As individuals with a desire to bring new things into the world, you get a lot of “how to” messages. Creative people tend to struggle with a bit of a chicken and egg conundrum. Should you begin with the product (for lack of a better work–though it could be a service, art, etc.), or by building your audience and starting a dialog?

What if you want to offer something, but you’re not even sure what it is?

It’s more common that you might think. In this situation, an entrepreneur or maker might begin not with an idea for a product, but with a desire to connect, knowing that he can offer value in the relationship. The starting point is building a brand–conveying why you’re out there doing what you do–wherever that may lead. You want to build an audience around your innate “why”, find out what that audience wants and what you can do for them.

Here’s a great example. Like you, I read a lot, gathering insight and inspiration from various disciplines and voices. There’s a lot of noise out there, and the voices that cut through the noise, who we return to again and again, are the ones that we can trust, and with whom we have some affinity. Over time, if their message remains relevant, we begin feel as if we have a relationship. One day, we might make a product purchase. In the case of Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand goop, she began by building an audience and learning what they want. First selling partner products, Paltrow eventually initiated her own products, which include a skin care product line. Gwyneth built an audience, learned what they wanted, and found ways to fulfill those desires while staying true to her brand.

Think of your own brand. You’re considering an idea and timing your move. What if the most important thing (after why) isn’t the what, but who, as in the audience that can also be your first customers?

According to Dorie Clark, we don’t have to go to market with products and services; starting by building an audience is inverting the typical model to your advantage. According to Scott Belsky (Making Ideas Happen 2010), many thought leaders keep blogs as laboratories where they experiment with ideas, gathering early feedback before deciding whether to execute.

Focusing first on audience is a product development strategy that works for many entrepreneurs and artists, and it might work for you. So next time you’re trying to develop product ideas, consider first “who is my audience” and “how can I find out what they want”. It might just be a winning approach.