I want a 3d printer. I’ll go ahead and throw that out there now, so you know that the following is going to be biased. There are two things keeping me from buying a printer though. One of them is cost (the cheapest models are still near $1,000) and the other is figuring out what I would do with one if I had it. There have been 3d printed guns, cereal bowls (with included spoon), 3d printers printing other 3d printers and a host of other neat products that started as a string of resin and ended as something moderately useful. The challenges are getting this into the hands of to consumers and on the marketing front, using 3d printing technology to promote brands and companies. Until the 3d printer is at a reasonable price point and in an easy to use package, the technology will likely not get mainstream acceptance. Brands however, may be able to see some benefits.
The on-demand t-shirt creation and printing business has been around for a few years. Come to an event, take a picture and you can get that picture on a t-shirt for you before you head home. Taking that to the next level, what if instead of getting a commemorative t-shirt with your picture on it, you get a commemorative trophy with your face on it? 3d printing is working toward that kind of real-time interaction, but the printing speed itself can be the holdback. Printing speeds are measured in millimeters per second instead of pages per minute. The best printers in the market can print an iPhone case in about 10 minutes (I don’t know why an iPhone case is the benchmark for 3d printer performance, but it is). For a limited audience, that’s ok, but for an event with thousands of people, the printers likely wouldn’t be able to keep up with demand.
3d printing is already being played with in the marketing space though. VW, Coca-Cola and Nokia have all created marketing campaigns utilizing 3d printing. The marketing sweet spot seems to be limited-audience, high-reward promotions. Taking it in a different direction, other high-interactivity 3d printing promotions have tended to be limited to crowd-sourced design or competitions to make someone’s vision come to life. Winners of promotions get their idea turned into a prototype and evaluated for production (think of designing a custom bottle opener for instance).
3d printing technology is exciting, new and has a lot of potential, even if it may be a bit of a challenge for marketers to embrace.