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5 Examples of Businesses that Built an Audience First

When it comes to starting a business, many entrepreneurs simply build a product and hope that an audience will come. Although this method can be successful, it also comes with a lot of risk. Without any idea of whether customers will actually want to buy your product, you are making a significant upfront investment on the hopes that people will come looking for it.

Recently, more and more brands are using a much safer method that focuses on building an audience first and focusing on developing the product second. The question, of course, is how to build that audience, and luckily for you we have the answers!

How to Build an Audience First

1. Choose a Platform

With the rise of social media over the past decade, it has become easier and easier for the average Joe to become an online celebrity. The trick, however, is choosing the right platform. Certain platforms lend themselves to different audiences while others lend themselves to certain kinds of content. That means that the platform you choose will shape who your customers are, what your products are, and what kind of community you build.

In general, we recommend that ecommerce businesses focus on platforms that lend themselves to visuals because these allow you to show off more of a personality and connect better with your customersInstagram and YouTube are two of the best platforms to start on as they have audiences that provide much higher engagements than Facebook and Twitter, and as a result foster really strong followings. Due to the “look and scroll” nature of Facebook and Twitter, it can be hard to get people to continuously check back in with your brand.

2. Provide Value

Once you’ve selected where you want to build an audience, you have to decide how. To do this, you need to provide some sort of value. In other words, you need to give customers a reason to search for your brand specifically.

You can do this in a number of ways.

Answer Questions

Google’s success has made it pretty clear that internet users are constantly asking questions. You can be the one to answer any kind of question on any topic of your choice, and you can be as specific as you want. If you’re an expert on fidget spinners, you can make a video featuring your “Top 5 Spinners” or answer questions like “Which spinner has the longest spin time?”. You can rest assured that if you are passionate about something, there are others like you out there that have questions that need to be answered.


Along with answering questions, tutorials are a great way for people to find you organically. Regardless of which industry you plan to be in, people are surely looking for “How To” videos, particularly in hobbies, crafts and makeup. This kind of content is relatively easy to create and is a good way to further establish you as an expert in a particular field.

Product Demonstrations

Product demonstrations will put you one step closer to actually selling a product because people want to see what they’re purchasing before they actually buy it. This desire is what inspired the explosion of product review and unboxing video channels appearing on YouTube over the past couple of years. By posting reviews or unboxing your products, your audience will begin to trust the validity of your products and, as a result, begin to trust your brand.

3. Build a Business

Now that you’ve built a loyal following on your desired platform, it’s time to actually turn this into a functioning business! By this point, you can call yourself an expert in your field and can make decisions on product design that are tailored to what your audience wants. Since fans naturally want to shop with the brands they follow, make it easy for them to purchase your products by building an ecommerce site and promoting it on your social channels. Last but not least, make sure you have a newsletter or some form of rewards program to allow you to collect a database of customers and fans. This will ensure that any time you release a new product or wish to send out an update, you now have a new channel to reach your audience through.

Congratulations! You now know what it takes to run a successful ecommerce business using content! Now let’s take a look at some other fantastic brands that found success through audience-first marketing.

Examples of eCommerce Successes Who Built an Audience First

1. Michelle Phan

Michelle is a wildly popular beauty guru and entrepreneur. She started posting makeup tutorials on YouTube in 2007 and has since accumulated almost 9 million subscribers! Her career as a YouTuber is sprinkled with tons of amazing achievements including launching her own cosmetics line – em cosmetics – with L’Oreal and creating a makeup subscription service called ipsy. Michelle is the perfect example of building an incredible audience and then providing them with a product that they badly wanted.

2. Vsauce

Vsauce YouTube channel

The Vsauce YouTube channel was started in 2010 by Michael Stevens and has since developed into a larger network with 5 channels and over 20 million subscribers! Specializing in scientific and informative videos, Vsauce has built an incredible audience of nerds, geeks, and scientists alike. As a result of knowing his fans well, in 2016 he launched the Curiosity Box which is a subscription box packed full of random items designed to teach scientific lessons in fun and creative ways. By releasing such an on brand product, he provided additional value to his audience while maintaining the high quality associated with his brand.

3. Philip Defranco

Philip DeFranco

Philip DeFranco began his news show on YouTube in 2006 and has since accumulated over 5 million subscribers on his main channel. These subscribers (including myself) are extremely passionate, and are now referred to as “The Nation”.

As Philip’s success continued to grow, The Nation started sending him tons of fan art that quoted him from the show, or included inside jokes that only loyal fans would understand. To turn this enthusiasm from his subscribers into an actual business and give back to his fans at the same time, he created his own ecommerce store, ForHumanPeoples (FHP). This initiative saw so much success that in 2012 Discovery Digital Networks actually purchased all of DeFranco’s assets.

4. 1924us

1924 us

In 2012, Christian Watson created an Instagram page called 1924us. Posting beautiful photography with a very unique “old school” feel to them, Christian has created an incredibly strong brand with a following of over 500k. He created such a powerful look and feel with his rustic photos, that he launched an ecommerce store that sells antique items such as old bottles of crow repellent, WWII first aid kits, and ancient Japanese cigarette cases.

By following his passion of photography, he was able to extend his brand and turn it into a very unique online business.

5. Grumpy Cat

grumpy cat

Grumpy Cat became a living legend in 2012 when her picture was posted to Reddit and proceeded to go completely viral. Following the reception of the pictures and memes, Grumpy Cat’s owner launched an Instagram accountwhich has now accumulated over 2 million followers.

By nurturing this audience and continuing to post photos and memes, Grumpy Cat somehow managed to stay relevant and kept popping up all over the internet. Due to this fame, the owner, Tabatha Bundesen, started selling merchandise, shirts, posters, and books featuring Grumpy Cat. She claims that in just two years, Grumpy Cat has managed to bring in almost $100 million, making it clear that when it comes to internet success, all you need is an interested audience.

Start Building an Audience

Starting an ecommerce business can be quite a nerve wracking experience, but it doesn’t have to be! As we’ve shown, one of the ways you can reduce the level of initial risk is by building an online audience first, and allowing the product to come later. Many entrepreneurs have done this in the past, and the rewards have been quite fruitful. Start with a few videos, photos, blog posts, whatever you choose, and who knows – you may turn into a Grumpy Cat sensation overnight.

Alex Keats is a Rewards Marketing Specialist and ecommerce enthusiast at Smile.io. He’s passionate about growing businesses, following his favorite YouTubers and solving Rubik’s Cubes.

Alex Keats






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