The Watering Hole.

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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Selling the Exception.

Selling the ExceptionPeople in the business ask me all the time about my position in The Great Debate on Viewability. Truth is, I don’t have one. That doesn’t mean I don’t think it’s important; it most certainly is. But it’s important in the way that long term inflation or interest rates or derivative trading laws are important. Companies and experts will engage in long-term trench warfare over the issue, eventually coming up with a set of compromises. But in the meantime, the rest of us have to make a living.

If you suddenly find that your dollars only buy one bag of groceries instead of two, you don’t argue with the supermarket cashier about the value of the currency. He can’t help you with that. You’re also not going to get very far if you offer to pay instead in Euros or to barter some live chickens. No, you’ve either got to accept the current rules and currency of the transaction or find someone who can grant you an exception or agree to a different kind of currency.

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The great sellers and sales organizations are the ones who are doing just this: carving out exceptions to current buying policies and metrics or getting the customer to trade in a different currency or at a higher rate. They’re not wasting time arguing at the cash register. The media planning team can’t help you: they are either stuck with the same policies and exchange rates that you are, or are using those policies as a convenient cover for a buying decision they just don’t want to make with you anyway. You think your inventory or services are worth a premium? Or that you should be valued based on engagement levels or social interaction instead of impressions and clicks? The bank teller can only shrug sympathetically or close the window on you. (Oh, by the way…that bank teller is about to be replaced by a programmatic ATM.)

If you’re a seller or manager who’s wringing your hands over issues like viewability or the ROI metrics you’re seeing in RFPs, you’re wasting valuable time and energy. The job now is selling the exception, getting a carve-out for your offering. You won’t get it if you only spend time at the point of transaction. You’ve got to find clients, agency management and others who can consider your ideas way before the budget is formed, the rules are imposed and the RFP is sent to you and 150 of your closest friends.

I work with thousands of sellers and dozens of companies every year. This kind of creative, enterprise sale get executed every day. Great sellers and great companies are having these conversations all the time. Why aren’t you?

You might have noticed that The Drift has a new look. You may also be interested in the remodeling we’ve done back at our company site. Have a look and tell us what you think.