Traveling home from a client visit earlier this week, I decided to make the two-hour drive a little more interesting by turning on one of my favorite podcasts, the TED Radio Hour. If you haven’t heard of or checked out this podcast before, it’s worth a listen. For approximately 50 minutes, you hear from 3-4 TED Talk presenters all being interviewed around a similar subject, sometimes with differing opinions.

“The Story Behind the Numbers” episode was all about how we view and use data in our lives and what it does to our perceptions of the world. It also got me thinking – how are community financial institutions using data and shape perceptions in the minds of their consumers?

When the topic of using data to better target and market to customers comes into conversation with our clients, it’s usually greeted with one of two responses:

  • That’s so cool! What else can we do with our data?
  • That’s creepy. We don’t stalk our customers.

But, as with anything, it’s all how using the data is approached. During the TED Radio Hour episode, Steven Pinker explained that, according to the data, the world as a whole is a better place than it was one, two or even three decades ago. That our view of the past being the “good old days” is really us viewing everything with rose-tinted glasses. He explained that even though we continually hear about negative events – crime, poverty, death – we are statistically better off as a world and as a society than we ever have been.

The same concept applies to how financial institutions use and present the use of data that we are able to collect on our customers. Framed in the correct way, mining data on our customers is advantageous for both sides. For instance:

  • “How would you like us to dig into your credit card transactions and give you cash back on certain things?”
  • “We’re going to give you 4% back on all gas purchases and 3% cash back on grocery purchases!”

In today’s digital world, consumers are becoming more comfortable and expect that their actions and behaviors are watched, measured, and used to pitch to them. But the presentation still matters. Do you ever wonder why your bank or credit union randomly gets customers unsubscribing from your marketing lists? Sure, sometimes the purging of a junk mail inbox happens. More than likely, however, the message to that customer was either not relevant enough or too relevant.

Marketing always starts with data. How we use that data matters. It matters in the way that our story gets told and the perceptions that are formed about our brand.

Think about it in terms of Wells Fargo versus your brand. It’s well known that Wells Fargo data mines to put more, more, more in front of their customers. And many times, it’s so obvious it’s painful.

So how does your brand use that same data? Is it obvious it’s a push for product or rate, or are you truly helping your customer’s financial life?