Growth Insights for CEOs

CEOs: Do You Sail Upstream or Paddle Downstream?

Posted by The Chief Outsider



CEOs have the vision of where they want to take their company and what needs to be done to get there. There are two marketing activities that help them get there. The first is downstream marketing the second is upstream marketing.

Upstream and downstream marketing can prove vital to success.

What is downstream marketing?

A simplified definition of downstream marketing is communicating the value proposition of your branded products or services and making certain the value proposition is delivered to and experienced by the customer.

When we look at downstream marketing, we need to understand what the impact needs to be to support the expense and effort. We also need to develop metrics to objectively evaluate and validate if the downstream strategy is working to maximize and sustain revenue growth. 

Downstream marketing should help you grow market share. The downstream marketing needs to support the value proposition and stay in alignment with the product positioning. 

Marketing communications include brand messaging, sales training, product positioning, customer nurturing, customer testimonials, competitive comparisons, pricing, promotion guarantees and other factors. The communication defines the customers’ needs. You must deliver on these needs and test whether the customer is receiving the value they need from your product or service. CEOs have to determine and communicate the purpose of their company and utilize their influence on the organization to align the messaging in their promotional activities with the purpose of the organization. Roy Spence teaches us in his 2009 book on purpose driven marketing “It is not what you sell it’s what you stand for” why staying true to your purpose has paid of for companies like Southwest Airlines and WalMart. Jim Collins, a true visionary shared his concept on purpose driven marketing in an article he wrote in 1997. 

What is upstream marketing?

Upstream marketingis “using the Principles of Insight, Identity and Innovation to Drive Growth” Tim Koelzer has written extensively on upstream marketing. He shares how visionary brand leaders like Google, Walt Disney, Amazon and Apple defined their purpose early on and created the upstream marketing strategies to support the brand building by these innovators. This upstream marketing focus has sustained tremendous growth and created very strong brand identity. Upstream marketing is essential to creating a strong brand and sustainable growth. Innovation, acquisition, new markets and new products are all activities that support upstream marketing strategies.

Disruptive technologies and disruptive marketing strategies that align with the company’s purpose are the game changers CEOs must have to build strong brands and create revenue growth sustainability. Lasting companies are those that clearly understand why they exist and stay true to their purpose.

CEOs are the upstream advocates for the companies they run and need to budget, support and focus on sailing upstream. They need experienced upstream marketers on their team to support these efforts.

Upstream marketers are vital to support the CEO’s advocacy of purpose. Good Upstream marketers help the CEO clearly define and communicate the company’s purpose, help the organization stay in alignment with this purpose and help budget resources for paddling downstream. 

My Experience Sailing Upstream and Paddling Downstream

In my own experience, upstream and downstream marketing has proved vital to success. As Senior VP of a medical device company, my goal was to grow the business at least 20% top line and bottom line for over 21 years. The majority of the time, we achieved this growth, in large part due to our focus on downstream and upstream marketing.

With this focus in mind, we looked at organic growth and what we needed to do to support it. We budgeted for downstream marketing strategies and made sure that our brand’s value proposition was positioned effectively to support our purpose. We looked at developing new products, new markets and strategic acquisitions for upstream marketing to make sure we could create a value proposition that our organization’s purpose could support. And lastly we always remained true to our purpose to ensure that our business is “always about the orthopedic spine patient outcomes.”

Topics: Brand Management, Growing Market Share, CEO Choices, Marketing Strategy, Innovation, Purpose-Driven Marketing