Upstream Marketing Framework
There is a saying in management consulting, “A problem well-stated is half solved”. In clearly defining a problem, it’s that much easier to solve. Similarly, Albert Einstein once said that if he had an hour to solve a problem, he’d spend 59 minutes thinking about the problem and one minute thinking about solutions.
The corollary to this is a concept called “boiling the ocean”. As the term suggests, if the problem is unclear, the risk is trying to do the impossible. Some problems are so complex it’s difficult to know where to begin and “analysis paralysis” sets in.
By definition, growth involves new things: new products, new markets, new channels. There’s often no existing fact base to mine. It can be unclear how to get started and what comes next. What type of market input is required? How should we think about, define and screen opportunities? What steps are necessary?
As companies recognize distinct differences between upstream marketing and downstream marketing and struggle with time and resource management, a new framework and tools for applying insight, identity, and innovation principles are required. The framework provides the structure and method for analyzing and synthesizing results. Here’s an overview.
Think of upstream marketing as an overall concept, designed to answer four questions: Where to play? How to win? How might we? and What must be true? In asking the right questions, the answers come faster, better and cheaper. Upstream marketing principles support each question, across insight, identity, and innovation. Within each principle, there are two best practices (split into chapters) that break down the principle into specific actions items and more manageable bites. Underlying the principles is an upstream marketing process, designed to break down silos and integrate them for implementation. Here’s the framework:
Four Framing Questions
Each question occurs at a specific point and draws on defined research methods in obtaining answers. Collectively, they provide the questions and structure vital to upstream marketing. Here’s an overview:
- Where to play is the first core, strategic business decision that must be tackled, regarding where to compete and where not to compete. Which markets, which customers, which channels, which set of products and services should be pursued? It is an exercise in mapping customer segments (to whom?) and their needs (for what?), then identifying strategic opportunity areas to pursue.
- How to win informs value proposition and brand strategy design and development. If where-to-play determines the fishing pond, how-to-win defines the optimal bait. What’s the optimal product, service or broader value proposition concept to address the opportunity area? What will it take to win? Product-concept development and optimization is used in determining how to win.
- How might we is used to jumpstart innovation, and challenge conventional thinking in developing creative solutions to complex problems. With upstream marketing strategically aimed, focused ideation helps identify alternative ways to solve problems. How might we uses a particular question format, to spark creative problem-solving. The question wording is preferred (vs. How can we? or How should we?) as it suggests a solution is possible. It allows marketers to solve complex problems, in a focused, creative way.
- What must be true is the final question that links upstream and downstream marketing. While the prior three questions support expansive thinking, this narrows choices in moving toward execution. To improve success rates, it’s necessary to consider ahead of time what’s required to succeed. Go upstream and assess the situation: For a new product, what would need to be true about product acceptance, channel penetration, sales and marketing requirements, and so on? Determining the conditions that would have to be true to be successful is used in screening and improving opportunities to proceed.