This is part two of a ten-part series of Direct Marketing trends for 2013. To read the original article with all ten trends, click here.

Years ago, direct marketing response management was simple… send a mail solicitation, include a business response card and wait for a checkbox response. So maybe that’s a bit over-simplified, but compared with the push marketing of yesterday, today’s management of channels and relevant communication content is definitely far more complex.

We’re in the age of the customer – empowered buyers demanding a new level of customer obsession.  Consumers are making more informed decisions with more access to product, company, and peer review information. Organizations need to not only understand their values and product differentiation, but also what motivates individual consumers, and how to communicate in relevant ways.

We hear about big data every day - volume, velocity, and variety. A key in how we collect and how we use this data comes through consumer dialogue. Advertising is great and necessary to promote a brand, but comes short in collecting consumer feedback and in satisfying the objections or questions potential buyers need to overcome before making purchase decisions.

When we imagine an ideal situation, a retailer would speak with a consumer, gather needs, tell them about appropriate products, solicit questions, provide answers, and guide the conversation in ways that the consumer can relate to. In the real world, those opportunities can be more elusive. Consumers are more apt to do online research, price shopping, read reviews, and even reach out to friends and family for advice through social networks. With this level of consumer empowerment, marketers in traditional practice can be left with fewer opportunities to compete.

Using today’s technology, direct marketing should be facilitating two way dialogue – marketing conversation. The process of building brand equity and trust, understanding consumer motivation, tailoring the sales pitch needs to span channels as well as pick up in the various stages of the buying process on-demand. Solutions for managing this level of engagement continue to mature and offer more ways to collect usable data and manage this conversation.

We’re long past the days of “multichannel” meaning multiple channel push campaigns. Channels need to be linked together, and be focused around feedback mechanisms. User experience needs to be consistent across each channel. Interest learned from an SMS text needs to come across in the next email. When a consumer is browsing a web site, products, offers and messages should then be personalized based on the data collected from all channels.

In order to build lasting customer relationships and loyalty, marketers need to capture and use data at every touch point – text, email, web, social, direct mail / response. At the center of enablement is the marketing database and cross channel marketing automation. Implemented properly, customers are spoken to personally, in ways optimized for the channel, and most importantly, with the relevance that only conversation can bring.

Personalization means so much more than an email subject line with your name. Modern marketing technology enables a business to craft a personalized campaign around every recipient. Messaging should resemble a face-to-face conversation, where systems are in place to allow it to morph into a genuine dialogue. As more data is gained at each touchpoint, channels have the opportunity to converge through marketing automation, and marketing can truly turn into conversation.