3D Printing and the (Marketing) World of Tomorrow

3D printing is here, but its mass-market application has yet to arrive. The wait won’t be long; the timeline is better described in months rather than years. Just reflect on this—the industry is expected to grow more than 2.5% each month between 2013 and 2020.[1] The stakes are high. Once it goes mainstream, 3D printing is predicted to generate more then $21 billion in annual worldwide revenue—a conservative estimate.[2] Printer costs are plummeting and quality is rapidly improving, but few speculate that 3D printing in the home will be the mainstream application of the technology. The running costs won’t make sense for that type of market to develop. Rather, this generation of 3D printers will predominantly be used for product fulfillment.[3] What’s in store for marketers? For marketing, 3D printing will present a vast array of opportunities to deliver new, engaging, and innovative ways to connect with potential customers. In short, 3D printing could be seismic for brand marketing. And brands are already experimenting. Using 3D printers, Coca-Cola created miniature statues of consumers to promote smaller Coke bottles, while Nokia built a simplified 3D printing kit, so customers could customize phone cases. These brands are not alone. Volkswagen, Barnardos, and eBay have also launched limited campaigns to leverage 3D printing.[4] Marketers have learned that personalization is key. Creating senses of exclusivity, uniqueness, and individuality are important factors for marketing success, and 3D printing can deliver this bespoke experience. Imagine being able to print promotional merchandise that is personalized according to customer data, or create interactive experiences that let your prospect engage with your product and brand in a creative way. 3D printers offer easy customization for complex products that can only exist because of this technology. Engine blocks, heart arteries, scooters, dental molds, drills, guitars—they have all been printed.[5] Imagination is really the only limitation. So what’s standing in the way of our printable future? There are three technological hurdles that must be resolved: speed, surface quality, and running costs. Each issue is rapidly being addressed by an industry that is in all out war to deliver the next best method of printing. In addition to the technological hurdles, marketers have another problem to address: bridging the gap between the customer and the printer to create a seamless and organic interaction. 3D printers are not plug-and-play devices. Configuration, design skills, and technical training are required. The knowledge needed is preventative for many customers, but it isn’t an insurmountable challenge. As 3D printing goes mainstream, there will be ample room for innovation and creativity to create impactful marketing experiences. This new technology enables brands to further tailor to the tastes, preferences, and usage of an individual purchaser. Marketers who figure out the key to an organic and mass market 3D printing experience will open the flood gates to a whole new dimension in marketing.   [1] http://time.com/money/3772087/3d-printing-clip/ [2] http://time.com/money/3772087/3d-printing-clip/ [3] http://www.computerworld.com/article/2907280/how-companies-will-convince-you-to-buy-a-3d-printer.html [4] http://adage.com/article/news/3d-printing-adds-dimension-marketing/243870/ [5] http://www.computerworld.com/article/2474769/emerging-technology/121544-3D-printing.html

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