Upstream Marketing is the new kid on the block – a strategy that you can use both to bring in new customers as well as products. A new paradigm in marketing, upstream marketing, is novel both in its approach and techniques.
What is Upstream Marketing?
Upstream marketing refers to the process and plans to identify and fulfill your customers’ needs. This kind of marketing usually happens early in the process, when the product is being thought of – setting unambiguous guidelines and maps, segmenting them while categorizing and focusing on customer segments. This brand of marketing begins by analyzing the usage of the product or the service by the end-user. At the same time, it tries to decipher what kind of competitive advantage is a prerequisite to winning over a customer. It also focuses on the price point – what is the price at which a product or service is the most attractive for a customer?
The marketing strategy here is done early instrumental in generating revenue growth. Think of it as all of the things that you need to do if wanted to buy yourself an expensive watch. You do not walk into a shop and buy a look without planning. It is one of those things which you have almost always have thought about deeply before buying it – unlike clothes, books, toys, etc. You will think of several things before you enter that shop – why do you need it? What value will it bring you? Which type and brand of watch do you want? Why do you prefer that brand? You will think of how much money you are willing to spend on it and look at all the features. Upstream marketing will teach you the fundamental principles behind the decisions you make about a product. It is the critical decision you make to win over your customer or sell your product. This is your starting point.
Dr. Ram Charan coined the terms both upstream and downstream. The terms and the concepts have taken up space in the imaginations of many marketing approaches, especially around sustainable methods. The two should actually work in tandem. Upstream marketing essentially is identify potential revenue areas and how to drive strategies around that identification.
It is important that you know the customer. Upstream marketing is not a stop-gap solution to anything – it is necessary a long-term strategy which your business should consider for results in future, not immediately. And consequently, it is something the which needs much time and patience – given how results will only be evident much later. You have to use the extra time you get to work around and get your business plan done accordingly. It involves thinking ahead. Think of all possible scenarios – what are the various situations and emergencies that might happen? Your plan should think of them in advance. Innovation is key here. And quick, on-your-feet, inventive thinking. You almost have to pre-empt your customer’s thoughts – you need to think, “what will be needs of my customers? How can we think of their needs before they know it themselves?”
Look both ways
Dr Charan thinks companies expend unnecessary amounts of money on “downstream marketing activities and ignore critical upstream marketing activities.” You have to strategically align your product to a certain marketplace after you identify and fulfill customer needs. Done well, this equips you for assured success. Developing an upstream marketing strategy means you will require a very deep understanding of how the market behaves, its essential qualities, proper gap analysis of the product or service. You will also need to know the ideal customer personas. It has to be thought of comprehensively.
Once you have all this knowledge, you as a leader can assure yourself of competitive advantage. You can be innovative at this point. It is after doing all this that you can use this strong foundation to then think of the downstream plan to get more customers, staff and moving on, how you can drive revenue. If you are successful, you can make both the upstream and downstream systems work in tandem. One flows into the other seamlessly to create the sales upswing.
Upstream marketing is a long-drawn continuous process. You have to be constantly aware about what is happening in the market, for any new trend. You have to look ahead while striking a balance doing that. You cannot be too focused ahead, though, as that could hinder your downstream marketing efforts. Similarly, if you concentrate on the big picture alone, you will veer away from thinking of marketing completely. You need to concentrate on where you are in the process.
This helps you remain ahead of your competitors. You are equipped with a solution before the problem actually rears its head. It gives your employees ample space for creative innovative brainstorming.
What are some upstream marketing strategies?
There are plenty of these that you can use to get a holistic view of your customers. They see your business and devise long-term strategies. New ideas, thought leadership and innovation is regarded very highly here.
This will help you plan and time when you wish to achieve which goal. They can have within it specific dates. You can align them to company goals and you can make a sensible, plausible action plan. Timelines help you simplify steps and at the same time maintain some structure to the whole thing. Timelines also help is making a realistic and visual plan, which is ready at hand and easy to understand. It also motivates as the results are all visible for all stakeholders.
This gives useful insights into what the customers need in future. You can analyse what products sell better, you can look at competitor products to understand what sells better, what the growth areas are. Trends aren’t imaginary, they’re factual with real dependable statistics. You should implement this information to decide on next-steps and go back to see its impact on your business and drive strategies in future.
You have to consider what products or services to expand. Think ahead, of ways of growing your customer and your product base. Think of areas you can branch out in if necessary, or if a particularly successful product or service can be upgraded to have even better impact or reach.
These are important tools to understand the minds of the customers – what works, what is not so successful and can be dispensed with and what can work. It gives a much clearer picture of customer needs, while at the same time also allowing customers to voice their opinions. This can quite easily be done on social media or even in-person interviews.
Brainstorming for refreshing new thinking is essential in upstream marketing, creating effective solutions by providing a fresh new perspective. This is inherent in the approach of upstream marketing itself. New-ideas can be created as long-term goals, keeping the customers interested in the future developments in the area.
Understanding the Market
You need to study and understand the market properly, evaluate to find what the products are that are already present, what the future holds. These are crucial to push research on products as well as services and solutions in future. There are various aspects that you need to consider. For instance – what’s the urgency of getting the product in the market and what should the pricing be? Assess the potential of products to succeed and to understand reasons for their longevity in the market.
Setting the Stage for Success
Upstream marketing is usually missed by businesses and this needs to be rectified. Resources need to be dedicated for this alone as otherwise you will make products as well as investments which will not be able to stand up to competition. You as an entrepreneur need to start here – you need to recognize a niche in the market and get focused about making a product to fill that niche. Consider all market influences and not get bogged down by opposition to your ideas. Analyze the market opportunities and do what you can to improve a product and ensure your investment ends up successful.
It is not yet very popular with traditional marketers. But they are the best practices, even if not fully understood yet. Think of how Steve Jobs thought up ideas before they even entered his customer’s minds. That is where upstream marketing comes in. It is important to define upstream marketing and how it as a tangible set of principles. Business executives and teams need to see this as a function of business. Clear-cut strategies will ultimately succeed and do that with aplomb.
Upstream marketing needs a keen focus on current performance management and a whole new level of gathering data – accumulating customer insights and knowledge about strides competitors are taking. It needs research. It’s extremely vital that you have upstream marketing as a priority, beginning at the beginning but continuing throughout the marketing process. Make sure you ask the right questions. Make sure those questions help you understand your clients and the environment. Some questions you should ask yourself are:
- How well do you know what your customers want next?
- How will you deliver that?
- How much of a competitive edge will it provide you?
- What’s the market trend?
- Who do you want as customers next?
- Where will these customers be?
- What do customers truly value?
- Do you have a roadmap in place to provide future products accordingly?
- What plans are in place to bring out these products?
Upstream and downstream marketing – what are the Differences?
There are various differences which you should be aware of between upstream and downstream marketing. If you are aware of them, you will better understand and be better placed to decide on what approach is best for your company as well as which to use when
Learning about the distinctions is actually instrumental in understanding which strategy will work when. While both are useful and can be made to work together, it might be simpler to focus on one plan – the goals might be achieved more easily that way.
Upstream marketing is all about creating long-term goals, keeping the focus firmly on the future. Downstream marketing, though, looks at the needs of the hour, setting short-term goals.
This is very easily distinguishable. Upstream marketing looks at business movement and growth. It thinks of appropriate measures to reach a point in the future, bringing a degree of open-mindedness very necessary to keep a business relevant. Downstream marketing views business one step at a time, its focus sharply on the present and how the product is faring at the present time. It gathers data for quick strategies to be made.
The difference is what decides what goals are set and how, the timing as well as whether any alterations are to be made.
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Both are commonly used across various industries. Downstream marketing is about direct sales, in-person consultation with customers, advertising, brand building, communication strategies, promotion, while upstream marketing is about planning, predicting and strategizing for the future.
If you haven’t already, you need to start practicing upstream marketing now. Get the most innovative brains, the best planners and customers. Understand their ideas and get all your team members align to the novel ideas and make products or services based on that.
Prioritize upstream marketing efforts at early stages and throughout the marketing process by asking the right questions that lead to understanding of your clients, your own business and the surrounding market.