Greg Cunningham has always been a marketing guy. He spent 17 years at Target Corp., and came to U.S. Bank in 2015 in the same capacity. Shortly thereafter, he was asked to become the bank’s first diversity and inclusion officer. Cunningham initially shrugged it off — hey, he’s a marketing guy — but now describes it as the best job he’s ever had. He helped launch the “Possibility Index,” a national online consumer survey designed to help the bank assess Americans’ views of their workplaces, homes and free time. It was an unusual approach to market research, based on bank leaders’ notion that “every data point has a heartbeat.” The index remains a work in progress, Cunningham says. But the attempt to quantify Americans’ hopes, dreams and fears has yielded surprising results.

Q: What is the Possibility Index?

A: We talk a lot at U.S. Bank about possibilities. Our marketing campaign is about “the power of possibilities.” As we were thinking about our brand, we wanted to know how people were doing and feeling about the three main areas of life — work, home and play — and how they talk about their lives online. We needed to know how people were feeling about those pillars. Do we have a sense about what they’re concerned about? We created an interactive tool for consumers that could help them think about their financial goals. It’s based on 19 quantitative data points, which gives us harder data and the ability to make comparisons across different regions of the country. We see the Possibility Index as a way to help us ask different questions about how we approach our work.

 

Q: What did you discover?

A: One of the interesting things was that people are much more optimistic in social media about what’s happening in their lives. It’s kind of a, “Duh,” but the data supported it. We found that in the western region of the country, “play” was off the charts. The Northeast was the top-performing region in terms of work. In the northwest central region, which Minnesota is part of, home was No. 1. We were third in the country on work, but we had the most positive conversations around work than any other region of the country. People talk much less about hating their job in this region than in others. There’s a sense of quality of life and enjoyment that’s taking place in our region that we didn’t see in other places.

 

Q: What was the thinking behind creating an index like this?

A: It started with a desire to continue to build trust with individuals and communities. Generally, people don’t trust institutions, they trust other people. We’ve been doing a lot of work in my world of diversity and inclusion, and in the world of corporate responsibility, to make sure when we’re interacting with communities we’re telling better stories of how we’re impacting both individuals and broader society. We wanted to find a way to engage in a way the felt really personal and engage in a way that communicates this notion of trust.

 

Q: What does the tool help people do?

A: As a consumer, there may be parts of your life you may want to expand or contract or put more focus on. Maybe it’s thinking about your kids’ education, planning for retirement, getting a better job or saving for a home. It helps people think, ‘I may be falling down in this area, what do I need to do to change?’ There’s a need on a personal level to challenge people to think about where can I make different choices about spending time and resources.

 

Q: Has the Possibility Index influenced any broader corporate strategies?

A: We’re still assessing the data, so not directly. But we’ve seen interesting correlations. For example, with our philanthropy, we have three grant circles: work, home and play. If you look at the index, “home” had the highest value followed by “play” and then “work.” That aligns with where we see some of the greatest opportunity, and supports our philanthropic funding efforts — such as programs that support job creation, workforce readiness training, financial education and literacy, small business and entrepreneurship. It was validating to see that the area of most concern is where we’re investing our resources.

 

Q: How does the index fit into your job to improve diversity and inclusion?

A: When I came to the bank, it was right around the time of a lot of unrest in our community. The bank wanted to relook at our diversity and inclusion efforts. I got tired of the Facebooking and tweeting about what was wrong with society, and decided I wanted to be part of the solution. Now I say there’s no daylight between who I am as a person and what I get paid to do every day for U.S. Bank. My job is to make sure there’s equality of opportunity whether it’s employees, customers or communities: that we don’t have people having different experiences because of their gender or race or sexual orientation or abilities. The index — which can be found at www.usbank.com/possibilityindex — fit into it because we need to understand how people are thinking and feeling so that we can better address those needs, particularly for underserved communities.