Last month's issue of Direct magazine contained an article by David Henkel titled "A Little Too Personal."  In the opening paragraphs of the article, Henkel writes, "You're browsing through your mail and come across an oversize postcard from your health club.  Printed across the back in large text you read:  'Hi there, Chris!  The last time you were here, you weighed in at 183 lbs.  Can we make an approintment for you with a personal trainer?'  The mail carrier and your neighbor might get a laugh out of it.  But would you?"

The thrust of Henkel's article is that personalization can be an effective marketing tool, but that it is also easy to cross the line, especially when sensitive personal information is involved.  The use of highly personal information is certainly an important legal and ethical issue for marketing professionals.  But purely from a marketing perspective, the broader question is whether explicit personalization will continue to be an effective marketing tool as more and more companies use personalized marketing communications.  By "explicit personalization," I mean the inclusion of specific facts about the recipient in the marketing message.  Some examples of explicit personalization would be a first name, a job title, company affiliation, or information about a recent purchase.

In fact, explicit personalization is likely to become less effective as the use of personalized marketing communications increases.  After all, "familiarity breeds contempt" as the old adage goes.

Effective marketing can be defined as getting the right offer in front of a prospective customer at the right time.  When used by a savvy marketer, information about a prospective customer can be a powerful tool for determining what the right offer should be and when that offer should be presented.  When personal information is used in this way, the end result is a highly customized and personalized marketing message.  But in this case, the personalization is embodied in what the offer is and how it is described and presented rather than in a collection of "facts" about the recipient.

In recent years, we've seen the term "Web 2.0" used to describe a new breed of applications that are designed to leverage Internet technologies to deliver a richer set of online experiences.  "Personalization 2.0" is about moving beyond the explicit personalization we see so much of today.  It means using information about a propsective customer to develop and present highly personalized offers that will be attractive to that prospective customer.

The most profitable marketing services providers will be those that can help their clients gain the full benefits of Personalization 2.0.