Upstream vs. Downstream Marketing

Upstream marketing should always co-occur with downstream marketing. At some point, your upstream strategy becomes your downstream strategy as you look further ahead. When used together, upstream marketing and downstream marketing create a holistic marketing strategy that is competitive, customer-centric, and future-oriented.

In marketing, success depends on knowledge and insight. Effective teams exercise their mutual understanding of marketing principles, trends, and behaviors to design appropriate strategies. Being able to understand upstream marketing vs downstream marketing will sharpen your team’s awareness of critical frameworks, leading to more effective business marketing strategies.


How To Classify Marketing Strategies 

There are several ways to sort and distinguish marketing strategies. Some teams refer to the “4 Ps” framework: product, price, place, and promotion. Others classify strategy according to the communication medium—social media marketing. But so many companies overlook a crucial classification scheme: upstream versus downstream marketing.


There are essential distinctions between these strategies. Deepening your team’s understanding of them enables them to devise and deploy the appropriate method for your situation.


The Upstream vs. Downstream Marketing Model

Within this model, strategies are differentiated by purpose. Upstream marketing focuses on innovation and future development. Downstream marketing refers to short-term sales and current market behavior. But it’s essential to remember that both strategies are two sides of the same coin. The two terms refer to the direction of perspective. Whether you are looking upstream (the future) or downstream (the past and present), ultimately, there is only one stream.


The upstream strategy versus downstream model exercises the resources of sales and marketing teams to create relevant and impactful strategies. To that end, developing the working relationship between your marketing and sales departments is crucial to successful model implementation. 


What Exactly Is Upstream Marketing?

The upstream creates predictive, long-term strategies to anticipate future changes in the relevant market. The process consists of analyzing the prospective market and promoting innovation within your team for a competitive advantage. Upstream marketing considers a brand and product’s current market placement. It also predicts future in-demand trends and assesses a brand or product’s ability to meet that demand.


Your Upstream Marketing Plan

An effective upstream marketing plan answers the following questions:

  • Where is the market heading? 

  • Where are the market gaps and how can they be filled? 

  • What are customers likely to want next? 

  • What are the company’s relevant capabilities?


To answer these questions, your team should work closely with a sales team to research existing market behavior predictions. Every trend presents a new marketing or sales initiative opportunity. Your team can identify these opportunities and determine what’s most likely to generate attention.


How To Assemble an Upstream Marketing Plan

Establish a clear buyer persona to ensure upstream marketing takes place.  Your team must assess existing consumer pain points to determine future demand. You can use the following steps to establish critical upstream marketing activities.


Step 1: Survey Customers 

Determine how to fulfilling customer needs by surveying them. A survey helps streamline data collection for aggregation. You can use quantitative or qualitative surveys, social media polls, or request voluntary submissions. Surveys have some drawbacks; customers may be unwilling to take the time to answer them or may not answer honestly.  Our book summary of Running Lean provides some great guidance here.


Step 2: Analyze Trends 

To predict market behavior, your team must analyze past and current trends. Look at sales of specific products or competitor data. Gather social media metrics too: a trending hashtag can provide insight into widespread interest.


Step 3: Innovate 

Innovation is the most crucial component of upstream activities and marketing. Your team needs to brainstorm unique products and services that would be feasible for the business to provide.  See this article titled “What Startup Should I Start?


Step 4: Create a Timeline

Creating a timeline allows your team to visualize critical points in your marketing strategy. Identify significant goals and break them into more manageable steps. Use the timeline frequently to keep your goals and initiatives at the forefront of your team’s priorities.


Step 5: Evaluate the Market and Assess Resources

Return to your research to examine additional factors, such as the production and pricing of products and services. Market strategizing is an iterative process, alternating between research and innovation.  See this article titled “Business Model Canvas: Key Resources.”


What Is Downstream Marketing?

What is downstream marketing? The downstream marketing definition generally applies to short-term sales goals. Many business leaders focus on downstream marketing as a general marketing tool. But, downstream marketing doesn’t necessarily promote innovation and develop opportunities to scale the business. Work closely with sales to identify priorities and goals. Your team’s responsibility is understanding how to meet those goals.  


Two recommended resources that might help with the planning are the Business Model Canvas and the 1-Page Marketing Plan.


Your Downstream Marketing Plan

Critical downstream marketing activities should answer the following questions:

  • What are the significant numbers you want to hit now? For example, X sales in X days/weeks.

  • How are other companies meeting similar goals? How has your organization met its past goals?

  • What marketing campaign will get you to the goal? How and when will you measure success?

  • What are the details of the campaign? Answer the “how,” “when,” and “where.”


How To Assemble a Downstream Marketing Plan

Your team should assemble an upstream plan, allowing goal visualization, providing clarity to your downstream project, and gaining a competitive advantage. To create your downstream marketing plan, consider the following strategic process:


Step 1: Identify and Clarify Goals

Work with a sales team to identify and clarify revenue growth goals. Use the SMART goals model, in which goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Provide a numerical value to each goal so your team can measure success accordingly.  


Step 2: Market Research

Research is always crucial to marketing. In this stage, you’re assessing the current state of your sales and marketing endeavors. You will also examine competitors’ performance and determine market behavior.


Step 3: Audience Segmentation

Break your consumer base into distinct characteristics to examine audience behavior. For example, you can segregate audiences by geographical location, gender, job title, and industry.


Step 4: Brainstorm Strategies

Identify strategies to meet each distinct goal. Strategies should be short-term and easy to implement. Identify how best to approach your audience and cultivate them towards conversion.


Step 5: Create a Content Calendar

Creating a calendar will allow your team to visualize objectives and deploy strategies accordingly. Schedule strategies like social media posts, blog articles, PPC ads, emails, and more.


Upstream Marketing vs. Downstream Marketing

Every business needs upstream and downstream marketing to succeed.  Separating the two simply contributes to clarity and vision among your team members. These are the significant distinctions between both approaches.



Upstream marketing generally focuses on long-term goals and the business’s future. Downstream marketing handles short-term goals and immediate needs. A business using upstream marketing might work to identify new products to satisfy market gaps. When it comes to downstream versus upstream marketing, a company works to promote existing products.



Upstream marketing is more open-ended. Marketing teams work to identify all industry possibilities and opportunities. There’s a lot of trial-and-error and uncertainty with upstream marketing. Downstream marketing is typically grounded in numerical data and entails a step-by-step process of identifying and meeting immediate objectives.



Many businesses only use downstream marketing. But failing to distinguish the two can prevent your business from thriving in your target market. Give your team a competitive edge by clarifying key differences between upstream and downstream activities. 


What To Know Before You Go 

Upstream and downstream activities work best together. Upstream marketing should always co-occur with downstream marketing. At some point, your upstream strategy becomes your downstream strategy as you look further ahead. When used together, upstream marketing and downstream marketing create a holistic strategy that is competitive, customer-centric, and future-oriented.


Get Expert Insight

Marketing teams sometimes struggle to balance the responsibilities of upstream and downstream marketing. While the chief marketing officer (CMO) generally guides both approaches, your business may not have a full-time CMO. A Fractional CMO  can help manage and organize both marketing streams—at a fraction of the price. Contact us for more information on upstream and downstream marketing. Upgrading your marketing approach to accommodate both streams will contribute to your business’s lasting success and future growth.


Author Bio

Picture of GROKKETSHIP Staff


Looking out the window, upstream and downstream marketing


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