How do Amazon, Apple, Google, Nike, Southwest, Starbucks, and The Walt Disney Company win in the marketplace?

They focus on expanding their playing field using a strategic approach to identify and fulfill unmet customer needs. Creating and capturing uncontested market space is the domain of top marketers and the focus of this book.



Upstream Marketing draws on three key principles - insight, identity, and innovation - and six winning strategic practices, as described below. These are covered in the following parts parts and chapters of the book.

Principle 1: Insight. Internal clarity and proprietary customer insight are foundational to upstream marketing. Here we describe the role insight plays in strategy development and specific methods for obtaining it.

  • Define Your Purpose—To Whom? For What? Every organization needs a clear sense of purpose to direct strategy, including where and how to compete. An organization’s purpose, when linked with a customer management framework, provides the structure to identify strategic opportunity areas. In formulaic terms:

To whom + For what = Strategic opportunity area

This focus allows expert marketers to pursue initial beachhead targets, demonstrate success, and expand the business over time.

  • Maniacally Focus on the End Customer. Google considers itself an engineering company; Amazon, a retailer; Disney, a media and entertainment company. Dig deeper, though, and the unifying element is their commitment to customer-centricity. Upstream marketers define their markets in customer terms and obsess about the customer experience. We describe a step-by-step approach and practical tips to obtain customer clarity.

Principle 2: Identity. Your identity is who you are, and establishing your brand should start internally—first, define your purpose, then prove that identity externally. Mission, vision and value statements are essential components, though they are not enough. You need two critical aspects — value propositions and brand strategy —to win.
  • Design and Align Value Propositions. The profile companies create a multidimensional definition of value, aligning customer needs, benefit planks, and company operations. They employ creativity and concept iteration to create new market spaces and then work backward to deliver solutions.
  • Build and Extend the Brand. It’s no surprise the seven profile companies top the list of the most valued brands. Historically managed by ad agencies and marketing services, brand is now a boardroom topic and strategic weapon senior executives use to increase corporate value. They know how to build a deep, shared meaning of the brand internally and with customers externally, to craft and manage a portfolio of brands, and to selectively extend them to new areas.

Principle 3: Innovation. This is the hallmark of upstream marketing, and leading organizations draw on it to consistently fuel growth. We break innovation down into two core components: those dealing with strategy and process, and those relating to creativity and culture.

  • Experiment to Grow (Strategy & Process). Each profile company has its own innovation process, though they share common elements. Guided by insight and identity, the companies use similar methods—focused ideation, iterative concept development, prototyping, business screening—to open new opportunity areas.

  • Aim ’Em, Don’t Tame ’Em (Creativity & Culture). While organizational and cultural issues are often dismissed or overlooked as “soft stuff,” these are the very things that distinguish successful upstream marketers. The phrase, “aim ’em, don’t tame ’em,” coined by strategic facilitator Cavas Gobhai, encapsulates the seemingly contradictory values and behaviors needed to drive growth.

Now Apply It: Integrate and Execute. Any upstream marketing principle alone can improve business performance. Implementing them holistically unlocks their true potential. Insight informs identity, which improves innovation, which enhances insight, and the process repeats. It’s not a single thing. It’s all of them working together.

  • Upstream Marketing 7-Step Approach. Upstream marketing principles are universal. The method for enacting them, however, varies. What works for one company may not work for another. To jump-start upstream marketing, we share a proven seven-step approach. We show how integration—including active participation of executive decision makers at crucial points—is critical for success.
  • Chapter 9: Upstream Marketing Application. Would your organization benefit from an increased focus on upstream marketing? We complete the framework with case examples and a set of questions to diagnose upstream marketing potential.


Upstream Marketing will be published in February, 2021 by Greenleaf Publishing. You can pre-order the book now on Amazon.