Uncertain About Your Product’s Future? Upstream Marketing is What You are Missing.

Aaron Call
January 19, 2021

Upstream marketing is the practice of strategically aligning a product to a market by identifying and fulfilling customer needs. Companies that have a clear upstream marketing strategy are infinitely better equipped to succeed.

Every MedTech executive knows that marketing plays an integral role in a product launch. Whether appealing to a hospital board, physician group, or patient population, brand awareness and the articulation of your value proposition are fundamental in driving adoption and sales. When readying a new product for the market, there is rarely any question that the company needs a robust marketing plan.

However, when you ask those same executives if they have an upstream marketing plan, often all you receive in return are blank stares. The term isn’t fully mainstream – many traditional marketers themselves are challenged to define it. But inherently, the concepts behind upstream marketing are in the “ether.” They are recognized as best practices, people just don’t often have a word for it. This is why defining upstream marketing as a tangible set of principles is critical. Once we see them as a function of business, executives and their teams can create clear strategies that will ultimately – and dramatically – improve their chances of success.

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Upstream Marketing Sets the Stage for Companies to be Successful 

Upstream Marketing is IMPORTANT (yes, all caps important). As someone who has built a career bringing MedTech innovations to market, I can attest to the fact that this is one of the most glaring misses for many companies. And, the reality is, until they dedicate resources to upstream marketing, they will continue to produce products or make investments that get crushed by the competition.

Tim Koelzer has spent much of his career developing a mindset around upstream marketing. In fact, he literally wrote the book on the subject, appropriately titled – you guessed it – Upstream Marketing. Tim defines this discipline 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.”

The interesting part is that upstream marketing is where every entrepreneur’s mind begins. It’s rooted in recognizing a market need and believing a product can be built to better address the need. The problem, however, is that often entrepreneurs, investors, and managers develop ‘founders’ blinders’. They put a plan together that ignores the competition and other market influences. This approach invariably requires the stars to align in their favor. Then they find themselves blindsided by opposition.

Navigating the Product Launch “Stream”

Upstream marketing allows companies to align their products with the opportunity.

Think about it this way. New products are like a ship setting sail into a metaphorical stream. The ship moves along with traditional (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? 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?

That is upstream marketing – the act of analyzing market opportunities to predict and improve product and investment success.

Now is the Time to Develop Your Upstream Marketing Plan 

The most masterful upstream marketer over 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 building new streams that lead to larger rivers and bigger oceans. His life was consumed with perfectly understanding the market and customer behavior ahead of time so that the products and features Apple introduced achieved wild success.

If you aren’t currently practicing upstream marketing, start now. 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 of a iron-clad value proposition that your entire team can align to. Then watch your ship sail smoothly towards success.

Jaunt lives and breathes upstream marketing. We give our clients the intelligence and foresight they need to advance their products with confidence. If you’d like to talk with one of our upstream marketing experts, book a meeting here.

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