Two Types of Marketers: Upstream and Downstream

In my industry interactions with marketers (both at startups and at large corporations) I’ve found there is a dichotomy between marketers, and the organizations which they serve, succinctly, I see two types of roles:

1) Downstream Marketers
This style of marketer is most common.  They are often marketing products which are handed to them from product teams, or remote engineering teams, even abroad in other countries.  They often have little say over what they will market, and are often measured on transactional measurements, often signups, leads, or total sales.   The downside for this marketer is they are often non-strategic, and focused on marketing tactics, but the upside is they’re role is often safe and secure for the short term.

2) Upstream Marketers
This role is less common, but often found if there’s a research, strategy, analyst, or intelligence group within the marketing unit.  This group often researchers and interacts with the market to define long term direction of where the market is, then brings in key product teams to define a roadmap based on future direction.  This group has challenges, as if they don’t tie their efforts to the point of transaction (signups, revenue), they’re efforts will not be considered grounded and their value to the company will be challenged.

In the end, a mature marketing organization will have elements of both to serve the brand they’re part of. Downstream marketers that want to develop upstream capabilities can do this by first reading secondary research in their market, then conducting research using surveys, online brand monitoring, and working with third parties who focus on the future of their market.

With the plethora of raw emerging from every direction and, consumer voices, marketers of both types have an opportunity to quickly be strategic and make sense out of this orginization and lead the company –not just push products down the channel.  Prior, I’ve discussed this on Facebook.

18 Replies to “Two Types of Marketers: Upstream and Downstream”

  1. I would disagree slightly, I think both marketing types are actively looking for revenue. The main difference is the forecasting aspect: one side is looking at the map and where it leads, whereas the other simply driving and hoping they’ll eventually get home safe.

  2. Kent, a good summary. Another way I would add to this is that Upstream is proactive and looking ahead, and downstream is reactive and marketing what is handed to them.

  3. The first only requires a lot of energy upfront. With an educated marketing path the reactive process will take less energy/time/money and has a higher probability of success from the start. The BIG risk with the Downstream is if the path chosen from the start is the wrong one. Then the corrective process may take more energy/time/money of the team.

  4. J – you hit the nail on the head again. In my many years as a marketers, I’ve been both types (more #1 in earlier days). It certainly helps when leadership recognizes the power of marketing in defining product / company direction. Deep customer, market and competitive research add tremendous value to any organization and marketing should drive this research and communicate its implication to senior leadership. #2 does take patience, hard work and strategic thinking… it all pays off.

  5. As you rightly said, Marketing I think should have both, first sailing upstream and then rowing downstream. It should be the upstream role of marketing that defines the strategy and demand the product team to hand over a product and then go downstream to market it. It is all about doing the homework well before getting in to market something.

  6. Hi Jeremiah, I think this distinction is fascinating… I work for social media monitoring specialists Synthesio, and we work with global brands to help them listen to and understand what their customers are saying about them. We find that the ones using social listening most successfully would fall into the ‘upstream’ category – as they have customer experience teams or research-driven marketing teams that use the social intelligence from our monitoring to shape their product development; this in turn informs their marketing activities. They are more proactive generally – however, as you and Viktor (in the comments) say, they combine this with reactive behaviour, for example tailoring their marketing campaigns on the fly in response to trends they find through listening.’Swimming upstream’ is what we try and promote, but we also aim to help brands recognise that they have to do both in order to be most effective.

  7. Actually, it depends. Traditionally, I think of MarCom as downstream, as they’re often telling a message across channels. However, if the MarCom team is responsible for research, analysis, measurement at a strategic level, then they’re can be both.

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