Originally published on Targeted Marketing.

In the past decade, marketers and the ecosystem that surrounds them have focused intensely, investing heavily in making direct connections between marketing spend and specific, attributable results. That’s a good thing, and the accountability of digital efforts has largely driven its growth. But we lose valuable nuance when we disregard all that is not accurately and completely quantifiable. There is clearly still a relevant and worthwhile tale to be told by customer actions that are not tied to specific marketing triggers. That tale can inform and enhance budgetary and other marketing decision making if we are smart enough to listen.

Soft Metrics: A Matter of Definition

Some of this debate over hard vs soft metrics is a matter of definition. We can take cues from audience actions in a geography that has been receiving marketing spend to determine whether that spend achieves lift over control geographies that were ignored. Is that a hard metric if it does not tie the specific spend to the specific outcome by channel, by campaign, by message, by offer, by customer?

Soft metrics are often those that demonstrate intent or interest but may not be ultimately quantifiable down to the buyer, the sale or other valued conversion. Often they are generalized effects like a rise in site traffic that can be tracked but may not tie to direct conversions or customers. Other types of soft metrics are those that can’t be tracked reliably at all – like many offline ad expenditures. But we have to stop and remember that it doesn’t make them valueless just because we can’t place a value on them.

Soft metrics are still critical because they often establish behaviors that signal intent. Sometimes, for instance with highly considered purchases, the soft metrics can be personally identifiable or at least allow for customizable content delivery even if the individual is not identified. This supports additional follow ups and identifies those most relevant for particular messaging or offers. Setting the stage, if you will, for that measurable conversion down the line.

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