Occasionally someone asks about the origin of our company name - Upstream. I could go on about its deeper meanings, spiritual implications and more. But for purposes of today's post, there's a simpler meaning: Upstream is the opposite of the watering hole.
In any mature industry, the watering hole is the agreed upon place where we all drink. It's the settled, transactional hub. It may be crowded, noisy, smelly and dangerous, but it's the place we know and feel we understand. The upfront buying season is a watering hole. So is the established advertising campaign and its most transactional component, the RFP. Today we have a new watering hole in the establishment of an ongoing programmatic marketplace. We have in turn complained about all of these watering holes: the levels are too low... the quality of the water is suspect... some members of the herd are getting unfair advantages. But we largely accept that our only options are to make incremental improvements to the watering hole experience: to clean it up a little... set up rules for consumption... better organize the herd.
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But today there are significant questions around the future of the watering hole and the survival of the average member of the herd. Larger beasts that have never historically belonged to the advertising species (FB, G, A) have set up their own private watering holes, diverting much of the water before it ever gets downstream, to the place we traditionally drink. And those who have always been the source and tributaries - marketers and brands - are questioning the necessity and wisdom of even filling the watering hole anymore. The noisy, crowded, confusing spectacle downstream can seem increasingly disconnected from the intricate and timely work of brand marketing and product sales.
Upstream it's different. The conversations there are not about spending the budget, they're about creating new opportunity and wealth. Upstream we have specific business conversations and speak the language of the brand. We aim to solve problems and accelerate business success. And we're rewarded with our own fresh water supply for doing so. Upstream we don't spend time and energy cursing the darkness or arguing with the refs. It's a place for doing. It can get lonely and treacherous upstream because the herd isn't there and there are no established maps or rulebooks.
Upstream isn't completely separate from the rest of world; the watering holes and herds still exist, on the periphery. It takes hard work and discipline to start spending time upstream, but individuals and companies make the journey every day. We help them.
Living and operating upstream from the watering hole and the herd is also a decision...a choice you make if you want to impact policy and strategy. If you need motivation to make that choice, take a hard look at the watering hole that's rapidly drying up right before your eyes.
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WrittenNov 20, 2019
Read time3 min read
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