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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The only innovative smartphone for 2014?

If you’ve been keeping an eye on the latest and greatest mobile innovations from the 2014 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona you may be left a little disappointed and underwhelmed by what the big boys have had to show off.

Sure Samsung, Sony & Nokia have all announced new phones but these have generally been a simple improvement in specification and offering nothing innovative. Even Nokia’s bigger announcement of yet another OS seems to offer ‘Android without all the apps’.

However, the good news is that there is one great example of smartphone innovation and as is often the case it comes from a smaller business with a real focus on creating something disruptive based on better addressing customer needs.

YotaPhone 2

OK, you could argue the YotaPhone 2 which offers two screens – one traditional colour touchscreen and one e-ink touchscreen) is an evolution of last year’s product but it continues to demonstrate this company progressing fast creating a really innovative new product.

So why is the YotaPhone a good example of innovation?

  1. It addresses real customer needs not fully met by existing products – the inclusion of the e-ink screen not only addresses the issue of ‘battery drain’ but it also helps reduce eye fatigue for prolonged use and also helps with visibility when out in daylight.
  2. It is prepared to be bold and think differently about the solution – having two screens with different purposes is a completely unique proposition and helps create a clear brand and product offer for the YotaPhone.
  3. It is simple and well executed – in many ways the YotaPhone is simply an e-reader stuck to the back of a traditional smartphone. Of course, like all great innovations the beauty is in the quality of the execution and the YotaPhone 2 seems to have made great progress in this area both in the physical design and the user experience.

Will the YotaPhone2 become the world’s biggest selling smartphone? Probably not. There are still major marketing issues to be addressed including distribution and pricing.

However, which product at MWC makes me smile most and which company feels like it would be a good place to drive innovation? That would probably be Yota.

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 :-).

More than words can say – a simple case of ‘less is more’

I found this interesting post by Tim Brown and comments on LinkedIn today about how best to manage simple communication across complex global businesses.

Marketing Director

It’s highlights the leadership imperative to continue to think about the best ways to share and spread communication around a complex global business. With so many ways now to communicate and with many business becoming increasingly geographically diverse it’s little wonder that even with all the latest digital technology the words ‘a communication breakdown’ continue to be said.

One of Tim’s points is that in relying so heavily on digital communication we’re losing the ability to communicate properly using other senses as per Peter Drucker’s teaching.

“The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.” 
― Peter F. Drucker

However, as much as I’m a fan of simplicity I’m not so sure it’s as simple as having more ‘face time’ although having worked in a big Global business at Sony I’m sure that there is plenty more that companies can do to streamline video communication within core corporate communication channels such as email/intranets/social media, etc.

To me, one of the greatest communication complexities that companies need to manage is self-made – simply having too many projects & initiatives without a simple or well-managed structure/process to channel communication.

I’m sure we’ve all been to too many meetings, with too many participants that don’t really deliver results. Very few meetings I’ve been to recently have the old-school basics of clear action points/owners that are followed up on. We’ve all got way too many emails with large distribution lists making many irrelevant. New good systems like Salesforce.com are being introduced but seem to add an extra channel of communication on top of existing email/intranets and other internal reporting.

Quite simply beyond the wise words of Drucker I think the key to simplifying communication in many businesses is simply to have less of it and make sure it is simply and appropriately channeled.

1 – Fewer projects that are only focused on the key business priorities – less small/secret projects that have minor incremental benefits and complicate the big initiatives.

2 – Fewer meetings and internal communication channels – with participants limited to those necessary and guidelines for good practice engagement rewarded.

3 – Sharper project management and communication of action ownership & status for key work initiatives – it seems to have become ‘dated’ to manage meetings and projects with some of the discipline of old but done well it can seriously reduce the time spent wasted clarifying next steps after meetings.

4 – More ‘Face Time’ – both the physical and better integration of video into the selected business communication channels.

A simple case of ‘less is more’.

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.

Have Nokia found the winning touch?

Nokia’s problems have been very well documented with many writers believing their cause to be terminal. Certainly their strategy to put all their eggs in the Windows basket is somewhat brave to say the least. However, there are signs this past week that suggests there could maybe be life in them yet.

Operating systems aside – and it is a big bet that Windows Phone 8 can be successful without a larger list of quality apps and games – it does seem that Nokia have been really thinking about creating a simple and enjoyable consumer experience that can differentiate them from the masses of Android manufacturers.

I believe this focus on consumer experience can provide real competitive advantage in a sea of similar smartphones – and I think Nokia might just have found the right touch.

Firstly, it looks like they will be among the first with a good consumer use of NFC technology – with a simple touch their new Lumia smartphone can automatically pair and start playing music on their new wireless speakers made in partnership with JBL. Sony have also announced a similar solution with their new NFC enabled speakers but it looks like Nokia will be quicker to market and could maybe give this greater focus in their marketing.

With Apple seemingly going to change the accessory speaker market for good with their new connector this gives great opportunity for players like Nokia to accelerate the growth in wireless speakers by making their usage so simple.

Secondly, and maybe more significantly, It appears that Nokia are going to use the simplicity of touch to charge their latest smartphones. Of course this isn’t the first time this proposition has been offered with Palm Pre back in 2009 but that was a paid-for accessory whereas it appears Nokia will offer free.

Not only this but it seems that Nokia have applied a touch of colour and fun to their designs which really stand out.

I believe there is a big chunk of the market looking for the next big cool factor. Maybe the simple combination of ‘touch to play’ and ‘touch to charge’ could be enough to encourage a sizeable base of people away from another Android phone – and who knows how excited the Apple fan base will be with a slightly longer slimmer iPhone.

With a focus on bringing new technology to life in a simple, fun and colourful way I believe there really is life left in Nokia yet. How much we will have to find out.