Upstream Marketing

Posted by: Melinda  :  Category: Marketing

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 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.

Bringing Home the W

Posted by: Melinda  :  Category: Marketing

Bruce Lee, a brilliant writer I highly recommend, wrote a wonderful description of the High Dive team which we later dubbed: “the W’s.” (It’s probably not ironic that my husband identifies my successes on the tennis court or marathon courses as “bringing home the ‘W’”, pronounced appropriately with a southern twang as “dub ya.”). The High Dive W’s read as follows:

We think our clients deserve the very best we can give them.

We know there are more important things than our work. But not many.

We’d rather laugh than sulk.

We’d rather win than lose.

We’re always learning.

We’d rather be right than wrong.

We think most of life is fun. And funny.

When we don’t know the answer, we’ll say so..
Then we’ll go find the answer.
We’re unashamedly ambitious and competitive, honest and ethical.
(Yes, we think all those concepts go together just fine.)

We do these jobs because these are the jobs we love to do.

I have grown to realize, in recent weeks, the validity of identifying myself as someone who is competitive. Or unashamedly competitive, as referenced above. Here’s why:

1) My Child – My son is totally obsessed with winning at the age of 5. Perhaps this got started during basketball season as we watched the infamous Duke/UNC rivalry (which now has its won wikipedia description). By labeling the Tar Heels as “the good guys” and the Dukies as “the bad guys, “we have set a precedent – or a nomenclature – for all future sporting events and teams. And even into the realm of movies lately (did you know “the good guys” won in the movie Up?).

Whether we’re playing Cookie Cop, cards or Chutes and Ladders, Luke goes nearly ballistic if he doesn’t win. If he’s riding behind his Dad on the bicycle tandem trailer, he gets really upset if Mom starts cycling in front (the bonus from this scenario is that he pedals harder to give Dad a little break).

Lastly, moving in the landscape of absurd, he won’t even let me “beat him” down the stairs in our house, despite the fact it’s not a race in the first place.

2) Me – Last week, I lost my first and only match in this year’s USTA tennis league. This is a relaxed 3.0 level team. I play with a great and eclectic group of women who enjoy the game and like to have fun. I take pride in the fact that we’re one of the few teams without matching outfits. Last week, in a grueling 3 ½ hour match, I failed to tie it up when serving 4-5 in the third set. A week later, I am still ticked off I couldn’t have served up a few winners to extend the match a little longer (and if I had won my match, our entire team would have one that night). “It’s only a game,” I tell myself. But my desire to win sometimes borders on the extreme.

The upside to this absurdity? I extend the same fighting spirit on behalf of my clients. So if you want a consultant who plays the game with a little fire under her belly, you know who to call.

Inspiration to exercise

Posted by: Melinda  :  Category: Health & Well-being

How many of you have watched “The Biggest Loser” on TV? I have to admit I’ve never seen it, but I’ve heard of a lot of folks who are addicted to the show. The question is: after you watch it, are you inspired to go exercise?

I spoke to the Director of Health and Welfare for the State of Idaho, Dick Armstrong, yesterday; and he is perplexed by what motivates people to get fit. In his opinion, shows like the aforementioned do not. He even referenced an article in the Statesman yesterday which discussed making fitness fun. According to Wanlass, the article’s author and subject, “Engaging in activities that are fun will keep you feeling young, energetic and, most importantly, keep you consistent.”

I agree with him, in theory. But the problem is the target audience. In the article, he recommends three drills to inspire fun: 3-Pointer drill (for people who like/play basketball, presumably), Kick and Sprint drill (for those people who are capable of kicking a soccer ball, myself not among them), and a Box drill (not sure for whom).

So for people who already play basketball or soccer, these are some great suggestions. In fact, if you play these sports, you may already practice drills like these anyway.

But like a wrinkle cream advertisement that pictures a model in her twenties, have you got the right basic strategy with flawed execution? (It’s hard to escape all the marketing lingo).

According to Mr. Armstrong, about 20% of the universe is addicted to fitness, or at least willing/interested in exercising. It’s the 80% of the world that needs convincing. That needs motivation to change and adopt healthier habits.

Are drills targeted to athletes appealing to the 20% or the 80%? In my opinion, not only are the drills targeted to the 20%, but they will in no way convince someone in the 80% group to exercise at all.

And that gets us back to the Biggest Loser, a show, which on the surface, is more for entertainment than inspiration. What is that trigger, or that “fun activity,” which motivates someone who is not fit to become fit? Does it take a chronic disease to spawn action, or can inspiration be found prior to a life-changing event?

I am still contemplating that one.

Strategic confusion

Posted by: Melinda  :  Category: Marketing

confused-bushI had yet another blank stare this week when I told a prospective customer that High Dive’s point of differentiation is our strategic focus. By looking at the long-term business objectives of a company, we are able to evaluate the short and long-term ramifications of the marketing plan/tactics we recommend. Why is this so hard to understand? Problem is, he asked me the same question three times and I gave him a slight variation on the same overall theme with each response, and none of these seemed to light a mental candle.

Someone told me a great story this morning. If you are driving down the road listening to the radio and there’s static, do you turn up the volume or change the channel? Hum…maybe I need to think of another way to sell “strategy” if I’m actually going to get someone to buy it.

The actual definition is as follows:


[strat-i-jee] Show IPA

–noun, plural -gies.


Also, strategics. the science or art of combining and employing the means of war in planning and directing large military movements and operations.


the use or an instance of using this science or art.


skillful use of a stratagem: The salesperson’s strategy was to seem always to agree with the customer.


a plan, method, or series of maneuvers or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result: a strategy for getting ahead in the world.

I’m not sure how effective it would be to start spouting off the Webster’s definition. Nor would it be particularly beneficial to reference #1, the bit about directing large military movements.

That gets me to point #2 and #4, which essentially re-uses either the meaning or version of the word strategy, and would serve to turn up the static volume on the misunderstanding of its definition in the first place.

So that gets me to point #4. And frankly, this is what I say when I speak with a client or prospect anyway. “What are your overarching business goals? We then work backwards to define a plan.”

So now I’m back to where I started.

My other thought it to reference the democratic election this year. Regardless of your presidential preference, it’s hard to argue that Obama had a brilliant strategy for defeating Clinton – from the get-go. Clinton, the odds favorite at the start of the race, seemed to have a tactical, state-by-state approach to her campaign. And though it almost worked, Obama’s bigger picture focus – tied to a brilliant execution of the tactics – won out.

Would this define “strategy” for you? Could you make the connection from elections to businesses?

Well…if you have another definition or illustration, I’d love to hear it. Those glazed eyes are getting really sad to see!

Phsychographically Ideal

Posted by: Melinda  :  Category: Marketing


When someone asks you who your ideal customer is, are you likely to respond by saying:

“Mid-sized consumer packaged goods companies.”


“Companies with revenues for $25M/year or more.”


“I work primarily with marketing directors at technology companies.”


“I work with start-up organizations that make computer chips.”

Rarely do I hear someone answer the questions by offering psychographic information or even demographic information in more detail.

Think about it.

In regards to demographics, how do you describe the companies which fit your definition of “ideal?”


1.       How big is the company in terms of revenues?

2.       How big is the company in terms of # of employees?

3.       What industry sector?

4.       Where is the company located geographically?

5.       What is the company culture like?

What do you know about your direct point of contact?


1.       How old are your direct contacts?

2.       Do these individuals tend to be male or female?

3.       How educated are these people, on average?

4.       What do you think their average family income is?

Thinking beyond demographics, what other ways would you describe your point of contact?

1.       Is this person detailed or big picture? Hands-off or hands-on?

2.       Does he/she tend to be more right-brained or left-brained?

3.       Is she/he introverted or extroverted? Outgoing or reserved? Funny or serious?

4.       Does this person like sports? To exercise?

5.       What are this person’s hobbies? Passions?

6.       Does this person have children?

7.       Is this someone with whom you’d like to have a cocktail after work?


As silly as some of these issues sound, it’s interesting to observe common themes among those with whom you enjoy working most. Attributes beyond demographics lay the groundwork for harmonious relationships, collaborative partnerships, and, you guessed it, referrals. Knowing who best compliments your style, work approach and way of learning/thinking can help you identify clients that will help you build your business. And make work a whole lot more fun in the process.

Incentive for Staying Healthy

Posted by: admin  :  Category: Health & Well-being


What’s the motivation for individuals to nurture their own health and well-being? After some research I recently carried out, as well as conversations I have had with leaders in the health and wellness field, I am sharing my thoughts on the matter.

Money/Rewards – Someone told me earlier this year that government incentives would be required for individuals to take wellness seriously. That is, a commitment to preventive care and healthy habits would result in monetary compensation. Being penalized, versus paid, doesn’t seem to be working. In lots of cases, individuals with higher and higher deductibles may just drop health insurance altogether, regardless of how well they make take care of themselves.

Another potential payer is employers. It certainly behooves companies to have healthy, productive employees; so why not reward them for staying well? And not just a certificate that says “nice job,” like the ones I used to get in elementary school when I didn’t miss a single day of school during the year. These programs, to garner attention and support, tend to need some sort of competition/reward component to them. Recognition of a job well done – done better than others – may be more meaningful than money to some. There’s different strokes for different folks.

Your health depends on it – For a lot of people, chronic illness may force a behavior change. Whether the issue is obesity, diabetes, hypertension or other illness, oftentimes it takes doctor’s orders to amend the way you eat, breath and live.

But do doctor’s orders always work? Last year, one of my best friends from high school died. She had been diagnosed with juvenile diabetes in the 7th grade. One of the dearest souls in the world, she never took very good care of herself. I personally helped her ingest or inject insulin many times during bouts with low blood sugar and insulin shock, ones  almost always triggered by a lack of eating properly. After years of hardship on her body, her kidneys and heart gave up. Unfortunately, this was one case where doctor’s orders weren’t enough.

Your family – A little encouragement from Mom and Dad, or perhaps incentive from a sibling, can influence people in dramatic ways. By setting a good example as a parent, children are more likely to develop good habits? Right? Well, maybe.  Recent research by Johns Hopkins found little a week correlation between parents’ and children’s eating habits.

You were born a health nut – For some individuals, the instinct to stay healthy and feel good comes from within. Eating junk and being a slave to the couch simply aren’t options. These folks don’t need the government, their employer, their doctor or family to motivate them.


Perhaps if scientists could de-code the genetic make-up of health nuts, we’d have a happier, healthier world. And less of a healthcare crisis on our hands.  Or maybe even some in-depth market research on the matter would help. 

Spot the Fake Logo

Posted by: Melinda  :  Category: Marketing



Most people, when they hear the word “brand,” immediately think of a company’s logo and icon. If a business owner desires a new brand, he might pay $700 for a logo and think he’s nailed it. And maybe he got lucky and did. But in IMHO, a brand means so much more. And thinking through some of the strategic issues of your brand can save you time and money down the road. Do you think BMW thought about the image it wanted to convey beyond its logo?

I’ll be the first to admit the strategic part of the brand identity is not as sexy and exciting as the part dealing with colors, images, icons and typographies. I’ve seen it in clients’ eyes as I’ve conducted branding workshops over the years. Exercises relating to the looks of the identity can be more energizing than those dealing with target audience, messages and brand building tactics.

However, if I ask you the questions below, how many get a “yes” response?

·         Have you ever thought about your ideal customer and how it relates to your prospect list?

·         When you think about your target customer, do you know what the psychographic behaviors, as well as the demographics, of this base entails?

·         Does your elevator pitch elicit an emotional response?

·         Alternatively, does it simply tell someone else “what you do?”

·         Have you looked at brand building tactics as it pertains to your target audience’s consumption of information?

·         Last, but certainly not least, do you think that targeting fewer people with your products/services is better than lots of people?

If you answered “no” to most of these questions, then you might want to re-think your brand strategy. Or re-evaluate your strategic brand identity. After all, it’s never too late.

And if you want to test your awareness of visual brand identities, take this quiz. I thought it was pretty hard to spot the fake logo. Hum….maybe that visual stuff is only half the battle after all.