So you’d like to be a YouTube millionaire, with a massive following subscribing to your channel, watching your videos, and buying your merchandise.
YouTube ought to come with a warning label: Caution, success isn’t nearly as easy as it looks.
“People think that you can put a kid on YouTube opening a present,” laughs Gampp, whose “How To Cake It” channel is one of the most successful in the history of the medium. “It’s a little more complicated than that.”
Gampp’s rise demonstrates just how much work goes into YouTube success. At the same time, her path offers marketers a roadmap to spinning YouTube gold.
The first thing to know about Gampp is that she is part of a team of three women, along with Jocelyn Mercer and Connie Contardi. Gampp is the on-screen talent, and her two partners provide the essential branding and content background. Mercer and Contardi have been television executives for years, whose business model consists of finding great talent and pitching shows to networks.
“The problem is that sometimes your vision doesn’t match what the networks want,” Mercer says. “Or you can offer them something that gets on the air, and then it’s cancelled a season later.”
This was the case with Gampp, a lifelong designer and baker of extraordinarily creative cakes who received a season’s worth of exposure on a Canadian network show, only to discover that the show was not renewed.
“I had a small following from that show to build on,” Gampp recalls. “Very small. When I first went on Facebook for my baking, the only friends I had were real friends. Television did a lot less for my brand than you might think.”
Mercer and Contardi, undeterred, recognized that Gampp could be a megastar, if only she had the right vehicle. And that’s when they turned to YouTube.
“Television is a grind,” Gampp admits. “But YouTube is even more of a grind. With TV, you’ve got to do a show every week for a certain number of weeks, but then you go on hiatus. You get a break.
“With YouTube, your audience is expecting a new video every single week. There’s never any time off. People think that once you get a big following, you can take your foot off the gas. The opposite is true. I’m incredibly grateful for what we’re doing, and the success we’re enjoying, but at the same time, it’s a lot more work than people realize.”
Mercer agrees. “Consistency is everything with YouTube,” she says. “It’s an incredible medium because it allows you to bypass the decision makers who can reject your show, or throw it off the air after you put so much work into it. But at the same time, you’ve got to keep on creating high quality content, because if you don’t, your audience can turn on a dime and go elsewhere.”
How To Cake It appears to be in no danger of losing its audience, which they painstakingly built, one social media platform at a time.
“We’ve always focused on YouTube,” Gampp says. “It’s our mother ship. When we started, people said, you’ll be lucky to have a hundred thousand subscribers in a year. When my birthday came around, I asked the viewers if they could help me get to 5,000 subscribers. Instead, we had 100,000, practically overnight. That’s when we knew we had something.”
Mercer says that although YouTube subscribers and views were the main metric, they didn’t try to conquer every social media platform at the same time.
“We took them one by one,” Mercer recalls. “If we had tried to spread ourselves too thin, we would have gotten nowhere. Once we had a footing on YouTube, then we went to Facebook. Then we went to Instagram. And so on. When you’re operating on a small budget, as are most people trying to break onto YouTube, you’ve got to focus your efforts tightly instead of trying to do too many things at once.”
The tricky thing about YouTube is that you build an audience when you have the least amount of experience and exposure. You get better over time, but if the initial audience doesn’t fall in love with you, it will be hard to attract people who see how much better you’ve gotten.
“Yolanda was an introvert when we started,” Mercer says. “She never sought fame for its own sake. She loves baking, and she loves cakes, but it was never about developing stardom for its own sake.
“She was shy on camera. If you look at the initial videos, you’ll see that we were asking her questions, prompting her to talk about what she was doing. Over time, she is becoming more comfortable and more confident. New viewers today only know that side of her. But it was definitely a learning process for all of us.”
It also helps to choose a great role model for your success. Gampp has always admired Martha Stewart, and a seminal moment for her was when she encountered the multitalented TV star, author, and style guru in a green room prior to a TV appearance.
“It was phenomenal meeting her,” Gampp recalls. “What I admire about Martha Stewart is that she always went with what she had, and she changed with the times. She always moved into whatever was hot, and she never looked back. That’s true whether it was magazines, books, or television.
“She came up as a model, and then she developed all these other areas of expertise. To me, she’s the total rock star of the industry.”
Stewart’s example inspired the How To Cake team to branch out from videos into merchandise—Cake tees, clothing, and a new book published by HarperCollins that is just as meticulous about cake baking as is its author.
“Your audience grows up and develops new interests,” Gampp says. “You’ve got to be thinking about how else you can reach them. You can’t stay static.”
The other reason for the channel’s success? It’s fun.
“Connie and I always wanted the videos to be entertaining,” Mercer said. “We never intended this to be a straightforward, educational baking channel. Instead, Yolanda is so much fun, and we wanted the viewers to have fun with her. That’s the real secret of her success—she lets her authentic self shine through.
“When you know Yolanda, it’s hard not to fall in love with her. And it’s really cool that millions and millions of people have done just that.”