According to newly published research, the answer is only sometimes.

Hill+Knowlton Strategies, AIG, and Group SJR partnered with Research+Data Insights (RDI) to examine the role of data in our daily lives and predict how it influences our future actions. The national survey consisted of more than 4,400 interviews with the U.S. public and is the first ever public opinion poll about the public’s attitudes, knowledge, and behaviors about data. The findings, made available in a report entitled The Transformation of Influence: How Data is Changing Attitudes and Decisions, indicate a clear break: On largely transactional matters, people overwhelmingly look to data to inform their decisions, whereas on personal matters, they are significantly less willing to rely on data alone. What does this tell us about ourselves, and how organizations should reach us in a data-driven world?

Data on Data

The first thing to know is that data matters: 88 percent of Americans say they find claims more persuasive if they are supported by data. And yet, only 36 percent of Americans have the data skills to breakdown and understand this information, indicating an emerging “data divide.” As the majority of the public relies on data they can’t always understand, this is a more important issue for more than just marketers.

What questions are Americans relying on data to answer? When surveyed on specific issues, the public was most interested in data when it came to finding a laptop (86 percent) and managing money (84 percent). In contrast, people were far less interested in data on important personal questions, such as how best to raise children (38 percent).

“One thing that was surprising to us was the fact that 20 percent of the public said they want data to tell them whether to believe in God or not,” said Peter Zandan, Research Executive Director and Chairman of RDI. “Even though it’s low, that’s kind of wild.”

The fact that there is an audience for data, no matter the subject matter, is telling for the future. The likely reason that people are more comfortable using data to make decisions about laptops or investing is that they already do it – the rise of Yelp and Amazon review platforms, professional reviewers, and entire industries dedicated to advising on the best and worst transactional experiences have made data-driven decision-making a tool of the masses.

There’s no reason the same won’t one day be true for personal decisions – but the fact is that in many cases, the data simply isn’t there yet. Perhaps the 25 percent of people who are interested in using data to tell them whom to date or marry, for example, will spike upwards as the proliferation of dating sites and algorithms yield new data insights. For consumers, new data could mean a shift in how we make our emotional decisions. For brands, that is a major opportunity.

Branded Data

Brands have begun to take note of the public’s interest in data, but many marketers and companies are missing chances to increase their customer base and brand loyalty by keeping interesting data hidden or ignoring the data generated by online reviewers.

Domino’s Pizza’s 2008 rebrand is one example of how brands can succeed by insisting on data transparency. Domino’s asked customers what was wrong with its pizza and shared the overwhelmingly negative responses. The data, though negative, bolstered customer trust and led to a positive reception when the brand launched a new pizza informed by customer criticism.

“We did a ton of research for one of our clients around rebranding a controversial product and really, all consumers wanted was transparency,” said Driver. “The same applies here, knowing that people trust data, why would you want to exclude it?”

By generating more data about subjects that matter to consumers – whether it’s how they spend their money, what they eat, or how they conduct their family life – brands have the opportunity to fill a void for consumers. Data shows that as much as anything else, people want to be sure they’re doing the “right” thing. By informing customers with factual, helpful data, brands can become a more integral part of their personal lives as well as their transactions.

“Peter Zandan and his team’s research on data’s influence is truly groundbreaking and a wakeup call for marketers and brands alike,” said Jack Martin, Global Chairman and CEO of H+K.  “We should all pay close attention to these findings, as data continues to emerge as a key tool for marketers to understand and meet the needs of the public.”