This is the third of four installments in our (Re)Precedented Webinar Series, which originally took place live in September and October of 2021.

Webinar Summary

Over the past year, big tech companies made sweeping changes to protect consumer data. These changes were impactful in a positive way, but how would they impact the effectiveness of many digital advertising tools?

In this webinar, we’ll cover some of the most important updates impacting ad platforms and outline how to adjust your approach to digital advertising to continue to drive results from your digital advertising initiatives. Topics discussed include:

  • Cookies being a thing of the past
  • Marketing in the age of digital privacy
  • Gen-Z internet trends
  • Focusing on first party data

Transcript

Jarrett Smith:

All right. Well, thanks everybody. Welcome to today’s webinar entitled Who Took My Cookie: Driving Inquiries in a Changing Digital Landscape. Thank you for being here. Thank you for taking time out of your day to join us. I hope this is a good use of your time, and please feel free to pass along the webinar recording if you like it. We’ll be emailing it out afterwards, so everybody who registered please feel free to pass that along to your colleagues, if you find this content valuable and I hope you do.

Jarrett Smith:

Just as a reminder, this is part three in a four-part webinar series we’re doing. It’s titled (Re) Precedented. The idea behind the series is simply that we’re really trying to use these webinars as a way to focus on addressing some of the really big challenges in selling place-based residential education during the pandemic. We have had two fantastic webinars up to this point.

Jarrett Smith:

We had Sarah Coen from Transylvania University and Gareth Fowles from Lynn University join us on the first webinar. They had both had record breaking classes this past year, but they talked about some of the factors that contributed to it. Most importantly, how their viewing the year ahead was really interesting, very smart enrollment leaders.

Jarrett Smith:

Last week, we had Jeff [Kallay 00:01:26] who is, I think, one of the leading, if not the leading, visit experts talking with May Watters at Sewanee University about their visit program and Sewanee has an amazing visit program. I think probably one of the more dialed visit programs you’re going to find anywhere. They had a fantastic conversation, and May, really, I think pulled back the curtain on a lot of things they’re doing quite well and just had some really, I think, fantastic insights to share with the audience.

Jarrett Smith:

If you miss those, it would be well with your time to go back and check those out. Today, we’re going to be talking about digital advertising, and then the next week, we’ll be talking about engaging with parents. It should be a really fantastic series and I hope you’ll continue to join us.

Jarrett Smith:

On with today’s show, my name is Jarrett Smith. I’m the VP of strategy at Echo Delta. For those of you who are not familiar with Echo Delta, we provide marketing and enrollment consulting services for smaller schools around the country. To find out more about what we do, please feel free to head on over to Echodelta.co, and you can check that out, so thank you if you do. Enough self promotional plugging, I suppose, let’s dive in.

Jarrett Smith:

You may be wondering if this webinar series is about promoting place-based education. Why are we talking about digital advertising in this webinar series? I really think there are two answers for that. The first one is that if you are a tuition-driven institution, which I think most likely most of us on the call are, and those of us who are promoting place-based education, most of us are, chances are good that you rely at least in part on effective advertising to drive your inquiries and ultimately your apps and enrollments. I think that’s part one.

Jarrett Smith:

Part two, I think is a little bit bigger picture, which is that all the data and experience that we have as marketers indicates that Gen Z doesn’t really differentiate between online and offline experiences the way that previous generations were more likely to differentiate. For them, the college search process in large part starts online, and it’s really all one seamless experience for them.

Jarrett Smith:

Even the most visceral, physically grounded component of our recruitment process, which is the visit, it even that is going to start online at a bare minimum with some online registration form, but also likely through the media that they’re consuming, and perhaps some advertisements that they’ve been exposed to that are going to be driving that interest. May Watters over at Sewanee talked about this last week, when she was talking about the virtual tour in relationship to their physical tour and how students are not viewing that as a one-to-one replacement. But they are very complimentary and one feeds the other so interesting stuff there.

Jarrett Smith:

But for those two reasons, I think that this is probably a very highly relevant topic. For today, here’s what we’re going to cover. We’re going to talk about sort of current digital marketing landscape. Where are we at today? Then we’re going to take a look at some things that are just around the corner that I think you should probably be prepared for.

Jarrett Smith:

Then lastly, we’re going to spend some time looking at some recommendations, some very tactical things, but then also some bigger picture, more holistic sort of things to help guide the effectiveness of your digital campaigns moving forward. As always, we do have a Q and A feature here, so if you see that in Zoom and want to make use of it, by all means, do so. I’ll do my best to, to keep tabs on what’s coming in through Q and A, so let’s jump in.

Jarrett Smith:

First the current landscape. I think if you’ve been following digital advertising developments at all, you’ve definitely heard a lot of commotion over the past year around privacy and sort of the big tech players, Google, Apple, and Facebook. We’re going to spend some time looking in more detail about the most important changes that have come through.

Jarrett Smith:

But before we get there, I do just want to step back and acknowledge that there is a bigger trend, particularly around privacy, that’s been developing for quite some time. I think it’s just really important for us to internalize that and to realize that these aren’t one-off incidents, these aren’t one-time changes. These are bigger things that we’re going to be dealing with for years to come.

Jarrett Smith:

So, it’s no surprise, I think, to many of us that privacy has been an ongoing concern among consumers for quite some time. This is data from Pew Research. This is back from 2019, which seems like it was forever ago, but they regularly survey Americans about their attitudes towards technology and media. In their latest survey, which is in 2019, 70% of Americans said that they felt their data was less secure than it was five years ago, and eight and 10 said that they were concerned about the amount of information that social media sites and advertisers know about them.

Jarrett Smith:

As marketers and advertisers, we are operating in this environment. We have to stay aware of those developing attitudes, because as I think we’ll discuss at length, they are having a direct impact an hour day-to-day work, even if on an individual level, we do support these changes and think that ultimately they’re a good thing. Just in a lighthearted way, when I see this data and this information coming out of Pew, it makes me think of David Ogilvy, the father of modern advertising and what he might say if he were alive today.

Jarrett Smith:

He never said this, that marketers ruin everything, but I think he might if he had been around today. David Ogilvy quotes on advertising, kind of like Mark Twain quotes on the internet, by the way. They attribute all sorts of stuff to him, but so it’s against that larger backdrop.

Jarrett Smith:

This larger trend around concerns around privacy that I think it’s really no surprise that we have been seeing and will continue to see a host of privacy-related developments. I think what’s important here is to realize that this is not one group. This is not one organization. It is a broader movement that’s going to be with us. Probably many of you were paying attention, of course, to GDPR.

Jarrett Smith:

When that came out back in 2018, some of you may have been tuned into the CCPA of the California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018. You may be familiar with some of these products that you’re seeing here, the logos for, the Brave browser, which is a no tracking, very privacy-focused web browser that’s been gaining traction. DuckDuckGo, which is privacy-focused alternative to Google.

Jarrett Smith:

Safari and Apple of course have been privacy focused for quite some time. We’ll talk about that. Even products like Proton VPN, which is a very easy to use service that masks your internet and browsing traffic. Lots of people are releasing tools on that. They’re gaining traction, they’re becoming a lot more popular. It’s not like this is being sort of driven by any one organization.

Jarrett Smith:

From a higher ed perspective, I think it’s also worth noting that in addition to all these privacy-related changes that are impacting our due digital marketing, we also have some very higher ed specific changes. One of them is the impact on student search. Back in our first webinar, Gareth Fowles, who’s the VP of enrollment at Lynn University down in Florida brought up sort of an interesting point, and it was around, we were talking about schools going test optional.

Jarrett Smith:

What he said was that in February 2020, 77% of applications that came through the common app included an SAT or ACT score. This past February, that number fell to 44%. In Gareth’s words, that sort of number one, he said that the test optional movement is real. We need to know that, and it’s very attractive for some schools. It’s likely that some schools that went test optional because of COVID are not going back, and so that is going to have a direct impact on our search strategy.

Jarrett Smith:

If you have been accustomed to having robust student lists from search and folding those into your digital campaigns, that’s going to be a less powerful strategy. It’s not like we can pivot away from Facebook and then lean in more on a smarter search strategy, that also has been compromised. All that is to say there’s been some major changes. I don’t pretend to have all the answers for you today on this webinar to tie it up with a perfect bow. But I do think we have some very practical things you can do to maintain effectiveness and begin to pivot as we sort of enter this new train.

Jarrett Smith:

Let’s talk about just where we are. One piece that came in and I think hit our radar from a privacy standpoint a couple of years ago, back in 2018, was GDPR, which, as a quick reminder, created a series of very sweeping changes related to data collection and transparency and portability, specifically focused on EU citizens.

Jarrett Smith:

I remember quite well being at a conference for the American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers, and there was a ton of concern in a lot of the sessions about how schools could possibly comply with GDPR in light of our own regulation state side, and that clearly GDPR was put together with companies like Facebook and Google in mind, but not so much your typical college or university that has many other data and information related requirements to comply with.

Jarrett Smith:

I think what was interesting was that there was some speculation that this could lead to lawsuits, schools. To my knowledge, that hasn’t happened. I’m sure somebody will correct me if I’m wrong, but with regard to GDPR and stateside schools, I think the biggest impact, honestly, for us as marketers, was that a lot of us have been putting cookie notifications and opt-ins and opt-outs on our websites. Those cookie banners kind of popped up all of a sudden.

Jarrett Smith:

Similarly, stateside, we have CCPA, California Consumer Privacy Act of 2018. Didn’t hear the about this nearly as much, maybe your individual school, you heard some conversation around that, but I think that came out of the same time, but hit fewer radars because it has primarily been targeted at for-profit companies, who meet certain criteria.

Jarrett Smith:

Of course, I’m a marketer, I’m not a lawyer, so please don’t take my commentary on that as clearance that it doesn’t apply to your school. Certainly, talk to your own in-house council about that, but to think that’s realistically where we ended up. Wrapping up on this, I think the key takeaway is that these laws are a clear indicator there’s more to come. As we speak, there are more privacy-related proposals working their way through state legislatures around the country, and it seems inevitable that at some point we are going to have some sort of our own federal data privacy law at some point.

Jarrett Smith:

Of course, it really wasn’t legislation that hit us so hard in 2021. It was some big moves made, particularly by Apple, our heaviest of the technology heavy weights that we hear about. Of sort of the big 10 tech companies, Apple, Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple has really positioned itself as sort of being the most on the forefront of privacy. This really isn’t a new move for Apple.

Jarrett Smith:

If you follow them closely, Steve Jobs was pretty public before he died about Apple having more confused, he called them old fashioned views on privacy, and they’ve gone to bat for that in some real ways. You probably remember the shootings in San Bernardino back in 2015, and the FBI reached out to Apple saying, hey, can you unlock this iPhone? They said, no, we will not unlock the iPhone, but this year, I think Apple made it clear that they’re not backing down on privacy. If anything, they’re going to double down on it.

Jarrett Smith:

I do think it’s really worth thinking about that for a moment that the richest, most influential tech company in the world is going head to head with other tech companies on privacy and by extension advertising. As an individual, I’m happy to see this, but as a market or an advertiser, it’s kind of a pain because I think we have reason to believe that Apple isn’t going to stop here. This isn’t going, this isn’t sort of a fad for them.

Jarrett Smith:

The reason I think that is because ultimately I think this is about competition. If you look where Apple drives its revenue, it’s all off devices and a little bit on services, but two of its largest competitors, Facebook and Google, are heavily, the majority of the revenue comes from advertising. I think that this is a way for them to differentiate themselves and also point out weaknesses in two key competitors. For those reasons, although I think there’s some sincerity behind some principles, seem to be operating behind what they’re doing, I think this is a, a long term strategic bet for Apple that’s going to continue to have impact to us.

Jarrett Smith:

What has Apple done so far? Well, they’ve had a history of some privacy-related updates, started with Safari. Back in 2017, Apple implemented the intelligent tracking prevention sort of 1.0, that began imposing some limits on third party cookies. Just as a quick reminder, for anyone who might not be familiar, third party cookies are really sort of the technological backbone, the keystone, that enables personalized advertising.

Jarrett Smith:

Essentially with third party cookies, little files that exist on your browser, they allow advertisers and ad tech companies and others to track your visits across multiple websites. If I visit with website A and website A has Google tracking installed, and then tomorrow I go back and visit website B and it also has Google tracking involves. Then Google can start stitching together a picture of who I am and what my interests are based on my browsing habits and other information.

Jarrett Smith:

That data then becomes available to people using Google’s advertising platforms who want to advertise to people who meet my particular profile. Without third party cookies, that kind of tracking is essentially impossible with the technology that we have today. We’ll talk more about some alternatives that are being proposed, but as of today, if third party already cookies were to go away, none of that would be possible at all.

Jarrett Smith:

In 2019, Apple launched ITP 2.0, put some further restrictions on cookies and how cookies were stored locally, and then in 2020, their Safari browser started blocking all third party cookies outright, as well as device fingerprinting, which has been an alternative to cookie tracking.

Jarrett Smith:

Just in short device fingerprinting essentially allows the web server or ad tech company to look at your individual device, the specific characteristics, what software you have running, that sort of thing, and basically create a unique fingerprint. Two people could have the exact same hardware or laptop, but have different software and different items running in the background that an advertiser could look at and kind of “fingerprint” your device.

Jarrett Smith:

In 2021, and that’s where the big tectonic shift came in was in Apple iPhone update iOS 14.5, which introduced two key updates, the app tracking transparency update and the privacy click measurement update. Those two are worth understanding in greater detail. We’re going to dive into those because unlike the Safari updates, which were on a browser that was popular, but never the market leader, these changes to iPhone are significant and have had an impact on your campaigns because iPhone has the largest market share of smartphone users in the US. It’s a big deal for that reason.

Jarrett Smith:

Let’s look at a little bit closer what came through with the app tracking transparency and private click measurement updates. First up, app tracking transparency are, or ATT. This is a move that applies specifically to iPhone apps. Essentially, what ATT does is it requires each app to ask your permission to use the unique identifier for advertisers that Apple has assigned you.

Jarrett Smith:

The first time, and it happens the first time you open the app, and it prompts you with this prompt. You’ve probably seen this on your iPhone, if you’re an iPhone user, things like this, that basically say, do you want to allow the tracking? It allows you, the user, on an individual basis to choose whether or not you want to allow that particular app to track you.

Jarrett Smith:

This update sent a lot of folks in a tailspin, because app publishers were able to use their apps to track a lot of activity about what you were doing on your phone, from what other apps you might have had installed to your browsing behavior, your activity data. They were able to send that all back to their app publisher, who could then turn around and sell it to other folks who wanted to make use of that data.

Jarrett Smith:

This was a big one, one that Facebook was not at all happy about because you can guess most folks were, or a significant percentage of folks at the very least, are opting out of this. The second update was private click measurement, or PCM for short, and this has more to do with attribution. It’s a little bit more under the hood for advertisers, but essentially, previously, advertisers, we’ve been pretty spoiled with pretty long attribution windows, meaning that is somebody clicked on our ad and/or saw our ad and didn’t convert immediately.

Jarrett Smith:

But then did later come back and convert, maybe 90 days later up to 180 days later, after they clicked or saw the ad, then we can measure that. We could attribute that back to the ad that they clicked on, or the ad that they saw. With PCM, essentially, Apple has shortened that window of attribution to just seven days, and for view through attribution where someone sees the ad, but sees it, but doesn’t click on it but still goes and converts, that window has been shortened to one day. That’s a huge change.

Jarrett Smith:

This has impacted Facebook’s tracking immediately. I’m sure that many of you here on this call had to go through the process of quickly registering your domain if you were using Facebook Pixels to keep your business manager up and keep your Facebook advertising running after that iOS update came out. In response to this, Facebook has not been happy about it. They implemented aggregated event management, is what they call it, which is basically their answer to Apple on how are we going to track iPhone users converting on ads.

Jarrett Smith:

In the past, you could have Facebook Pixels sprinkled all over your website. You could have all sorts of events and things that you could send back to Facebook, that Facebook could use to further optimize your ads, and it’s an all can eat buffet of tracking. With aggregated event management, essentially Facebook has narrowed that down to eight events and you have to prioritize those events. If multiples happen, it’s only going to report back on one.

Jarrett Smith:

I think for a lot of folks in higher ed, that wasn’t necessarily a huge deal, but for a lot of advertisers, it was, to sort of narrow down those eight conversion events and really simplify things. Depending on how you’ve had your campaigns running and set up, that may or may not have been a really big deal for you, but it definitely was some sort of administrative legwork at the very least. These changes have definitely impacted your reporting. I’m sure you’ve probably noticed just less detail, overall, more unknowns in your reports, and we’ll talk about that a little bit more in a moment.

Jarrett Smith:

I think despite all of Facebook’s very public objections over Apple’s iOS 14 update, they too have not been immune from making privacy changes. Of course, if you follow Facebook at all, you know for years, they have been coming under fire for privacy and mental health concerns, particularly for Team users, so some really gnarly headlines out there on…

Jarrett Smith:

Ultimately on August 23rd, Facebook launched some pretty significant restrictions on how advertisers can target team users on Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger, so that key demo of 13 to 17. This is one that I think has really hit us hard in higher ed and that we really need to think about and how we’re going to pivot, because in the past, Facebook gave you a lot of options for targeting minors, high school students.

Jarrett Smith:

We had things like age, gender, location, but I think more importantly, we had things like interests or list membership. We could take that student search list, we could upload it to Facebook. We could match on a large percentage of those folks, and then we had this custom audience that we could use to create look alike audiences, and we could do a lot with that. What that meant, from an advertising standpoint, was that you could afford to advertise over a pretty broad, pretty generic, geographic area, but you could narrow it down through interest based targeting or through your custom audience targeting.

Jarrett Smith:

Now, with Facebook’s update that came out in August, none of that is possible. Essentially, you have three, which are age, gender, and location. Those are your three targeting options for Facebook, so no interests, no first party lists, no remarketing for folks in that demographic. That’s a big change. Of course, not only is this impact Facebook, I keep saying in Facebook, but I think we all realize it’s really Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, it’s all part of the same advertising ecosystem or platform. There’s some pretty significant changes.

Jarrett Smith:

Google also in August released sort of announced its own updates and these are rolling out and continuing to roll out, but some pretty significant changes on Google’s advertising products. Some of these haven’t rolled out yet. I believe, for instance, right now on Google, you could still upload a list of first party data that you have and match against that, but that is going to be going away.

Jarrett Smith:

Google’s updates, I think, are a lot more sweeping. They have gone farther and they’re impacting more of its products, so YouTube paid search their display advertising. You are not allowed to target specifically on age, gender location. We’ll talk about contextual targeting, because I think that’s super interesting and a good way to sort of pivot away from this type of targeting, but interest, first party list, remarketing, all that’s gone for that particular demographic. If it’s not now, it will be in the coming months.

Jarrett Smith:

That’s more or less where we are now. But I do think there are a couple of things on the horizon that we need to be paying attention to that will impact us within the coming months and within the next couple years. I think there are just some very predictable tactical things that we can can expect as more and more people are using privacy-focused products that make cookie-based tracking less, less effective, and as more and more major companies get on board with these privacy changes.

Jarrett Smith:

The first one is, I think that over the short to medium term, we have remarketing lists right now, but I think we’re going to see those remarketing lists continue to shrink and get smaller and smaller over time. I think that similar to what Apple did with attribution windows, we can probably expect that we’re going to see some shorter attribution windows, not just for iPhone users, but for other products as well.

Jarrett Smith:

Third, I think that we are going to necessarily need to pivot to more of a contextual based or targeting strategy. I’m going to talk more in a little bit, but I predict a resurgence of contextual targeting. Just as quick reminder, this is where ads are being displayed based on the context of what the user is doing. The content on a particular webpage, or if you’re on YouTube, perhaps the content or description of a particular video or maybe search terms that they’ve entered into YouTube, that would all be examples of contextual targeting. Again, we’ll talk about more about that in a minute.

Jarrett Smith:

Fourth, I do think that we can expect to see more conversion modeling, and Facebook is already talking about this. Historically, we have tracked conversions by firing pixels. It wasn’t necessarily a 100% accurate. I’m sure if you are down in the weeds on advertising, you’ve seen say a mismatch on what Facebook is saying your conversions are versus what Google Analytics might be saying your conversions are. Haven’t been a 100% consistent and accurate, but it was based on an actual measurable event, a pixel firing or an event firing.

Jarrett Smith:

With conversion modeling, essentially, the ad platform is trying to stitch together what data they do have and apply whatever sort of black box algorithm they have to predict or estimate what they think your conversions actually are. It’s just a really smart, rocket-sciencey best guess, but it’s not actually based on a direct measurement. I think we’re going to see that. Facebook’s already talking about that and doing some of that. I think you’re going to see that happen more often.

Jarrett Smith:

We may see more aggregated conversion events, similar to Facebook. We may see that happening on other platforms. Lastly, I think if you’ve been using any third party data providers, Nielsen, Axiom, those come to mind, they’re going to need to start finding different methods that aren’t cookie based in order to gather those audiences, which actually takes me on a little bit of a segue to Google.

Jarrett Smith:

As I mentioned in the beginning of this presentation, we are on this long term march towards greater privacy. One of the next major events that is on the horizon at some point is that Google will be phasing out all third party cookies. That was initially planned for 2022, so just next year, but there hasn’t really emerged any good alternative that’s going to satisfy tracking advertisers tracking and Google’s revenue needs.

Jarrett Smith:

They’ve kicked the can down the road to 2023, but of course, marketers have dubbed this the Cookiepocalypse, which is a great name for it, but Cookiepocalypse is coming and we will be in a post-cookie world at some point. I think we need to be careful that that does not catch us on guard. There are some proposals, and Google has been leading some of the charge on this with how are we going to replace cookies?

Jarrett Smith:

I don’t know if these are actually going to happen. In fact, I think it’s likely that the proposals they’ve thrown out there are not going to happen, at least not without some significant evolution, but it gives you an idea of the type of tracking that maybe come available down the road. Google has put together a whole bunch of privacy-related proposals. They call it their Privacy Sandbox initiative, if you see that, and so there’s a lot of proposals in that Privacy Sandbox initiative.

Jarrett Smith:

Two that have been getting a lot of headlines and controversy are two proposals. One is called FLoC, which stands for Federated Learning Cohorts. And the other one is FLEDGE, first locally executed decision over groups experiment. Clearly, these were put together by Google engineers and not marketers, but they are worth digging into and understanding, even if they aren’t really catchy and memorable.

Jarrett Smith:

The first one. Let’s talk about FLoC or the Federated Learning Cohorts, so essentially this is one proposal to eliminate cookies. The way cookies work today is that they are a little file on your browser that identifies each unique user with an individual token. As you’re browsing around, that cookie is sharing your information back to your advertiser, your publisher, your ad tech company, whoever it is, is tracking your activity. If it’s a third party cookie, they’re tracking you as you visit multiple websites.

Jarrett Smith:

FLoC basically changes that. Your browsing information is still tracked, but it is processed entirely browser side. It’s all client side processing, and it is your browser that places you within a cohort or a group. All it reveals back to the advertising platform is the cohort that you’re in. It doesn’t say what specific websites you’ve been browsing, it just says, Jarrett Smith is a middle aged male who’s into fly fishing and mountain biking and he’s in that cohort, so we’re just going to reveal the cohort.

Jarrett Smith:

I think FLoC is interesting for a couple of reasons. It’s not actually strictly speaking a Google project, it’s actually a Chromium project. That means it’s open source, and Google is working with the W3C, who publishes web standards that people agree to adhere to. They’re trying to make FLoC the web standard. So far, Google has done some actual testing with this in a limited capacity. What they’re showing is that advertising based around FLoC is about 95% as effective as or 95% as efficient as targeting with third party cookies.

Jarrett Smith:

It is pretty darn good, but it is controversial. Not everybody’s on board with that. There’s a lot of controversy from publishers and some other really big tech, heavy hitters. WordPress is one that’s came out hard against FLoC, basically, saying we’re going to not support that on any WordPress powered websites, which is a huge portion of the web, and so there’s a lot of work to be done there. It’s probably not going to ever be implemented as it stands now, but it’s interesting to at least give you an idea of how very smart engineers are thinking about sort of coming around this.

Jarrett Smith:

FLEDGE is a similar system, and I think the takeaway here is that this is essentially the replacement for retargeting. It works very similarly to FLoC. The key difference is that advertisers are actually able to create their own cohorts. Again, not being able to peer into what was someone specific browsing activity, but they can create their own cohort and advertise to that.

Jarrett Smith:

Google has begun rolling out some of these Privacy Sandbox initiatives, at least on some of its browsers. But again, I think it’s good we’re still a long ways off from having it implemented, because many of these proposals are, as you can imagine, very controversial about who controls the information and how. So, more certainly to come there that is worth paying attention to.

Jarrett Smith:

We’ve looked at the current state of things. We’ve looked at some things that are near future, I think, so let’s talk about building effective campaigns and some practical steps. I’ll start with some things that I think are pretty tactical and then we’ll leave you with a couple of things that I think are a little bit higher level, little more strategic in nature.

Jarrett Smith:

The first one is that, if you’ve been watching this, you may have been contemplating or if your school is advertising on Facebook, which I’m sure many of you are or most, if not, all of you are, you may have been contemplating, hey, should we just move away from Facebook altogether? I would caution you against moving away from Facebook altogether and not totally right off Facebook just yet. There’s a couple of reasons for that.

Jarrett Smith:

It is true that, if you’re advertising to teenagers on Facebook, that you have given up a lot of control. You were no longer allowed to use some of this tried and true targeting message methods that we’ve we’ve come to know and love. But I think we need to remember that a lot of Facebook targeting actually happened on the back end and was never in our control and it was actually conducted by machine learning. It’s Facebook actually dialing in sort of in their machine learning black box, who’s the most likely to respond to your ad and how do we optimize for that.

Jarrett Smith:

That has not gotten shut down the control. The front end control that we have, much of that is gone, but the back end, black boxy part of Facebook, that’s still there. I think one way very tactically that you can help out with this, give Facebook the information it needs or give it a leg up, is that when you launch new Facebook campaigns, I would encourage you to consider launching an objective driven campaign.

Jarrett Smith:

Facebook allows you to select an objective as you’re setting up that campaign. I think that’s a good step so that you’re essentially giving Facebook a specific goal to optimize against. That’s something you can do that’s very easy to help out with that.

Jarrett Smith:

The second thing is, I think you’re really from a tactical standpoint, just going to need to take a hard look at your geographic advertising or targeting, if you haven’t done that already. As I mentioned earlier, in the past we could target very broadly geographically, and we could narrow it down through interests and layering on other sort of targeting criteria.

Jarrett Smith:

Today, you’re really going to want to reign that in. I think really dial in on specific areas where you think you’re going to have the most impact. Facebook does allow targeting by zip code, and you can get pretty granular with that. I think that’s worth a harder look and really making sure that you’re in those geographic areas where you really think it makes the most sense, and you’re going to get the most bang for your buck.

Jarrett Smith:

Related to that though, speaking to bang for your buck. I think one thing that, this is just speculation on my part, but one thing to keep in mind is that if advertisers start to see less attractive results from Facebook, then over time, sort of the market value, the cost per thousand impressions, your CPMs, probably will drop on Facebook. They will not be able to charge the ever-increasing CPMs that they have been.

Jarrett Smith:

Even though Facebook may ultimately lose some effectiveness, it might also become cheaper. It might still be worth it to maintain a foothold, because it’s just less expensive and it all kind of evens out. That’s a market driven thing. I have no idea… That’s obviously up to somebody at a higher pay grade and greater responsibility than I am to determine that, but I think that’s something we could actually see in the coming months or years.

Jarrett Smith:

I would also encourage you not to forget about the audiences that you can still effectively target to a certain extent on Facebook, specifically, parents, potential transfer students, graduate prospects. Those are all still much more addressable on Facebook, and so you’re going to want to keep those campaigns running.

Jarrett Smith:

Finally, and this is just a tactical thing that you might consider playing around with is launching separate Android and iPhone campaigns so that you can really have more of an apples-to-apples comparison and see what the measurement differences are between campaign target iPhone users and identical campaigns but targeted at Android users, to be an interesting experiment that I think might be instructive and helpful for you to do.

Jarrett Smith:

I mentioned contextual targeting. This is another tactical thing that I would encourage you to really embrace. Contextual old targeting is really one of the oldest forms of targeting ads. It’s been around for over a hundred years. Again, just as a quick reminder, this is where you are targeting your ad based on either the context of the ad, the surrounding content, maybe the video that is being consumed or a search query that someone has entered into a search engine.

Jarrett Smith:

Paid search is essentially contextual advertising. Someone searches for a particular term, and you’re showing your ad based on what they search for and the web pages that are appearing in the organic results down below. Search ads are contextually targeted and so is YouTube, and this very powerful, very interesting way to target. That’s pretty well understood.

Jarrett Smith:

If you haven’t already heard this, it is interesting to note that YouTube is the second largest search engine and everybody’s using YouTube. It’s a widely adopted and extensively used by teenagers and our target perspective students. I do think that leveraging YouTube’s contextual targeting could be a great way for you to continue to reach those audiences.

Jarrett Smith:

Now, Facebook, interestingly enough, has not historically allowed you to target contextually, at least in any sort of direct way that you could control on the front end. But it is interesting that, back in July, Facebook’s VP of advertising came out in a blog post in and said, hey, we’re looking at contextual advertising and building that into our platform.

Jarrett Smith:

Now, he really didn’t say if that would be something you would be able to control directly, or if that would happen in Facebook’s machine learning black box on the back end. But I think these are all related. Facebook may, it’s conceivable down the road to offer up some interesting contextual targeting options for you in your advertisements, certainly worth paying attention to unfolding into your campaigns if you haven’t already started doing so.

Jarrett Smith:

The next sort of tactical thing I would say is that if you aren’t currently serious about your UTM tracking, you need to get serious about your UTM tracking. This is the query string that you can add on to URLs and that Google Analytics and other platforms can read to understand campaign source information and where did that click come from.

Jarrett Smith:

The important thing to really operationalizing this across the team is to, one, agree on some consistent, very locked in naming conventions that everybody agrees to. Then you’re going to want to operationalize that probably with something like a Google Sheet. There’s a ton of free ones out there, by the way, that are UTM builders.

Jarrett Smith:

If you just search for something like a Google Sheet UTM builder, something along those lines, you probably get a ton of listings. But what you can do then is have your team plug in the destination URL, and then select the different parts of the UTM code from a series of dropdowns, so that they can build consistently that way. Then you can pull through on your reporting.

Jarrett Smith:

If you aren’t collecting UTM information, if you’re using it, but you aren’t collecting on your RFI forms, that’s a great way to get that UTM information into your CRM, if you’re not already doing so. I’d encourage you to set that up. Work with your CRM folks to get that rolling, if you haven’t done so already.

Jarrett Smith:

A little bit stepping back, this is somewhat tactical, but a little bit of a shift in focus. It’s worth thinking about first party data and how you can do a better job collecting first party data on your website. A lot of what we’ve been talking about, the real challenges from privacy standpoint around third party data, which we need to achieve scale and reach, but first party data is the data that you’re getting for free and that your audience is voluntarily contributing, giving to you.

Jarrett Smith:

RFI forms are really one of the key places where you’re going to capture your first party data. From a marketing standpoint, it’s the key place. I don’t really have any data to back this up, but just anecdotally, it seems that I’ve seen a growing percentage of RFI forms that have some sort of incentivization lever that they’re trying to pull in it, whether that’s download a brochure that shares more details on the curriculum than maybe what’s on the landing page.

Jarrett Smith:

Or this, very classic content offer where it’s cybersecurity career guide in exchange for a little bit of first party information. I think you’re going to see this sort of thing become and more common. You may want to experiment with that within your campaigns to se if it ups the value of what people hope to get by filling out your forms.

Jarrett Smith:

One really interesting example that I also think that is a different take on this is by providing the option, but not the requirement, to provide additional information on an RFI form. This is an RFI form off Messiah.edu, I’m going to give them credit for this. I did an interview with Chris Hardy, who’s the director of web and digital marketing at Messiah.edu, really smart guy. He’d experimented with of this on their RFI forms, and it’s still there today.

Jarrett Smith:

Essentially on their RFI form, you have the usual stuff, email address, first name, last name, high school grad year, those sorts of details. But the last question is this one, and it says, “In order to better serve you and send you printed materials, are you willing to provide us with more information?” Chris launched this as an experiment, and he said, “I really didn’t think anybody was going to click on it and fill it out. But surprisingly yes, they did.”

Jarrett Smith:

When you do click on that, it expands a whole laundry list of additional fields. None of them are required, obviously. Starts with address, which he said, that’s mostly what people plug in there. They want to receive printed materials. It starts with address, but then it digs into more detailed information around parent/guardian, first name, last name, email address, need some additional information. Most people just fill out the address, but a surprising percentage of students do provide lots of other information that’s useful for you in your marketing program.

Jarrett Smith:

I think this is representative of a different philosophical approach in a way of what you might call permission based marketing. I didn’t come up with that term, think came across that with Mark Schaefer may have created that term, if not, I’m sure someone will correct me. But permission based marketing, where essentially you’re allowing the consumer, your target audience, to opt in to how much they want to share.

Jarrett Smith:

You’re giving them control and putting them in the driver’s seat. On our side of the house, we’ve been experimenting with folding that approach into our email comms flows for our clients and still early to share how that’s working out but it is interesting. We have seen great, great engagement when we give people more of a choice and more agency in determining what and how they want to share.

Jarrett Smith:

Those are some very tactical things that I think it makes sense to do in the immediate term. I do want to wrap up by talking about some bigger picture things, as you’re thinking about your total media mix and looking out over a little bit more of a longer term perspective. The first thing I want to leave you with. I think we kind of want to go back to actually, I want to go back to sort of first principles here.

Jarrett Smith:

What I would say is that, first, awareness really matters. It is hard to measure. It’s frustratingly hard to measure your awareness-focused media, but we do know that awareness matters. At the end of the day, very few students are going to be engaging with ads from schools that they’ve never heard of before. This came up, I recall, in RNL’s E-Expectations Report back in 2018, where they said they surveyed a large swath of high school students, and only 12% of seniors said that they had clicked on ads for institutions. They didn’t know, so it’s very telling.

Jarrett Smith:

This is something that is also reiterated throughout the advertising and marketing literature from non-higher ed folks. This is a sort of a trend that remains true. People click on ads of organizations that they recognize. Essentially, it may be really frustrating and hard to measure the value of those billboard.

Jarrett Smith:

But you have to remember, you’re not just advertising to people searching for a college right now. You’re advertising to people who are searching for a college two years from now, or the parents of someone or parents or guardians of someone searching for college two years from now. That’s who your awareness media is targeted at, so really is that long term play.

Jarrett Smith:

The second thing I would ground us in is that we have to remember that media channels do not operate in a vacuum. There is a cross channel synergy that people have studied, and I can’t believe I just used that word synergy non-ironically, but I did, there it is. I said it. This is something that big brands, big advertisers, have known for a long time in a study closely.

Jarrett Smith:

This is a particular piece of data that was pulled forward by Applied Brand Science, really interesting consultancy. They were touting sort of the benefits of TV. I’m not going to tell you, you need to buy a Superbowl commercial, but I think the key here is that when you run advertising across multiple channels, they are complimentary. There is a greater than the individual parts effect that happens, and you need to keep that in mind.

Jarrett Smith:

The other thing I would say is that your perspective students are not operating in a vacuum either. There are parents and guardians, likely mom, that is having a huge influence over college search. We’re going to be talking about that in our next webinar. Beyond the immediate family, you have school counselors, you have employers, you have friends that are also providing guidance and some influence on this decision.

Jarrett Smith:

I think that when we obsess too much over really granularly target advertising, I do think we’re doing ourselves a disservice, because we may be missing some of these other the folks who are really influential in the process when we could be capturing them in our campaigns. It’s not necessarily out of the gate a bad thing to have a somewhat broader campaign.

Jarrett Smith:

I think there can be value in it as long as the costs line up, but while we’re talking first principles, I want to go back to the one that impacts us all, which is that you do not have an unlimited budget, and I recognize you cannot afford to feed like a whale. You have limited resources. You need to deploy them in a way that you’re accountable for, and that you can feel good about.

Jarrett Smith:

A couple of things that I would leave you with. Number one, I really urge you to focus on owning your own backyard, and if you’re trying to create awareness in new markets, which many folks are, that you’re just very strategic and very thoughtful about, geographically, how you’re doing it, how you’re targeting those ads. When you really focus on owning your own backyard and your core market, where you are already the most known and the most likely to succeed, it really allows you to focus those limited advertising dollars.

Jarrett Smith:

If you start layering on multiple advertising channels, it allows you to create more of that cross channel synergy. I strongly urge you to do that. Just in terms of, a quick and dirty way of thinking about how do we know our own backyard, although I’m sure you have the institutional research, enrollment data to know this, but one way I like to look at that is through Google Trends.

Jarrett Smith:

Here’s comparing two schools, Colorado College and Sewanee: University of the South. You look at where does Google searches for these schools come from, Colorado College and Sewanee have very different geographies, which makes sense. You need to be thinking about that I think a little more seriously, if you haven’t been already. The second thing is I think we need to expand our platform mix and broaden our palette in terms of the advertising platforms we’re using. I think we tend to get very narrowed in on paid search, probably Google products, Facebook, and Instagram, and those sorts of things.

Jarrett Smith:

Others are valuable and worth looking at. Right now, as of today, TikTok and Snapchat allow you that more granular targeting that you’re used to having on Facebook and allow you to upload first party lists. You can target that way. Obviously, you need to be careful because the creative considerations for TikTok and Snapchat are not the same as they are on Facebook. It’s a different creative approach, but from a targeting standpoint, those two are viable. I think things worth folding into your campaign and to see if they make sense and can generate results for you.

Jarrett Smith:

Paid search, I think if you don’t already have a really robust paid search strategy, you should. That’s going to become even more important, I think. Then other, a contextual option here, college search websites like Niche, talk about contextual targeting., These I think, need to be part of the part of your media diet if they aren’t already.

Jarrett Smith:

YouTube and OTT, or now it’s connected TV is the term du jour, but connected TV and YouTube I think are also worth taking a look at. There are connected TV vendors that are doing some interesting things with device-specific targeting or IP targeting that may allow you to address your audiences in new ways and do so affordably. You can have a cable-like TV buy, but much more targeted, a much more cost efficient.

Jarrett Smith:

YouTube, I know we’ve talked about YouTube a little bit already with regard to contextual targeting, but I came across a stat the other day. I want to say 50% of YouTube videos are actually consumed on a connected TV, and that is validated by what my kids are watching on our TV. It’s mostly YouTube I think that becomes an interesting play when you think of that as more of almost like akin, sort of next door neighbors, to more of a traditional TV buy in some ways.

Jarrett Smith:

Lastly, I think we need to look at some other more old fashioned options. NPR is one that I think consistently has a very specific audience that can be right for some programs. It tends to be more cost effective. It is good old fashioned terrestrial radio, but it is oftentimes appropriately priced and does make sense for some of your programs and influential audiences that you’re trying to address.

Jarrett Smith:

Who knows what’s around the corner, I encourage you to stay nimble. That old saying, cliche, that change is the only constant. It really is true, particularly in digital advertising. I just encourage you guys, keep moving, keep evolving and hang in there, keep doing the good work that you’re doing. With that in mind and with all that said, just want to say thank you.

Jarrett Smith:

If you care to reach out with questions, you can reach me at Jarrett@echodelta.co. Love to continue the conversation, and shameless plug, if you aren’t already listening to the Higher Ed Marketing Lab Podcast, I encourage you to do so, so I hope to see you on next week’s webinar. It’s been a pleasure sharing with you today and take care. We’ll be sending out the replay in an email soon.