By Frank J. Romano The major impediment to variable data printing is the availability of applicable databases. May 26, 2005 -- Variable data printing is not for everyone. It is a powerful tool and a means to an end: the distribution of variable content--both graphics and copy--to targeted audiences. It facilitates the delivery of distinct messages to unique customers or prospects regarding sales opportunities that uniquely fit their needs. There are three primary aspects of variable data: The variable customer has access to rich data, usually based on its customers. The variable customer has an audience that has asked for additional information. The variable customer uses multiple media. Data is power and the IT departments of America must open their worlds to their own organizations. The major impediment to variable data printing is the availability of applicable databases. Almost all organizations have customer lists, but information about those customers appears to be hard to come by. And the larger the company, the harder it seems for marketing groups to have access to company data. Sources for capturing customer data MIS managers must be more marketing oriented and provide tools that their marketing groups can use to mine the data that is available. Data is power and the IT departments of America must open their worlds to their own organizations. There are list brokers galore who sell mailing lists compiled from magazines and associations. But both of these sources are no longer seeing the kind of total market coverage that once characterized them. Magazines are expanding into websites to find and capture the people they are not finding or capturing in print. The hardest job of the next decade will be finding and influencing the multi-media consumer. The easiest way to find the variable customer is online, where they ask for information or actually buy products. In doing so, they complete forms of various kinds that collect information. This information can immediately generate an automatic and personalized response, or be collected for later use. There is still a need for mass mailings--credit card solicitations need that kind of scope to do their job. Postage rates will have a negative effect on mass mailings, forcing such marketers to more targeted mailings. Consumers are scarce; consumers are accustomed to change; consumers are spoiled; consumers are aging. All these statements are true. The hardest job of the next decade will be finding and influencing the multi-media consumer. Like most of us, the consumer has become jaded and the time from "Wow!" to "So What!" has been reduced. Where will we find the variable customer? We will find them deep in the corporate database; we will find them on the Web; we will find them in retail stores and at events where people gather. We must find ways to capture their data and develop a relationship with them. The variable customer will be the market in the years ahead.