Upstream vs. Downstream Marketing – the Core Differences

salmon swimming upstream
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    How often have you seen some term defined and been like, I totally knew about that – you just didn’t know there was a word for it? 

    The German language can be a fascinating source of this phenomenon with its special terms for all kinds of crazy things, including the feeling of being alone in the woods (waldeinsamkeit). You’ve no doubt had that feeling at some point, but without language to call it out—so to speak—it might never have occurred to you that this was a discrete emotional/sensory experience.

    Alright, so what the heck does any of this have to do with marketing? Stay with us here.

    Today’s article is all about upstream vs. downstream marketing: two distinct concepts that you probably already understand to some extent, but that you may not have realized had their own labels. And with any luck, we’ll be able to further flesh out some important nuances within each concept. Here we go!

    Upstream Marketing

    Let’s start with upstream marketing. This concept revolves around a long-term plan during which marketers will conceptualize timelines for product/service releases—all of this founded on customer segments. Upstream marketing means figuring out, and providing solutions to, customer/client problems. To get started building an upstream marketing plan, identify a portion of your audience you’ll focus on over the course of the next year.

    A good, finalized upstream plan means identifying your audience segment’s problems, proposing a product or service to solve those problems, and providing a price/competitive edge for your included campaign assets. As you identify customer challenges, refer to the buyer persona you crafted for this segment. You’ll also want to research the current market and keep on picking up feedback from current customers.

    Once you’ve nailed down the challenges and their solutions, think about pricing for your product/service. Did you include competitor data as you did your research? If so, you can now use it to strategize and decide on what your product’s market edge will be. This isn’t too different from deciding on a price for your product /service. Think over your customer segment, pricing by competitors, and own model of pricing. Now conceptualizing a product (including the price price, and the product’s competitive edge) seems like something that happens fairly early in the overall process. Well, yes – it has to be done before you think about downstream marketing. With that all settled, it’s time to work on a downstream marketing plan.

    Downstream Marketing

    Where upstream marketing is your “big picture” blueprint, downstream marketing is more like the detailed plan of action—think strategy vs. tactics. Downstream marketing basically solidifies your marketing plan using branding, ads, promotion, and various strategies for communication that will help you sell your product/service. Compared to its upstream sibling, downstream marketing is a short-term practice that asks, How do I leverage resources to stir up demand for what I’m selling?

    The term “downstream marketing” may be used interchangeably with “general marketing practices” because they both refer to the idea of coming up with processes to communicate a product or service’s value. Where the upstream process identified the product, price, and competitive edge, the downstream method puts this info to work – it uses that info to build a strong campaign with solid engagement.

    What social media channels will you leverage? What angle will your promotional videos take? What offers will you want to make? These are downstream marketing concerns, and they help you decide how to communicate the release updates that will be seen by leads and customers alike.

    Used together, upstream and downstream marketing result in streamlined, marketing-oriented product development cycles – they are the steel beams girding the monument that is your early-stage marketing campaign. Upstream and downstream create focused campaigns that keep all your involved teams on the same page—even when the upstream concept needs reorganizing.

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    Raek Content Team

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