Preparing for a Cookieless Future

How curated institutional data can maximize enrollment.

GUEST COLUMN | by Kara Eldersveld

You might have heard we’re headed for a “cookieless future,” but what does that mean for higher education? Put simply, major digital advertising platforms — most notably Google — are phasing out cookies as a means of audience targeting in the name of privacy, placing increased emphasis on higher ed institutions to leverage alternative means and targeting measures to reach prospective students.

‘…major digital advertising platforms — most notably Google — are phasing out cookies as a means of audience targeting in the name of privacy, placing increased emphasis on higher ed institutions to leverage alternative means and targeting measures to reach prospective students.’

While there has been a delay in the death of cookies, it’s imperative for institutions to take proactive measures now to successfully leverage zero-and first-party data to deliver the right message at the right time to the right audience, ultimately improving enrollment.

Let’s take a deeper look at important considerations and best practice examples from a partner institution, Baylor University.

Are there any knowledge gaps at the top of the funnel?

As competition increases — particularly for online programs — differentiation at the top of the funnel is essential, and it can often be hard to know where to start. This simple graphic that Baylor has developed is helpful to frame the best approach at each stage in the funnel.

In the awareness phase, it’s essential that students see themselves. In other words, the organization is presented in a way that students find themselves relatable and interesting. Of course, zero-party data (individualized data that your students have willingly provided) is a great starting point to identify trends among the existing student body that can extend to prospective students. But don’t discount the value of third-party data when building awareness, as this will provide insights on trends happening beyond the institution. For example, understanding job market trends will help identify which programs can be filled by local students and which ones will benefit from interstate promotion.

In Baylor’s case, they faced the challenge of trying to maintain a premium brand image — and higher tuition costs — despite growing competition. By leaning into data, they uncovered that their students are increasingly motivated by career-related experiences and pathways, and ensured that this was central to their marketing outreach right from the very top of the funnel.

Differentiating your learning experience and offerings?

Now that you have the student’s attention through a personalized approach — what’s next? Remember, when a student is on an admission website or checking out its institution’s profile on social, there’s a very good chance that they also have several competitors’ pages open in separate tabs. What’s going to make your institution more appealing and unique?

The answer must come from the learning experience offered. Students are too savvy to fall for a marketing spin, so by interrogating data and using these insights to inform a distinct offering, these critical insights allow the marketing team to form a unique marketing plan.

Baylor knew that their focus on career development had to flow right through the learner journey. As part of this, they created hybrid networking events and other initiatives to ensure that online learners felt part of their learning community and weren’t missing out on any of the career opportunities that have traditionally happened on campus.

How are you using first-party data?

First-party data, or the data gleaned from students’ interactions with an institutional brand, is an essential part of the data mix because it allows enrollment marketers to move from numbers to genuine insight by reviewing user behavior on a website or within the LMS. By understanding students’ behaviors, admissions get insights into their motivations, preferences and needs, allowing opportunities to add value on the path to the application stage.

As mentioned earlier, the modern student is constantly hopping between different browsers and screens, making it essential that your marketing can respond across different touchpoints in real-time. “Lookalike” targeting, where outreach profiles are built and segmented based on your current first-party data, is a fantastic way to do this, provided your data is kept up to date to allow your lookalike segments to evolve over time.

Baylor faced a similar challenge. They were sitting on a wealth of first-party data, but it was taken from and stored in disparate programs across campus. Their solution was to amalgamate everything in a single CRM, providing a holistic view of data to allow for targeted outreach to individual students and aggregated insights to inform broader marketing activity.

You worked hard to enroll those students — how are you retaining them?

The benefits of curating data don’t stop there. Arguably the biggest payoff is that having built a data profile for each student gives the institution a far greater ability to engage them throughout their time at the institution and improve retention. It’s always more cost-effective to keep a student than recruit a new one, plus if student data is in order, more personalized outreach and connections will result for the entire student lifecycle.

Kara Eldersveld is a Strategic Consulting Director for Online Program Experience at Anthology. She specializes in developing transparent, mutually beneficial partnerships with colleges and universities that focus on prioritized growth opportunities. Every institution has a unique recipe for growth, and Eldersveld has a proven track record of assembling complex and strategic solutions that leverage expertise across academic program strategy, marketing, enrollment, and course design/development. Prior to Anthology, Eldersveld was the director of marketing and enrollment strategy at Rice University. Connect on LinkedIn.


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