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In an unforgettable scene from 1967’s The Graduate, family friend Mr. McGuire tells young college graduate Benjamin Braddock, “I want to say one word to you: plastics.” A bewildered Benjamin asks: “Exactly how do you mean?” With all seriousness, Mr. McGuire replies: “There’s a great future in plastics.”
Now, with great reverence to The Graduate, we at Blogging Out Loud have two words to say to our readers that foretell the future of marketing and retail: 3D Printing.
With half of all homes in developed economies expected to own a 3D printer within a decade, per Autodesk data, those two words are no longer futuristic buzzwords. Look at what just happened last week with NASA and 3D printing as an example of how the technology has “taken off’.
On Tuesday, November 25, the International Space Station’s (ISS) newly installed 3D printer manufactured the first 3D object ever printed in space—a faceplate for a printhead extruder on the printer itself. It was an incredibly exciting event, not just for its historical significance but also because of its implications.
NASA experts theorize that in the not-too-distant future, space missions will be longer lasting because, thanks to 3D printing, they will be self-sustainable. Rather than expending resources on sending rockets up with replacement parts, NASA will simply email part specs off into space and lo! The 3D printer makes it real. Space exploration can be expanded too—especially once the ISS’s 3D printers start printing food. Seem far-fetched? It’s already in the planning stages. NASA has awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I contract to Systems and Materials Research Consultancy to study the possibility of using 3D printing for making food in space for extended space missions.
A 3D printer in every home?
Taking it down a notch, what does this historical event really mean for those of us who spend our days with our feet planted firmly on the ground, rather than orbiting around Earth 240 miles up?
For marketers, 3D printing opens an entire new world of branding possibilities. Research agency OnePoll surveyed 1,000 U.S. consumers and found that one in three Americans would consider buying a 3D printer for their home. Each year, 3D printers are becoming more affordable than ever for the everyday consumer, with the most basic models starting at an almost unbelievable $100.
Price drops not withstanding, 3D printing still has significant drawbacks for home consumers, including the accessibility, variety, and cost of the materials the 3D printer uses to create the desired objects. And that’s part of the reason, experts say, why consumer 3D printing is thought to be more than five years away from mainstream adoption.
Marketing you can hold in your hand
But clever marketers’ 3D branding innovations don’t have to be limited to whether or not consumers actually have 3D printers in their homes. Many forward-thinking companies have already begun using 3D print technology as a way to expand their brand recognition.
Gaming companies have been among the first to do so. 2K Games and Turtle Rock Studios are using 3D printing as a way to build excitement for the highly anticipated monster-hunting video game ‘Evolve.’ Players who own 3D printers can print the 3D models of the main characters and monsters for free by simply going to the 2K Games website, selecting their desired character and then clicking on the ‘3D Print File’ button. No 3D printer? No problem. The site gives instructions on how to use a third-party 3D printer and have your model shipped directly.
Another example: Hasbro has partnered with Shapeways to develop and commercialize 3D printers later this year for children’s toys and games. The partnership allows Shapeways members to design their own unique 3D printed versions of popular Hasbro toy characters, such as My Little Pony models, which they are then licensed by Hasbro to sell online.
In 2013 Volkswagen Polo and DDB Copenhagen used 3D printing technology to host an innovative contest that drew in hundreds of participants (aka, potential customers) . The company invited consumers to become car designers—no home 3D printer required. Participants in “The Polo Principle” campaign used the automaker’s 3D printer, via a website, to design their own versions of the Volkswagon Polo. The most creative ideas were then 3D printed and exhibited in Copenhagen. The winner of the contest saw his car design turned into a real-life Polo.
A few years ago 3D printers were a novelty to “ooh” and “ahhh” over. Now, marketers view them as real—and effective—tools to incorporate into their branding efforts. Coca Cola, EBay, and Nokia have all leveraged 3D printing with remarkably successful results.
What does the future hold for marketers in terms of using 3D printing to enhance their brands? One of the marketers’ key goals is to provide consumers with an interactive brand experience. Social media has proven to be a phenomenal tool for brands to increase engagement with their audience. 3D printing can take that concept to the next level—think product personalization. With 3D printing, every consumer has the ability to customize a product exactly how he or she wants it, to “own” it. The result? A deeper and more positive connection with your brand.
Or, what if a consumer could easily and almost instantly hold in their hands something they see advertised online? A dress featured on a store’s website becomes a fabric swatch that a potential buyer can feel to make sure they like its texture before they order it—and eventually, it may be possible to 3D print the entire outfit from the comfort of home.
Here’s a fun one: you arrive at the resort for your long-awaited vacation, and in your room you find a 3D printer that instantly creates a customized pair of sunglasses, just for you. What are the chances that the next time you book that get-away, you’ll think of that resort first?
Living in the Future, Today
3D printing technology has evolved so quickly and so successfully, as evidenced by the success of NASA’s ISS 3D printing venture, that it will change the landscape of the way goods are distributed—even the way we as a society do business. And like the Internet and social media before it, 3D printing provides marketers with new opportunities to create real, innovative, interactive, and ultimately limitless opportunities to enhance their brands in the heart, minds, and hands of consumers.
What innovative ways would you use 3D printing technology in your brand’s marketing campaign? What excites you most about 3D printing? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.
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