As someone who brands people and companies for a living, I reflexively pay very close attention to my own online and real-world persona, tracking what works and what doesn’t, keeping careful mental notes and figuring out ways to improve my brand (and help others do the same).
I’ve been watching one facet of branding in particular as my name and work and story have been passed around with greater gusto online, and that facet is something I’m going to called ‘Time-Released Personality.’
A personal brand is incredibly valuable because it:
1. Communicates who you are clearly to strangers who wouldn’t otherwise have reason to stick around long enough to find out, and
2. Gives you an excuse to be yourself in a world that is trying to make you fit inside a standardized box with a standardized label adhered to it.
The trouble with many personal brands, however, is that they have a powerful opening line (“Hi, I’m Charles and I’m a mixed-martial-artist astronaut with only one leg!”) but no depth to back it up for the long haul (“What else? Ahm…uh…did I mention I only have one leg?”).
It’s all candy shell, no chocolate.
The solution to this problem is to know at what stage in your relationship you’ll divulge different aspects of your personality. You don’t want to introduce the parents and look at childhood photos right away: there’s definitely a time for that, it’s just not on the first date. Slow down, Tiger.
I’ve got a practical example of this in action.
My image — which is usually the first thing people see when they encounter my site, my interviews, or any of my work — is minimal, designerly, adventuresome-yet-calm with a bit of an edge and some jauntiness thrown in for flavor. That’s my real personality, and I do my best to convey it as quickly as possible without confusing anyone.
If that first impression catches someone’s attention, they’ll likely explore further. They’ll read the About page and find out that I’m very serious about my philosophies and that I start new businesses as a hobby, not a job. They may go through my photos on social media and find out that I party sometimes, that I hang out with interesting people, and that find myself in strange (and sometimes uncomfortable) situations. These are also real aspects of my personality.
Sending an email my way could result in a conversation about a shared childhood obsession with tabletop wargames (Warhammer!) and collectible card games (Magic ruled my early teens) and the fact that I wanted to be a chaos theorist, then a comic book artist, then a journalist, then a painter before I finally settled on design and illustration in college. I was a geek and a half. And I still am.
But none of these things matter unless the right information gets across first.
Don’t Be a Hodge-Podge, Be a Pattern
If people didn’t know that I moved to a new country every four months, ran businesses from my laptop, owned 50 things, hung out with interesting people and worked maybe 4-8 hours per week, would they care that I spent a year in high school wearing only Hawaiian shirts without any idea that it might be a fashion faux pas? No. People do that all the time, there’s no intrigue there. The order in which the information is consumed is vital in conveying the right message.
And the message is everything, because this message tells a story.
It’s a story that will be slightly different to every person who dives into it because some will have read and watched and listened to slightly different things than others, and that’s okay. So long as each person walks away with a good, rounded-out sense of who you are and what you’re all about, you’ve succeeded in creating a brand worth touting.
If you’re going to bring awareness to a cause, increase your perceived value and expertise or create a movement, the story is your most valuable asset.
Tell it well. And in the right order.
Update: January 26, 2017
It’s true, there was a period in my life, early teens through high school, during which video games, Warhammer, and Magic cards were essentially all I spent my time and energy (and money) on. Just my luck that I would leave each of those folds right before the geek-chic movement took hold and such things became cool.