Jan 24 2024
Clare McKinley

Cookieless Advertising for Education Marketers


The next few years are set to be, shall we say, an educational time for marketers at colleges and universities. Over the course of 2024, Google plans to deprecate third-party cookies in Chrome, removing cookies for 1% of users in Q1 and the rest later in the year. When compounded with the signal loss advertisers are already dealing with as a result of things like consumer demand for data privacy, Apple’s App Tracking Transparency, and the many privacy-related regulations that have cropped up in recent years, higher ed advertisers will need to shift towards digital advertising tactics that prioritize data privacy. On top of that, institutions will soon have to grapple with the college enrollment cliff, which promises to significantly reduce undergraduate enrollment starting in 2025, making it all the more urgent for colleges and universities to market themselves effectively and efficiently.

The good news? These massive upheavals provide a significant opportunity for advertisers to get creative and take a leading role in helping their organizations weather the storm.

To better understand what higher ed advertisers need to know about the privacy-first future, we spoke with education marketing expert Sydney Warden, Director of Integrated Client Solutions at Basis Technologies. Read on for her insights on how to adapt to signal loss and the cookieless future.

What’s your biggest advice for education advertisers as we move towards a cookieless future?

Sydney Warden: Once third-party cookies go away, first-party data will need to be a higher priority for all marketing teams. As such, my biggest advice for advertisers in higher ed is to help their brand or clients get their first-party data in order.

I often see colleges and universities where their first-party data is spliced in so many ways: satellite campuses versus the main campus, online versus brick and mortar, and undergraduate versus graduate, to give a few examples. This can lead to data silos, where because of how first-party data is collected and stored at these organizations, advertisers can’t access it efficiently—or, in some cases, access it at all. Because of this, a lot of higher ed organizations are very reliant on third-party data, and that could present a big problem as cookies go away.

I also often see universities using third party providers to house customer data gathered from website touchpoints such as registrations or newsletter sign ups. In those situations, advertisers aren’t even able to pixel those touchpoints, let alone access that data.

As a result, it’s going to be key for colleges and universities to start unifying all their data. Investing in a customer data platform (CDP) will be a good call for many institutions, as this can ensure that the collection and organization of first-party data is unified and organized moving forward. CDPs can also empower advertisers to maximize their first-party data for targeting and help with attribution by giving marketers a clearer view of the touchpoints in a consumer journey and how they contribute to enrollments or other kinds of conversions.

What cookieless marketing solutions are particularly useful for education advertisers?

SW: Beyond first-party data, I think a data management platform (DMP) solution and contextual targeting will be really key for colleges and universities.

DMPs allow advertisers to place pixels across a website or on specific actions in the consumer journey, gathering insight into visitor attributes such as household income, gender, age range, and location, and curating anonymized customer profiles. This not only helps advertisers learn more about the segments they’re targeting, but also allows them to build lookalike models to extend that targeting to new audiences. This is all pixel-based, not cookie-based, so it doesn’t collect personal data and is privacy-friendly. In addition to targeting, DMPs can empower attribution in a similar way to CDPs, by allowing marketers to get a view of the customer journey and which touchpoints are most impactful on conversions.

In regard to contextual targeting, advertisers can align with relevant content on websites or apps to serve ads in a privacy-friendly way. It pays to invest some time and money into figuring out what a target audience typically consumes and where they consume it, and then placing ads in that relevant content and on those relevant platforms to ensure the right audience sees it.

Could you provide some specific examples for how education advertisers might approach the cookieless future?

SW: Sure! For our first example, let’s take a mid-size or community college that has a more limited marketing budget. To make the most of their ad spend, I’d recommend leaning into hyper-personalization via first-party data, and focusing a bit further down the funnel via things like contextual advertising. For advertisers working for these organizations, it’s a good idea to have a curated list of local sites and contextual segments relevant to specific target audiences that they can build or tap into for their clients. As for the institutions themselves, they’ll want to work with partners who can offer those lists and segments.

Bigger and better-known universities that already have some brand recognition, as well as more funds for marketing, should focus more on upper funnel platforms such as CTV and social media (especially TikTok!) to maintain their brand recognition. This is beneficial not only for brand awareness, but also for filling retargeting pools. Also, these organizations will likely find it easier to tap into their first-party data and use it to reach out to former students who may be interested in returning, or to build some relevant lookalike audiences for targeting.

Wrapping Up: Cookieless Advertising for Higher Education Marketers

Higher education advertisers can lead their colleges and universities to privacy-first advertising success by setting the right strategies in place. Investing in the collection, organization, and extension of first-party data should be top priority for marketing teams, while a DMP solution and contextual targeting will also be key strategies. By leaning into these recommendations, higher ed marketers can rise to the top of their class in 2024.

Want to learn more about the state of identity in 2024? We surveyed over 200 marketing and advertising professionals to discover how they’re navigating signal loss, third-party cookie deprecation, and the shift towards privacy-first digital advertising. Check out all the latest data and insights in our in-depth report.

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