By Frank J. Romano May 15, 2006 -- Variable-data printing is useless without the data. That's why we call it variable "data" printing. All the great design in the world will not substitute for bad lists and irrelevant data. All of the great direct marketing verbiage will not make up for a lousy database. Great paper? Great printing? Forget it, unless you know your audience. VDP depends on great data to produce great direct marketing Thus, most VDP is simply name and address. I have had it with personalization that says "Frank, . . ." on the postcards and self-mailers I receive. "Frank comma" is not very personal. In fact, it is personalization for dummies. It is getting as tiresome as the early days of inkjet when your name was in 64 point jagged type, or the 1990s, during the "You may be a winner" era. According to a survey by Experian Marketing Services, 75 percent of businesses globally think they lose money through missed business opportunities because they cannot profile customer and prospect data quickly and effectively due to data quality issues. In the U.S., 77 percent of companies admit that shortcomings in data quality hurt their bottom lines. The main problem stems from duplicated data and incorrectly addressed mail. But that is not the real issue. VDP depends on great data to produce great direct marketing. Let me give you an example. I have had one of the major credit cards since 1968 and it accumulates points. When I get the bi-annual statement, it always has a set of items I can get with those points. One is a round trip ticket to Hong Kong. However, if they checked their records, they would find that I have not charged an airline ticket since 1970. Would not a cruise have been a more relevant item for me? MIS/IT people should realize that it is not only what I bought but what I did not buy. The credit card company could have done it. They categorize all my charges at the end of the year and send me a summary for tax purposes. If they know a hotel charge from a food charge, they should know a plane charge from NO plane charge. By extrapolation we can mine databases for clues and trends and relevancy. But many companies either do not have the data to begin with or do not know how to organize it. As a result, some American companies are losing the opportunity to draw audiences to their stores or websites or call centers. They are losing the ability to forge relationships with customers and generate new opportunities for sales. Maybe they have too much data and it is a case of analysis paralysis. Do American companies have a case of analysis paralysis? Sadly, this also affects printers as they pitch the ability to apply VDP profitably, because the customer does not have the data organized in a way that it can be used effectively. Thus, printers are getting into the database business. They are hiring bright IT graduates, buying lists, performing data hygiene and mining, and offering customers a total package. This may turn out to be a good thing, because those who control the database, control the world.