Mark Ecko: 3 Ways Brands Can Build Their Audiences

PHOTO: Rich Antoniello speaks onstage, Sept. 28, 2015 in New York City. | Marc Ecko poses on Sept. 29, 2015 in New York City. PlayGetty Images
WATCH How Complex Media Sees Future of Unique Content

It all started with a t-shirt.

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In 1993, Marc Ecko launched his brand, ecko unltd, creating shirts that gained attention with unique street style blending graffiti, skateboarding and hip-hop and eventually growing into a billion-dollar fashion and lifestyle brand.

Almost a decade later, Ecko realized there weren't any media platforms serving that same audience. So, in 2002 he created Complex, a print magazine that catered to male millennials and was later expanded into a digital brand with the help of Rich Antoniello, who now serves as CEO.

Now, Complex Media includes more than 110 websites with 50 million unique users each month. They've been listed as one of the most valuable internet startups, winning awards for their original content and constantly growing their digital publications for niche audiences. Earlier this year, Verizon and Hearst bought Complex Media, valuing the company between $250 million and $300 million.

Both veterans of the media landscape, Ecko and Antoniello shared what they see as the future of unique content on a recent episode of Real Biz with Rebecca Jarvis. To stand out in what seems like a constant stream of uploads, here are three ways they believe a brand can reach its audience:

1. Intimacy In a world full of 'influencers,' both Antoniello and Ecko agree: it's better to be unique. Instead of trying to create for the masses, create for the individual and make the experience feel singular.

"I think there's a lack of intimacy in the market now, I think that it creates a lot of opportunity," said Ecko. "If you could sort of break through the claustrophobic veneer of digital media and create an intimate relationship, it needn't be measured by being the biggest today."

For anyone seeking 'Insta-fame,' Antoniello asks the question:

"Throwing a hashtag up with a brand on top of an Instagram photo, how much value are you really getting there?"

2. Adaptation

One of the keys to Complex's success has been the brand's ability to adapt to changing tastes and media landscapes.

"You used to just build an audience and you'd be popular, you'd have it for 5-7 years to monetize it, maybe even 10," Antoniello said. "Now you've got really 18-24 months whether you slowdown in audience, or slowdown in revenue."

Keeping up with trends is more accessible than ever with social media and easy-to-read analytics: 'likes' and numbers of views under social post show how and where audiences are engaging with content.

"We just keep shedding our skin," said Ecko.

In other words: those who rest are those who rust.

3. Risk "Everybody likes to be like, 'Well you're the Uber of this, it's close to that model, it makes me feel comfortable.'" Antoniello said. Instead of looking at someone else's success and trying to emulate their method with your own idea, be bold and venture down an unknown path.

"It's the people that take the step outs that are the ones that have long term success, that create, that are the disruptors."

That may sound too obvious and simple and raise the question,"Why doesn't everyone do that?" But, Ecko said, the reason he thinks it's rare is, "That's creatively scary."