What does the evolution of 3D printing mean for marketing?

3D printing
3D printing

Marketers need to be ahead of the curve in thinking through the opportunities presented by 3D technology, writes Steve Mattey, managing partner, VCCP me.

My interest in 3D printers has been growing since I saw a recent article about a company in America which has made available online blueprints that mean, for the price of a 3D printer, you can print your very own working gun.

I am aware that the mere addition of the words ‘In America’ to many crazy statements will mean you would accept it as fact, but this is absolutely true. Check it out on You Tube.

You can also find clips of 3D printers producing everything from hamburgers (not yet edible) to dresses and cars. It is used by surgeons to build up a view of a patient’s organs that they will later operate on, and designers can move from flat-screen design to build in just a few hours. Extraordinary stuff.

It is very likely that many households will have 3D printers in the next few years. A quick check on Amazon shows I can now buy a pretty decent 3D printer for under £1,000. And no doubt this will drop rapidly making it a commonplace domestic item.

It is a genuinely exciting innovation for the home, and requires us in the marketing industry to start thinking about the opportunities it presents.

It is a genuinely exciting innovation for the home, and requires us in the marketing industry to start thinking about the opportunities it presents.

Firstly, the ability of the customer to make bespoke products. At the moment, engineers are using the technology for rapid prototyping. It is a short step for brands to start offering customers the ability to tailor their products, via the web, in order to have the product printed at home – clothing, accessories and toys for example. Any product currently which can be made in a plastic variant.

But that should not limit us – it will surely only be a matter of time before electronics and food may be printed at home too - print the newest mobile phone and then your dinner?  It is not science fiction; these things are being proto-typed today.

What a fantastic thought - consumers can have the styles they want, in their size, to their taste, in a matter of minutes and probably at a fraction of the cost currently. A revolution in consumer purchasing. And the speed of consumer gratification will beat internet shopping today. Forget post purchase 24 hour delivery - Have it now.

It changes all of the rules. Part of the manufacturing process is removed. It is the same revolution that happened when the internet first arrived and enabled customers to go direct for purchases. The online retail world is growing rapidly with over £50bn spent last year alone. It is a large prize for those who can tap into the early adopters of the 3D technology in what will become the norm within the next few years.

Is this the end for retailers as we know them? Are they necessary in this New World? What sort of retailers will emerge?

Predict the future

It’s never easy to predict the future, but the past teaches us lessons. We know that the adoption of technology which makes our lives better is always rapid. Aside from printed weaponry, this change seems to be for the better. We need to be ahead of the curve in thinking through the possibilities the technology presents and the way it integrates with the customer journey with brands.

Needless to say that this could also be a Godsend for men like me who normally find ourselves rushing around the High Street on Christmas Eve throwing money at the problem of what to buy our wives. I can sup at my glass of wine and set the printer to work producing the latest dress on my home printer… though, no doubt, I will still get the colour, style and size wrong.

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