I recently wrote about the glazed looks I get from people when I tell them I provide marketing strategy services to client. Today, I was reminded of another term frequently used to describe strategic marketing work – upstream marketing. Have you ever heard of this? I am not sure how common this term is among marketers; certainly professional services folks with little/no marketing experience might be somewhat unfamiliar with the term.
A quick definition is as follows:
Upstream marketing refers to the strategic process of identifying and fulfilling consumer needs. It is done very early in the product development cycle (hence the term), and it requires the marketer to embrace the end-user and develop not only products but also the accompanying marketing approaches that can be customized to these strategic segments.
Now if I spouted off this definition on my next sales call, I’m not if sure the looks would be any less glazed than if I just used the term “marketing strategy,” so I think I’ll try to simplify the message by using an analogy to cooking dinner. At least this is something most folks can understand (unless you don’t cook at all).
Below are the upstream activities involved with cooking dinner:
Your family and their preferences – What they like and don’t like; who’s going to be at home eating
What food you have in the cabinet and frig – Unless you are planning to go to the grocery store, you’ll probably use what you have on hand. So you can either cook a staple, flip through a cookbook to find a recipe that requires the ingredients you have on hand, or do a reverse recipe lookup on sites like www.myrecipe.com or countless others. (Yes, you can type in chicken, vegetables and pasta, and it will churn out recipes of a variety of ethnicities).
What you tell them – Suppose you try something new for your family one night, and your five year old needs a little convincing to try those sweet potato fries. If I tell him they’re sweet, like sugar, he’ll taste anything.
Now here’s how the kitchen upstream activities translate to the marketing ones:
Your target audience and their preferences– You need to know who your audience is and what they like or need. Even with the greatest product or service in the universe, you be hosed if all you do is provide steamed broccoli every night.
The skills you have in “the cabinet” – As a marketer, I pride myself on listening well, wisely disseminating information and offering practical solutions to build untapped revenue streams. Though I package these skills as research and strategic services, someone else with similar attributes might be a business consultant for Booz Allen. My skills and key attributes might be mixed and matched to produce a range of services, but I cannot create one with no basis in raw talent (e.g., I’m simply NOT a graphic designer, no matter how many software packages you put in front of me). After all, who can make good lasagna if there’s no cheese?
Your message – Wrap it in the language of sugar, and you’ve got the attention of any five-year-old! Tell him 1 cup of potatoes is comprised of 1 cup, cubes has 114.38 calories, 5.55 g sugar, alpha carotene, beta carotene, vitamin a (377.37% DV), manganese (17% DV), 3.99 g dietary fiber (15.96% DV), and vitamin b6 (13.5% DV) won’t convince him of a thing. You have to know who your audience is and what they want to hear. Regurgitating the raw ingredients may not sell a darn thing.