Upstream Marketing vs Downstream Marketing

Excellent ecommerce marketing requires a blend of long-term “upstream” strategy and short- term “downstream” agility.

By Tom Wintaugh | August 22, 2023 | 4 minute read



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For ecommerce marketers, is it more valuable to focus on mapping out long range objectives, or to zero in on closing an immediate sale? Upstream marketing is a philosophy which places the emphasis on preparing for future selling trends, an approach that can shape the execution and effectiveness of many ecommerce marketing tactics. In this blog, we’ll look at the goals of upstream vs downstream marketing, and identify what types of results constitute success.

What is upstream vs downstream marketing? 

Upstream marketing is a way of describing long-term strategies for reaching and acquiring customers. Upstream approaches emphasize broader, strategic marketing decisions made well in advance, and include market research, understanding target audiences, and optimizing plans for a product's introduction to the market. 

Conversely, downstream marketing is about capturing more sales in the short term. It focuses on tactics that drive immediate sales, such as promotions, advertisements, and point-of-sale strategies. Think of marketing upstream vs downstream as the difference between plotting a journey on a map versus the immediate challenges of driving on a winding road.

4 Goals of Upstream Marketing 

1. Identify Opportunities. 

Through comprehensive market research, upstream marketing can help sellers spot “gaps” in the market by identifying customer pain points that are not being adequately met. Market research can also spotlight trends before they become mainstream.

Result: A comprehensive picture of market forces. Diving deep into a customer and industry analysis is crucial for equipping businesses with an understanding of the market's nuances, its challenges, and opportunities.

2. Define Target Audiences. 

Developing a strong portrait of the customer audience, sometimes in the form of personas, can help businesses determine who the product or service is for, with a much stronger sense of their buying preferences. Explore a comprehensive guide to building buyer personas here.

Result: Audience segmentation. Sellers who have broken down the market into segments based on demographics, behavior, or other criteria can then market products specifically to those groups with more relevant messaging.

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3. Shape Product Development. 

Products also benefit from upstream marketing efforts, as insights from market research can also guide product design, ensuring offerings specifically address actual problems that shoppers are experiencing. Understanding "pain points" around products is a crucial element of competitive differentiation. Market research around products can not only predict demand, it can also suggest the most effective methods for releasing products, such as the timing, scale, and best marketing channels for a roll-out.

Result: Product strategy. Successful ecommerce aligns product features and benefits with the needs of the target segment.

4. Establish Competitive Marketing Strategy. 

Upstream marketing also includes analysis of competitors’ offerings, results, and role in the industry. This helps contextualize marketing messages relative to the competitive landscape, in order to help brands set themselves apart.

Result: Brand positioning. Excellent ecommerce branding crafts a distinct image for the product or brand in the minds of consumers.

Planning ahead vs being responsive with marketing campaigns 

Due to its emphasis on planning ahead, upstream marketing can sometimes be perceived as rigid and slow to adapt to changes. But focusing only on driving conversions is risky without a steady flow of interest, traffic, and leads to fuel those sales.

In this sense, upstream marketing lays a foundation, and downstream marketing tactics then capitalize on real-time opportunities to drive sales and customer engagement. For example, while your upstream strategies may have identified a target segment, downstream marketing will experiment with different techniques—from flash sales to influencer partnerships—to resonate with that segment and drive conversions. We wrote about several conversion-driving tactics here, but the most important strategy is this: knowing what the broader trends first are gives a focus and relevance to how you optimize content for an individual sale. 

Strike a balance between working ahead and seizing the moment 

Excellent marketing programs blend foresight from data and research-fueled analysis with the adaptability of more conversion-focused tactics. By understanding and implementing both, brands can ensure they are prepared for future trends, while making the most of the present.

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About The Author

Katy Ellquist

Katy Ellquist, Miva’s Digital Marketing Strategist, is an accomplished writer, marketer, and social media analyst who has created sophisticated content campaigns for a broad range of professional clients. She brings to Miva a complex understanding of ecommerce trends and techniques, building upon extensive digital agency experience and a prior role as direct liaison to Miva’s top accounts. Katy is a regular contributor to the Miva blog, covering essential ecommerce topics like design & development strategy, site optimization, and omnichannel selling, with the goal of increasing the actionable knowledgebase of the entire Miva community.

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Author's Bio

Tom Wintaugh

Tom is a Content Marketing Specialist at Miva.

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