How 3D printing may really reach the High Street?

There’s been a lot of noise about 3D printing and how this could become mainstream and ‘hit the High Street‘ but there’s clearly a lot of uncertainty as to how and when this may happen.

3D printing

The opportunities for 3D printing are vast and often nicely positioned as ‘the end of Made in China‘. I was amazed to see how far the technology has come and that objects as diverse and important as ‘human’ body organs through to a whole house. As someone who recently reviewed their personal investments 3D printing businesses have been articulated as ‘the next Microsoft or Apple’ potential – albeit with considerable risk until the marketers get it right.

The challenge for marketers as always will be to find the right proposition for the right target customer and then execute it brilliantly and quicker than the competition.

When it comes to ‘3D printers on the High Street’ I’m not sure that the best opportunity right now is in the supply of 3D printers for consumer use at home.

With one of the leading 3D printer suppliers iMakr offering best selling printers from £850 this is a big investment with the costs of printing materials on top. That’s a lot of money to reproduce the proverbial ‘missing spanner’. Like any new technology many potential customers will also be holding back for the 2nd & 3rd generation products.

So what opportunity could there be in the shorter term?

Well, it could lie in a disruptive form of product customisation and distribution on the High Street removing the need for expensive product shipping & logistics – even potentially taking on current e-commerce models such as Amazon.

My flash of inspiration bizarrely came when ordering a favourite milkshake from Shakeaway and got me thinking ‘if I can go to the High Street and customise my own drink’ why couldn’t similar places produce pretty much anything I like and have it customised and produced right in front of me with 3D printers?

I wouldn’t want or need a 3D printer at home and the economies of scale and physical size would allow a High Street presence to have much better printing capabilities.

Obviously logistics still plays a part. Would I want to go into a town and travel back or is the 3D printing capability actually at a Royal Mail depot?

Anyway, I’m pretty sure I won’t be buying a 3D printed ear, 3D printed house or even a 3D printer anytime soon but there are exciting opportunities here to create a disruptive new business model to offer consumers a compelling customised product offering.

But will it be next to Shakeaway on the High Street?

Sony letting their hair down – but will it get the chop?

As we look forward to all the new opportunities that the New Year will bring – some of the technological ones we will no doubt see at CES next week – it’s worth looking back at what we saw in 2013 and one of the more unusual developments I saw was from Sony who perhaps gaining a little more confidence seem to have let their hair down somewhat with the announcement of their SmartWig project.

Sony SmartWigThe growth in wearable technology is one of the hot development areas as hardware truly integrates with software to deliver exciting new user experiences.

However, the key for the successful businesses will be those that really focus and deliver a great user experience – and this gets even more important as the user actually wears the experience and it becomes part of them both physically and as a symbol of their personality.

This is a really exciting area for us marketers and one that opens up an interesting question in marketing philosophy – to what extent should you and how can you use customer research to develop your proposition?

Marketing textbook 101 that I was taught at college always focused on the need for extensive customer research to make sure you were delivering against core needs.

During the 15 years’ I’ve been developing new digital and mobile propositions I’ve always tried to adhere to this but often noted the challenge as to how to get customers to respond to something uniquely different like SmartWig that they have never previously considered.

Of course, on the other hand some such as Steve Jobs have taken a more direct to market approach believing that the company knows best and that if you create something simple and special enough then customers will learn to love it – and of course this route has proven successful on various occasions.

So as Sony and the various other manufacturers continue to develop exciting new wearable technology it will be interesting to see which find the right approach to involving customers in the development of their propositions and importantly to get the all important customer experience great.

As for me, I’m potentially up for a SmartWig but I’d probably want one that was a more sensible colour for work but could change colours to party at the weekends. It’s also probably partly due to helping keep my slightly receding hairline warmer :-).

Are you going to get plugged in?

Big news last week in the world of electric cars with BMW formally launching their new i3 fully electric car model.

David Hilton, Marketing DirectorI have to say – and my friends will probably laugh – but my first thoughts were that this actually looks pretty great and if I was looking for a new car then this could be a good option. Then a few minutes of rational thinking took hold and I realised the significant barriers that the governments and car industry need to overcome before we see the tipping point of mass adoption of electric cars.

The big picture in the UK is to get to 1.7m electric cars on the road in the UK by 2020 but at just 0.1% of UK car sales there is clearly a long way to go – even with the UK government subsidising each vehicle by £5000.

Certainly having the weight of BMW entering the market with the i3 will help make these vehicles more attractive to the more affluent and they will no doubt push big marketing investment behind it to help position their brand as innovative and in touch with consumer interest.

However, for sales of electric vehicles to really take off I suspect a few barriers still need to be addressed:

1 – Cost – the BMW i3 was actually more affordable than I thought at £25,680 including the government and even though these are well kitted including satellite navigation this is still a 14% premium on the BMW 116d SE that already does 68.9 mpg and unlimited range for those looking at fuel efficient options. The Nissan Leaf at £15,990 is 45% more expensive than a new Nissan Micra.

I think that one of the ways that the industry can help with electric car adoption is to review the car ownership options more towards monthly contract options like mobile phones aided by the ongoing fuel savings.

2 – Future proofing the technology – when spending money on a new car we all want it hold as much value in the future as possible. Electric cars – and specifically the ongoing battery developments – run the risk of becoming ‘old technology’ very quickly thus making the investment even more risky. Manufacturers like BMW need to offer a guarantee that future improved batteries will be made to fit the current car models so customers can benefit and upgrade to new battery technology as it matures.

Ideally there should be a global standard to create a new competitive industry for low cost and ever improving electric car batteries.

3 – Charging points - much investment has already gone into electric car charging points in major cities with Manchester launching 200 new points in July this year. However, at the moment many of them remain unused waiting for the build up in electric car ownership.

One key barrier for me was owning a Victorian house. Whilst very advanced in many ways the Victorians lacked the foresight of creating a parking space for my house. Without that I – any millions of others in the UK – have no way to easily and securely charge my vehicle whilst at home. Parking is always an issue in busy Victorian towns like Kingston but if councils provided one residential charging bay for each main street then this would help people like me that want to take the plunge into electric cars but simply can’t.

Meanwhile I will stick with my diesel car and use my bicycle to ease my environmental concerns.

Nokia Lumia 1020 – cut to the right size?

I’m not the first to comment on Nokia’s recently announced exciting new Lumia 1020 handset but I think if it is to succeed in the market it will need to be a great case study of excellent product marketing in encouraging customers to change their existing behaviour.

Nokia Lumia 1020

For sure, looking at it simply they are going to win ‘the numbers game’ with a staggering 41MP camera out-trumping the Samsung Galaxy S4 13MP camera and the iPhone 5’s miserly 8MP shooter.

But who the needs a smartphone that takes such large images?

Of course the real answer is no-one and it’s purpose is really to act as a ‘post shoot’ zoom – allowing you to crop the photo to size on the subject you want whilst maintaining a high pixel count for printing. This avoids the need for a physical zoom lens which would add extra weight/size.

But this is where it gets a bit tricky because you’re expecting people to understand and change the way they have taken pictures in the past which is to ‘zoom and then snap’.

I’m a strong believer that a great user experience can be the source of competitive advantage and if Nokia can execute this brilliantly then they could really be onto something.

But what do they need to do to achieve this?

  1. Create an interesting new name to try and ‘own’ this key feature and benefit – something like ‘Sharp Zoom‘ if used creatively and consistently could help differentiate the offering from other brands
  2. An interesting and engaging marketing campaign to focus on the benefits of this clear point of difference – e.g ‘what would you cut to size?’
  3. Show off the competitive comparison with clear and compelling digital assests to highlight the image quality benefits of this feature vs. Samsung and Apple
  4. Simple and fast ‘zoom’ app user experience on the device itself – making it easy to crop, size and use for different formats such as online publishing and saving for printing

If the Lumia 1020’s is going to tempt a significant number of users to dump their iPhones or Android smartphones then it will really need to pull off some clear & simple marketing communications to get customers understanding why they would possibly want a 41MP smartphone.

Why customer experience is king in marketing

Many of us have experienced the excitement of launching what we believe to be the best and most innovative new digital and mobile propositions to the market.

Typically this would have included the creative challenge of turning a technical solution into a consumer friendly marketing proposition and communication – including the obligatory social media content to whip up the excitement levels with potential customers.

It would normally also include a rush to get it out of the door before your competition. Some of us would have also experienced this focus on speed rather than customer experience can have sub-optimal effects on our marketing success.

That was the case with the Jawbone Up when they first launched it in 2011 but whose success was quickly brought to a halt by soaring product returns and customer complaints due to the technology in the wristband breaking.

Jawbone quickly and bravely withdrew the product from the market – providing full refunds for all customers that had bought it – and went back to the drawing board to create a much improved customer experience.

Not only have they completely redesigned the technology of the product on the inside but they have also been busy making sure that the app and digital content it provides are really slick and a delight to use.

Well I believe that Jawbone are about to prove that an absolute focus on providing a fantastic consumer experience will ultimately win the day in market success. It may have proven to take longer and cost more than originally planned but in the medium term I think it will be the best thing they could have done to continue to build their brand reputation and ongoing commercial success.

Not only that but their dedication to creating such a great experience provides the quality of stories and digital content that marketers love to have to drive social engagement.

We all want to emulate some of Apple’s success and I believe it is their own focus on delivering the ultimate customer experience (think original iPod click wheel rather than iOS6 maps) that has been pivotal. It’s using and sharing our experiences of their products that has had a more profound impact than their advertising or social media activity.

Jawbone look set to provide the most elegant and fun way to track your sleeping, diet and exercise – and it will be the great experience that will really get it’s customers talking.

The power of innovation – recycling cycling

Sometimes you read something and you go ‘wow’. This week I was reading about how a designer called Izhar Gafni has designed a rather cool looking bicycle made largely from recycled cardboard and aimed to be produced for under $10!

As someone that has recently got into the cycling boom in the UK and having spent well over £1000 on a lovely carbon fibre bike I’m intrigued about the potential of a bike that weighs about the same and yet could cost much, much less.

Clearly the bike isn’t designed to win the Tour de France but it has the potential to be truly great because it addresses a number of key innovation success criteria:

  • An inspiring and exciting story that will be rapidly shared - ‘surely you can’t cycle on a cardboard bike’. Clearly both the intrigue and fantastic design create a really exciting story that has the potential to generate huge amounts of media coverage and of course offers the sort of ‘talkability’ that many brands aspire.
  • Unique position in a large growing market – I’m assuming that there are not too many folk as creative and determined enough as Izhar to have been spending the last two years in their sheds creating the perfect cardboard bicycle. I trust he has also been smart enough to protect the IP then he could enjoy a unique position in a large market for some considerable time.
  • Keeping the offer simple – Not only is the bike design beautifully simple but the idea itself especially the low-maintenance aspects of the bike are fantastically simple. It’s easy to know what this offers and of course how a sales person can sell it.
  • Opens up big new customer market opportunities – not only could this address the obviously large market potential in developed and developing markets for ‘low-cost’ bicycles but the additional angle of ‘easy maintenance’ hits another massive consumer need for convenience. Not only that but the more environmentally conscious audience opens up yet a third key customer target group.

Not only am I hugely impressed by the innovation in the product itself and the massive potential market opportunity but mainly I’m struck by the sheer focus and determination of this great innovator to prove that the impossible can be possible.

Whether this cardboard bike would really survive the often wet and pot-holed roads of the UK or even ever be produced at such aggressively low costs still remains to be seen but this is the kind of simple but challenging innovation that gets me really excited.

Good luck to them.