3D Printing – what’s in it for marketers?

3D printing was invented in the 1980s but only now is it starting to enter the consumer realm as the technology gets better, cheaper, smaller and more ubiquitous.

Ashley Friedlein 433 265

While it is early days, 3D printing holds out a lot of promise for marketers. Key themes within modern marketing, such as online/offline integration, social, or personalisation are very much part of what 3D printing can offer. 

In a further sign that 3D printing is going more mainstream, stationer Ryman recently announced that you can print 3D objects at a number of its shops as well as buy the printers and scanners to do it yourself. To test it out, I visited my local Ryman store and got a 3D print-out of myself once I had been scanned in. You can read the full story at here.

The big digital players are starting to push 3D printing more aggressively too, though most initiatives are limited to the US. EBay Exact is an iOS app launched last month that lets you buy 3D-printed products from the likes of MakerBot, Sculpteo and Hot Pop Factory, with prices rising to hundreds of dollars for some objects. 

Amazon launched its 3D Printing Store last month. Petra Schindler-Carter, director of Amazon Marketplace Sales, says: “The introduction of our 3D printed products store suggests the beginnings of a shift in online retail – namely that manufacturing can be more nimble to provide an immersive customer experience. Sellers, in alignment with designers and manufacturers, can offer more dynamic inventory for customers to personalise and truly make their own.”

So there is plenty going on but what are the opportunities related to marketing? Here are some ideas:

Personalised experiences: in 2012, Disney’s Princess Experience allowed Disneyworld visitors to have their faces scanned to create mini-me Disney princess figurines. This year, Nokia made available a 3D printing kit that lets customers print customised covers for its Lumia 820. And SoundCloud and Shapeways teamed up to let fans turn their favourite songs into 3D-printed iPhone cases by printing the soundwave onto the back of the case.

Creative campaigns: in Israel, Coca-Cola invited consumers to create tiny, digital versions of themselves, which they looked after virtually using a mobile app. A select few won a trip to the Coca-Cola factory where they turned their mini-mes into ‘the real thing’ using 3D printing. Barnardo’s ‘Home for Xmas’ campaign involved selected donors’ homes being 3D printed in miniature form and put into personalised snowglobes as a creative and emotive way to remind families how fortunate they are to have a roof over their heads at Christmas. 

Product development and co-creation: Cunicode creates co-designed products and to show the possibilities of 3D printing its ‘One Cup a Day’ experiment conceived, designed, modelled and made available for production and purchase a coffee cup within 24 hours, every day for one month. Volkswagen’s ‘The Polo Principle’ campaign harnessed 3D printing to allow customers to design and exhibit their own versions of the car, with the winner’s design turned into a real-life Polo. 

Customer support and loyalty: adding value to customers after a sale is a huge opportunity, for example allowing replacement parts to be 3D printed. Belgian Insurance provider DVV launched a service called Key Save that lets customers scan their keys and save the data. If they lose the keys, they can 3D print new ones. 

Corporate social responsibility and the environment: I haven’t seen examples but surely it should be possible to be more environmentally friendly by avoiding unnecessary transport via 3D printing at home, or by recycling products by reforming them through a 3D printer.

Read more from Ashley Friedlein

Are you excited by 3D printing or do you think it is just a fad? Beyond product and business model innovation, are you excited by the marketing opportunities? We welcome comments via mw.editorial@centaur.co.uk or posted in the comments sections below.

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