What is the difference between hard and soft data?

Rogier de Moel
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Data marketing is becoming increasingly popular, and marketers are therefore becoming more and more often data specialists. An easy first lesson for beginners is being able to distinguish between hard and soft data.


Definition of hard and soft data

Hard data are factual data. Such as someone's name, address, or gender. In addition, hard data are explicitly disclosed by visitors. A good example is someone filling in their personal details on a web form.

Soft data are fluid data. They tell something about someone's preferences and interests. For example, is someone price-conscious or does he value good service more? What products or topics is he interested in? In addition, soft data are predominantly implicitly determined by making assumptions based on a visitor's behavior.


Hard data more popular than soft data

Often, marketers focus on hard data. That's logical for three reasons.

Firstly, hard data is easier to collect. Soft data emerges implicitly from someone's online behavior and is therefore harder to ascertain. Extracting soft data from 'raw' behavioral data requires more analytics skills.

Secondly, soft data is more changeable than hard data. A young father might want to book a romantic city trip with his wife one moment and a family vacation the next. This makes it harder to respond to soft data than to hard data.

Thirdly, with soft data, you never know for sure if it's accurate because it's based on assumptions. Even if you ask someone directly, it may still not be entirely accurate. For example, someone may say they value service but then only search for the cheapest hotels on the site. As a marketer, you prefer to rely on certainties.


Hard and soft data: a good marriage

I recommend it to everyone: start working with soft data. Not at the expense of hard data - because that is also very valuable - but use both types. Because the power lies in the combination. This gives you the richest insight into visitors, and that makes you even more targeted in your communication.


Need for a practical example?

Then read the ANWB case study. They combined hard data (such as: customer or not) with soft data (such as: which countries is a visitor interested in) and achieved very impressive conversion rates!