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

As we move into the age of Big Data, marketers have the opportunity to take the conversation and the customer experience to a new level with hyper-personalization. As we evolve, best practices in marketing will center on enabling customer choices, with functional personalization being the true differentiator. Form is often the critical first impression and highly correlated to sales, but function will take the lead role moving into 2013 and beyond. It is a continual balancing act between choices that lead to the highest quality production, versus choices made to enhance aesthetic beauty. Marketers will strive for the same level of functionality in the choices we make to successfully leverage hyper-personalization.

The first baby steps into the world of personalized marketing began with form-based customization, or customization for the sake of customization, with little regard for true functionality. Variable print personalized form letters moved from a salutation of Dear Customer to Dear Matt. In retrospect, what we thought was a monumental accomplishment at the time was all form and no function. Did this development, that we believed was so revolutionary, enhance or reinforce our offer? Did it help the customer make a choice? Probably not, as these changes were merely for the sake of form, and not function.

Any time you use data stored for personalization, you run the risk of getting it wrong. Wrong can come in a number of forms. First, plain and simple, you can have incorrect or outdated data. Second, you can have the correct data and run into privacy issues where you inadvertently reveal something the customer doesn’t want others to know. Third, you can have everything right and show your customer how much you know about them, and this wealth of knowledge about the customer’s personal information can be a turn-off to the recipient.

Hyperpersonalization is focused on function, and will evolve with function at the core of its usage and strategy.

Hyperpersonalization is about skipping the personalized salutation and going instead with something that is likely to move the needle. For example, a postcard showing a personalized driving distance and directions from the recipient’s house to their nearest branch or store is an excellent use of personalization. Additionally, using a PURL that lands on a pre-approved and pre-filled application that just requires your customer’s quick review and submission can streamline and enhance brand communications. Using web behavior in subsequent email and digital, direct mail supports imagery in color, product selection, messaging, and other ways to match demonstrated preference. Hyperpersonalization is about being able to both move the needle on response and conversions.

Look for marketers to put the customer in the driver’s seat of the relationship, giving them control over how much they share with companies and how they personalize their relationship with your brand. Messaging will allow customers to choose and update channel and frequency preferences as well as view and control their customer profile (not just their basic account information but all the data that has been collected).  Retail is already embracing this form of personalization. With products from eyeglasses to blue jeans, you can now upload your photo and dimensions and have a virtual fitting without leaving your keyboard. Expect financial services, Higher Ed marketing, non-profits and numerous other industries to embrace hyperpersonalized offers and communications through 2013 and looking forward.

As a final note of caution, targeted marketing and data driven marketing are increasingly under fire from consumer advocate groups criticizing the irresponsible use of data. Digging too deep into personal information, or using data in ways that don’t offer consumers true benefit, jeopardizes the legitimate uses that help filter out irrelevant offers, less than ideal timing, or information portrayed in undesired channels. Regulation for “do not track”, opt-in (vs. opt-out) requirements, anonymous IP addressing, and rights to “be forgotten” can tip the balance too far in the wrong direction. Consumers’ preference should be in the forefront of marketing strategy and easily managed throughout a prospect / customer relationship. With responsible use, the Hyperpersonalization and relevance of targeting marketing creates true benefit for consumers.