Time Released Personality and Your Brand


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.’

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.

Chronological Storytelling

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 Facebook and find out that I party quite a bit, that I hang out with good-looking people and find myself in strange (and sometimes uncomfortable) situations. These are also real aspects of my personality.

Further exploration may lead to a Google search, where they’ll find an old quote that explains my opinion of art and design in terms of masturbation and sex. They may find that I was almost expelled from high school for writing a controversial (and misunderstood, I would say) column in the school paper. It’s all true; it’s all me.

Sending an email my way could result in a conversation about a shared childhood obsession with tabletop wargames (Warhammer! Woo!) 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 4 months, ran businesses from my laptop, owned 50 things, dated incredibly intelligent and good-looking 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 correct message.

And the message is everything, because this message is 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.


  1. DUDE.

    TOTALLY played 40K in jr. high/high school. I was absolutely that dude outwitting my older brother’s 40-yr-old Comic Book Store Guy look-alike. Eldar, of course. Oh and my SICK undead army on regular Warhammer.

    Oh and Magic, yeah, of course.

  2. Magic was my early teens as well. Won my pool at a pre-release tournament! Yes! (Er… no one’s supposed to know that).

    And what’s this controversial column?

    But, regardless, solid advice.

  3. Personal brands are hard to find these days. With all the crazy adverts in television and Internet, you can get lost. It’s as if you’re a generic manikin dressed up in stores, helplessly wearing the brands of the world. It’s a dilemma a lot of teens are having right now, even adults do sometimes.
    You are right, we do get in trouble for wearing our own personal brands. But hey, who says life is so much better without ever being in trouble? Who would bother to listen to a story that’s all bright and sunny? I wouldn’t care less if the message follows that very plain line.
    We are all born artists. So go ahead, create your pattern and label it your own. Somebody will always be there to back you up. 

  4. Very much like just getting to know someone you see regularly over a stretch of time, such as a new co-worker or a study group partner. You get to know the personality right away, and then all the quirky details just come around on eventually through conversation. A lot more interesting and fun than “speed networking” type stuff. My Magic career started and ended during college… yeah pretty late…

  5. Great advice. There certainly is value to putting some thought into the order with which you reveal who you are. You often only get one chance with this kind of stuff so it’s important to do it right the first time. Thanks for the insights, Colin.

  6. You can’t plan for every eventuality, but thinking about these things ahead of time helps you to make better decisions on the fly. When you’re telling a story, you want to be quick on your feet!

  7. Good comparison!

    I agree..there’s a time and a place for ‘speed networking,’ but it’s much more difficult to flesh out a full story that quickly. Much better to give the open lines (or first page) and then give the people you meet a chance to keep reading later (with a business card, phone number, website, etc).

  8. I was more of a Necron guy, and it was Orks before that…maybe Dark Eldar in there somewhere.

    A lot of what I know about networking actually came from setting up a Magic group at my local bookstore (that I ended up working at later, as a direct result). Anything that forces geeky kids to interact is a good thing, I think!

  9. Great advice. I’m working in my personal brand; hoping to make it as defined and articulate as yours soon! :)

  10. I think you have done an excellent job at branding yourself Colin. Very impressive. Book deal, then movie coming soon ;)

  11. A good brand takes a lifetime to build – we’re all in the same boat, building it a bit more with each action we take and contribution we make.

  12. What do you think of persona and branding? I always viewed personal branding as something natural, not engineered. That is, being who you really are, showing the best parts of you as to make natural connections. So eventually people begin to “get” you, and what you are all about.

    Where a persona is often a social mask to convey a message. Like Perez Hilton for example. How do you think persona and branding play together, should they be kept separate? Should one leverage the other?

  13. Hi Colin,
    Your advice came right in time.
    Back to work again.

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