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.

Can your brand bet on your customers?

The internet and increasingly the mobile internet are continuing to drive massive changes in our lives. As consumers we are spending more and more time happily tapping away at our smartphones and tablets engrossed in a myriad of exciting content.

At the same time as marketers we are constantly looking for new ways to use digital to add greater value to our own consumers, finding ways to differentiate our offering from competitors and of course hoping to find the holy grail of also increasing revenue/arpu for the business.

One really interesting area that is changing fast and opening up new commercial opportunities is online gaming and potential linkage with betting.

In UK at least, and despite the ongoing economic hardships with 17m people now considered to have wealth below the acceptable living standard we continue to see a significant rise in the propensity for people to gamble. In May Paddy Power reported a 28% increase in revenues driven largely by an increase in online betting and a UK survey by UK Gambling Commission saw a 15% increase in Gambling from 2007 to 2010.

Gambling/betting is increasingly socially acceptable to the point where I was almost surprised last week when we couldn’t place bets for the rowing races at Henley.

Where does this trend and opportunity leave us?

Many brands are looking to create exciting content including online games to drive greater engagement with their customers. At the same time online games are increasingly being integrated with ‘virtual goods’ to buy (it is estimated that over $4bn will be spent on virtual goods on Facebook by 2013) offering exciting new and highly profitable revenue models for those brands who can get this model to work.

Now this shift in brand and consumer behaviour may take a step further with a new betting service to be integrated into online games and mobile apps.

So the question is – can your brand tap into this increasing trend of providing online content to not just engage consumers but to give them exciting ways to spend their money online through either virtual goods or even providing a competitive gaming experience that supports elements of gambling/betting. Can this be a new and fun way to increase your interaction with your customers as well as increasing your profits?

This is of course is a difficult area for many brands to consider and won’t be right for many. But don’t be scared to at least look at how you could get this ‘new world’ opportunity to work for you.

At a time when consumers’ use of digital games are changing rapidly, their attitudes to gambling/betting are becoming more acceptable and you’re under increasing pressure to innovate and bring new profits into your business there really could be opportunities for you to take a considered risk too.

Just think this is another exciting new opportunity in the marketing proposition toolkit for us to consider as part of our innovation growth agenda.

Getting physical – the best way to engage

As highlighted in some of my earlier posts I am really excited about the opportunities new technologies allow smart companies to provide a greater experience of interaction with their customers – in essence creating the hallowed ‘greater engagement’ through gestures and physical interaction.

This new app from Bump allows you to simply share your photos between users simply by tapping your smartphones together. Not only that, you can store them on your computer by simply tapping your phone on the spacebar.

No more digging out the cables. No more hooking up the WiFi. No more uploading & downloading. Simply tap the two together and your photos will be easily sent across.

This is not about replacing Instagram and Facebook that have their own great photo sharing benefits for those far and wide. It’s about providing another simple way to address the need for an instant and physical share of the photo.

The new breed of smartphones with ever improving accelerometers and NFC will allow us to take this physical interaction with your brand to new levels as Barclaycard’s current PayTag campaign reminds us.

There are many benefits to this more physical gesture approach. Not only is it normally more simple that finding your way through a string of menus but we know that physical interaction is normally a fun and enjoyable experience.

As a marketer it allows us to focus on creating a more emotional connection with your brand and service. We know that if well executed this is a strong driver of brand satisfaction and desire.

There are many ways that we can look to use this and create more physical engagement with our customers.

Recently I have been asked by a couple of marketing agencies to think about the new opportunities for brands to connect with consumers and store staff using the emerging mobile and digital technologies. Needless to say that many include a simple and fun physical interaction that delivers a much richer benefit.

Of course these are still early days but a great time for you to plough a little investment of budget and time to think about ways that you could put more smiles on your customers’ faces by creating a valued physical interaction with your brand.

In the meantime, if you want another opportunity maybe it’s a good time to invest in companies that produce mobile phone screens. :-)

The winners of the 5th screen will be …..

….. probably not the advertisers as discussed on this piece on ’5th screens’ on Fast Company. I maybe wrong or simply short-sighted but I think the commercialisation of these screens just needs to be different.

The 5th screen’s role in life is simple – to tell you something useful and in a way that is easier and more beneficial than just getting your smartphone out of your pocket. It has to be designed to be useful in even more fleeting glances than the ever increasing times we spend engrossed with our smartphones.

So the winners in the 5th screen device market will have learnt from the 3rd screen (smartphone) and 4th screen (tablet) and be those that get the user experience right so that consumers actually want to view and in this case actually wear their screen.

As someone lucky enough to have used the Sony SmartWatch for the last couple of months I can tell you how important it is to get the design and navigation right. This is pretty cool but you really don’t want to be spending time fumbling around with your watch and looking a geek. This needs both a good resolution display and of course simple software UI.

This is what I think will define the winners and the good news is that that it doesn’t have to be Apple. I say this because:

  1. The smartphone user base is now much bigger than just iPhones given the massive rise in Android
  2. Hopefully enough players have hooked onto simple & smart UI design and can develop as quickly as Apple would need to for this new type of device

As an entrepreneurial lover of technology and gadgets I think it’s great that the Allerta Pebble smartwatch has raised so much funding to hopefully secure a successful launch. It does appear to have taken further steps in the right direction but the areas that I think need to be delivered by whomever wins in this area are:

  •  provide us something compelling that will genuinely get us to value this over a normal watch - This could be as simple as easily changing/personalising the clock/calendar but obviously has scope for other applications such as messaging, location, etc.
  • simple content presentation without too much scrolling around - you really don’t want to be pressing too many buttons or dragging content around the screen otherwise you will simply get your smartphone out!
  • battery life has to be good and easily charged - I love the built-in USB charger on the Nike Sportswatch that just plugs into computer, charges and updates apps
  • do not do what is inferred by the FastCompany post and clutter my watch experience with adverts - my watch is arguably more personal than even my phone and is definitely going to be smaller so a completely new thinking of commercialisation needs to be considered.
Sure, I recognise that monetisation of the business model can happen and potentially subsidise the cost of these sexy 5th screens in the same way as my post on monetising smartphones but let’s start by creating rich services that consumers would be willing to pay for rather than simply seeing it as another screen to serve adverts.
In my opinion this should be more ‘experience value driven’ by offering things such as a golfing GPS app or running/exercise app than by seeing it as another screen to monetise with adverts. Of course there are many other great opportunities for brands to get involved and build value into the experiences like this and use this to drive their business.
But do this in the smart way of adding value to the consumer on their new 5th screen rather than trying to find the right way to shoe-horn your advert onto the screen!