Steve Pavlina Branding

February 20th, 2008 by Steve Pavlina

It’s time to share the results of the personal branding experiment from the previous post. I asked visitors to this website to submit 3 adjectives to describe me. I let it run for 2 days and received a total of 1,101 responses, which included more than 3,000 adjectives.

First of all, a big thanks to everyone who participated. This experiment wouldn’t have been possible without you, so I really appreciate that you took a moment to send me your thoughts.

As the responses started coming in, it didn’t take me long to realize I should have come up with a better way to capture all this data instead of having it all come via email. It would have been easier to analyze the results if set up a special feedback form to insert everything into a database. But fortunately that wasn’t a big deal. I figured out a good way to generate some interesting results.

First, I exported all the replies for this experiment into a flat text file, and then I ran them through a word frequency analyzer to see which words came up most often. Finally I did some manual checks to make corrections for two-word phrases (i.e. open vs. open minded), to make sure common misspellings and language variations were still counted (i.e. successfull, inteligent, organised), and to double-check anything that seemed odd. An example of something that seemed odd was seeing the word “outside” in the results, which happened because people used it as part of “outside the box” or “outside-the-box.” So I made these sorts of adjustments manually until I was satisfied. Overall it took me about two hours to produce the final results.

You’ll see a lot of synonyms on this list. I decided not to combine any of them except in a few cases where a couple variations were essentially the same adjective (i.e. disciplined and self-disciplined). I was careful not to combine words that shared the same root but have different meanings, such as motivating and motivated.

Here are the top 200 results. The number after each word shows how many people listed it (out of 1,101 responses total).

1. Smart (182)
2. Intelligent (175)
3. Honest (86)
4. (Self-)Disciplined (78)
5. Driven (59)
6. Helpful (57)
7. (Self-)Motivated (47)
8. Inspiring (46)
9. Insightful (45)
10. Focused (45)
11. Curious (41)
12. Positive (39)
13. Interesting (38)
14. Creative (38)
15. Open-minded (35)
16. Successful (33)
17. Experimental (31)
18. Determined (30)
19. Conscious (30)
20. Thoughtful (29)
21. Courageous (28)
22. Passionate (28)
23. Personal (27)
24. Caring (25)
25. Organized (25)
26. Confident (24)
27. Independent (24)
28. Generous (23)
29. Funny (22)
30. Growth-oriented (21)
31. Dedicated (20)
32. Inspirational (20)
33. Thorough (19)
34. Innovative (19)
35. (Self-)Aware (18)
36. Open (18)
37. Geek(y) (18)
38. Ambitious (17)
39. Vegan (17)
40. Practical (17)
41. Nerd(y) (16)
42. Logical (16)
43. Adventurous (15)
44. Good (15)
45. Analytical (15)
46. Entrepreneur(ial) (15)
47. Wise (15)
48. Crazy (14)
49. Spiritual (14)
50. Hard-working (14)
51. New age(y) (14)
52. Persistent (14)
53. Inquisitive (13)
54. Deep (13)
55. Clever (13)
56. Kind (13)
57. Happy (13)
58. Enthusiastic (13)
59. Brave (13)
60. Weird (13)
61. Genuine (12)
62. Sincere (12)
63. Committed (12)
64. Proactive (12)
65. Witty (12)
66. Energetic (12)
67. Knowledgeable (12)
68. Unique (11)
69. Giving (11)
70. Arrogant (11)
71. Intuitive (11)
72. Friendly (11)
73. Compassionate (11)
74. Great (11)
75. Articulate (10)
76. Intellectual (10)
77. Thought-provoking (10)
78. Detailed (10)
79. Humorous (10)
80. Productive (10)
81. Thinking (9)
82. Thinker (9)
83. Prolific (9)
84. Loving (9)
85. Clear (9)
86. Original (9)
87. Best (8)
88. Different (8)
89. Active (8)
90. Goal-oriented (8)
91. Industrious (8)
92. Enlightened (8)
93. Brilliant (8)
94. Quirky (8)
95. Eccentric (8)
96. Rich (8)
97. Unconventional (8)
98. Purposeful (8)
99. Growing (7)
100. Inspired (7)
101. Informative (7)
102. Meticulous (7)
103. Sharing (7)
104. Straight (7)
105. Integrity (7)
106. Efficient (7)
107. Healthy (7)
108. Bold (7)
109. Intense (7)
110. Nice (7)
111. Methodical (7)
112. Straightforward (7)
113. Rational (7)
114. Free (6)
115. Writer (6)
116. Optimistic (6)
117. Influential (6)
118. Evolved (6)
119. Diligent (6)
120. Odd (6)
121. Motivating (6)
122. Outside-the-box (6)
123. Challenging (6)
124. Bright (6)
125. Centered (6)
126. Intriguing (5)
127. Authentic (5)
128. Consistent (5)
129. Obsessive (5)
130. Truth (5)
131. American (5)
132. Outgoing (5)
133. Fun (5)
134. Introspective (5)
135. Progressive (5)
136. Real (5)
137. Simple (5)
138. Opinionated (5)
139. Guru (5)
140. Work-centered (5)
141. Experienced (5)
142. Friend (5)
143. Eloquent (4)
144. Balanced (4)
145. Unusual (4)
146. Contemplative (4)
147. Broad (4)
148. Serious (4)
149. Assertive (4)
150. Lucid (4)
151. Important (4)
152. Awesome (4)
153. Free-thinker (4)
154. Worthwhile (4)
155. Calm (4)
156. Inspiration (4)
157. Human (4)
158. Leader (4)
159. Searching (4)
160. Conceited (4)
161. Expert (4)
162. Systematic (4)
163. Precise (4)
164. Effective (4)
165. Earnest (4)
166. Wealthy (4)
167. Teacher (4)
168. Communicative (4)
169. Trustworthy (4)
170. Pragmatic (4)
171. Special (4)
172. Eclectic (4)
173. Interested (4)
174. Extreme (4)
175. Fearless (4)
176. Strong-willed (4)
177. Savvy (4)
178. Cool (4)
179. Risk-taking (3)
180. Relaxed (3)
181. Powerful (3)
182. Helping (3)
183. Seeker (3)
184. Valuable (3)
185. Entertaining (3)
186. Imaginative (3)
187. Motivational (3)
188. Gifted (3)
189. Genius (3)
190. Reflective (3)
191. Goofy (3)
192. Transparent (3)
193. Professional (3)
194. Shrewd (3)
195. Dynamic (3)
196. Amusing (3)
197. Strategic (3)
198. Connected (3)
199. Strong (3)
200. Encouraging (3)

Now for some observations…

I’ll do my best to share my thoughts without sounding too conceited (#160) or goofy (#191), but it’s more important for me to be honest (#3), open (#36), and insightful (#9). :)

First of all, everyone is correct because branding is something that exists only in other people’s minds. So whatever anyone wrote is true for them.

Overall I didn’t find these results too surprising. I’ve been getting lots of feedback for years, so I already had a good general idea of how people branded me. The top pick (smart) makes sense because it appears at the top of every page of this site, and the #2 word is just a synonym for that.

What struck me immediately was the “long tail” of results for this experiment, with many words only used by 1 or 2 people. The #1 pick was only used by 1 in 6 people. There was no single word or phrase that a majority agreed on. One potential cause is that people typically enter this site by landing on one of the article pages first (such as through a link on another site or from a search engine), so there are hundreds of different pages that offer people their first impression.

This reveals that in some ways I don’t have a crystal-clear brand. It means different things to different people. While some branding experts might see that as a negative, I think it’s actually good. To me this indicates I’m doing a reasonable job of expressing myself as I am instead of promoting a false image that everyone can agree on but which isn’t real. It also suggests that people only see a limited slice of the real me in any article.

This list might actually be very useful to me down the road, since it gives me a pretty good sense of people’s expectations of me. For example, I could hand this list to my book publisher so that when they design the book cover, it’s consistent with how I’m already perceived. A book cover with a photo of me sitting cross-legged in a flowery meadow with a butterfly resting on my finger probably wouldn’t be such a good fit. :)

Another example: If I were to hire a web developer to redesign this website, I could hand them the list above and say, “I need a design that reflects this branding reasonably well.” I could simplify the list of course, but I’m sure you get the idea. If a redesign doesn’t fit the previous brand, it would send a confusing message to long-term visitors.

Some terms I found interesting were:

geeky/nerdy – It’s nice to see that side of me is coming through.

crazy/weird/quirky/odd/eccentric – I predicted in the last post I’d see some of these. No surprise there.

successful/rich/wealthy – It was strange to see that people think of me as rich, since I don’t normally think of myself that way. I think of money more in terms of ongoing flow, where these terms suggest an acquisition mindset. The word successful can mean different things to different people of course, but I included it here because many people equate it with financial or business success. I can’t deny that blogging has been good to me though.

interesting/influential/entertaining/intriguing – This makes sense, since some people read this website because they find the content interesting.

vegan/healthy – This could be inflated a little due to the recent 30-day raw food diet trial, but it was interesting to see that some people brand me in terms of my diet.

American – About half the visitors to this site are outside the USA, so it makes sense that this term would show up. A couple people even included Vegas in their response (not among the top 200 results), so I guess I picked up a bit of branding from my city as well.

writer/teacher/eloquent/articulate/prolific/professional – It was interesting to see that blogger didn’t make the top 200, but writer and teacher did. A couple people also submitted wordy. Guilty as charged on that one. :)

straight – This one surprised me, and I had to double check that it wasn’t part of a multi-word combo like “straight forward.” I don’t know if this was intended as a synonym for direct (i.e. “tell it to me straight”) or if I’m being branded for my sexual preferences.

simple – I’m not sure what this one means. Does it mean I simplify things? That I live a simple life? That I’m simplistic? That my website is simple in its design? That my writing is easy to read?

free – This could mean that people see me as expressing freedom, or they associate me with providing free content (or both).

funny/fun/witty/humorous/amusing/goofy – This is a good reflection of what I’m like in person. Even when working on a business deal, I like to joke around with people a lot. I don’t enjoy working with people who don’t have a sense of humor.

good/great/best/awesome/cool – Apparently some of my readers need a bigger vocabulary. :)

Some items on this list seem a bit contradictory (i.e. practical-crazy), but for the most part they’re fairly consistent, and where there are contradictions, that’s because they’re reflections of different sides of the real me.

I found it really interesting to see different threads of ideas weaving through the list. I can see elements of my intellectual side, my entrepreneurial side, my purpose to help people grow, my fun-loving side, elements from various articles, my diet, my attitude, and so on.

I imagine this list has to be somewhat biased toward the positive side because it seems unlikely that those who’ve negatively branded me would still be visiting this site regularly. One thing I noticed was that when somewhat negative terms showed up, they were usually combined with two positives. Actual submitted examples include “interesting, fantastic, arrogant” and “prolific, conceited, ambitious.”

I have to admit it was very unsettling to see such a long list of words that other people used to describe me. Even though the vast majority were positive, I feel like I’ve just been through a public dissection. I was actually surprised that I felt this way.

What’s really unsettling about this — the most disturbing part of all — is that when I look at this list, I’m forced to admit it’s more accurate than anything I could have written myself. Each person only submitted a few words, but the final result represents the collective beliefs of 1,101 people. It’s like everyone held a piece to the puzzle, and when all those pieces were assembled, the final picture is unbelievably close to the real me.

I expected the results to be reasonably accurate because I share so much of myself on this website, but I figured they’d ultimately be skewed in some way. After all, the vast majority of people who participated in this experiment have never met me face-to-face, so in most cases all they know about me comes from online interactions such as reading my articles, participating in the forums, or connecting via email. So how could that possibly give people a complete and accurate impression of the real me? Perhaps for any given individual, it can’t. But when everyone puts their individual pieces together, the collective result is just amazing.

There may be a lot of value in running similar experiments, not on personal branding but to find other ways to put your collective wisdom to the test. What do you think about various world leaders or current political candidates? What are the best cities in the world to visit? How do you collectively see yourselves (the group consciousness)? What would you like to see us test?

But perhaps the #1 benefit of running this experiment is that Erin will never be able to win another argument with me again.

Steve: Sorry, Erin… 86 people will verify I’m telling the truth, so you’ll have to take it up with them. 30 also believe I’m determined, so I’m afraid you can’t win.

Erin: That’s not funny!

Steve: 22 people say otherwise.

Erin: Oy vey. Kill me now.

Steve: Don’t worry. 25 people say I’m caring, so I still love you. :)

If you don’t see any new blog posts for a week, please call for help…


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