marketing – the act of analyzing market opportunities to predict and improve product and investment success.
The best individual ever at performing upstream marketing activities in the past century was Steve Jobs. His passion for the products he built was astounding. Every decision he made was based on predicting the flow of the market, often times building new streams that lead to larger rivers and bigger oceans. His life was consumed with understanding the market and customer behavior so perfectly that every product and feature introduced produced wildly successful results.
In your own work – you must focus on upstream marketing. Put your best explorers, your best visionists, your best strategists and your best customers on the job. Demand that they come back with concrete evidence that your entire team can align to so that your ship sails smoothly towards success.