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What Does It Mean to Be “Upstream”?

May 04, 2016 | By Jennifer Russo

  • Many healthcare organizations delineate between “upstream” and “downstream” marketing
  • This designation – while prevalent – fails to categorize what activities should be spearheaded in each “swim lane”
  • While go-to- market strategy clearly is an “upstream” activity, we must develop more rigor around what it includes (and where the rest of the magic happens)

There is no doubt that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” (who am I to question Shakespeare?), but I have been thinking a lot lately about the designations of “upstream” and “downstream” marketing as they relate to roles within a healthcare organization.What Does It Mean to Be Upstream

While I agree that this designation articulates a need - that is, that certain activities (e.g. upstream planning) must happen before others (e.g. downstream execution) should occur– I also find them a bit wanting.  

Here are my concerns:

1. The terms “upstream” and “downstream” don’t clearly encapsulate what really happens in either “swim lane” – that is, other than being “upstream,” what is it that the marketer is responsible for?  

Consider instead:

There may be other terms that more clearly delineate the marketing function that is needed – e.g. product marketing, segment marketing, consumer marketing, and go-to-market strategy (usually “upstream” designations), vs. demand creation, marketing operations, customer/loyalty marketing (typically more “downstream” activities). Consider using terms that are descriptive of activity and goal, not just order.

2. I often find that “upstream” and “downstream” carry loaded connotations, and they shouldn’t. Just because a marketer has upstream activities in his or her charge, it doesn’t necessarily mean that his or her activities are more important than anyone else’s. 

Consider instead: 

Don’t assume that “downstream” is the same as “no strategic skills required.”  Strategic decisionmaking skills are needed in many marketing activities – not just those that are “upstream.”  Tactic mix selection and measurement approach are two incredibly important strategic activities that typically reside “downstream.” Make sure that each member of your team has a clear line of sight into how his or her activities and deliverables are crucial to the overall success of the marketing organization.

3. Simply designating one activity “upstream” and another “downstream” doesn’t indicate how the two fit together. 

Consider instead: 

A marketing ecosystem is a valuable tool for determining required marketing functions, leveraging “systems thinking” for organizational design (i.e. how changes in one part of a system impact the others) and differences in business contexts. Marketing leaders who use this model think in terms of the “inputs” and “outputs” that are needed for each role to perform its function. 

Want more information on ecosystems?  Join Jay Gaines and Jennifer Baker to discuss organizational design at the SiriusDecisions Summit on May 24-27, 2016!

Jennifer Russo

Jennifer is director of the healthcare segment at SiriusDecisions. She is a product and marketing leader with a background in health information technology, payers (health plans and pharmacy benefits), and strategic selling into bio/pharma. Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @Jrusso346.
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