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?

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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.

The mobile innovation conundrum

Well this may not exactly come as news to many of you but this week really reinforces the conundrum facing mobile operators – and therefore all of us – in the quest for new service innovations to support their future business.

In the week that we have seen Facebook’s staggering $1bn acquisition of a non-revenue generating business we have also seen the recent results showing that revenues at the UK’s leading mobile operators have declined by 2.3% in 2011 as their customers are simply using their latest smartphones & data packages to communicate and entertain themselves in many other ways than the high margin voice business.

Clearly the mobile operators are not starting from scratch and some such as O2 have had a business innovation unit going for some time looking at creating new services in areas such as health, mobile payments and monetisation of mobile search and web.

However, this week clearly demonstrates the need for them to accelerate their innovation even faster and I just hope that they focus the resources and take the appropriate risks to make this happen.

Don’t forget if the operators don’t get this right and help find new profitable revenue streams they will be forced to continue ongoing cost-reduction measures.

And the worst income in this would be a continued reduction in their subsidy of the shiny smartphones and tablets we are all using to drive the innovation in the first place.

Of course another scenario is that the over-the-top services such as Apple, Amazon & Google continue to drive the innovation themselves. However, even though Amazon are reportedly subsidising the Kindle Fire to a tune of $50 per unit that’s an awful lot of incremental margin they need to make and even then it’s a much smaller subsidy than the mobile operators have typically been able to support on new devices.

So let’s hope that between them they can get this right –  especially how the operators can better partner with the OTT service providers as they plan the build of their new 4G networks – so we can continue to enjoy the shiny new smartphones and tablets driving this fantastic innovation.