Opinion / Could 3D Printing Rewrite the Laws of Marketing?
Weapon7's ECD Jeremy Garner on the implications of 3D printing for the marketing industry
3D printing is very much the of-the-moment hot topic. From toys and hardware, to jewellery and garments, 3D seems to embody our yearning for immediacy and control. It's almost the ultimate manifestation of consumerism: not merely to acquire goods as a means of self-expression, but to also manufacture them as well.
But it's the possibilities of what will happen when 3D printing is truly personalised that will be the game-changing opportunity for marketing and branding.
It goes beyond user-centric design to choosing and compiling the exact design you think will be suited to your needs. The issue here is about 3D printing meeting machine intelligence; creating new products that are not only functional but embody the values of brands in ways never before realised.
Key to this is the fact that, as machine intelligence learns from people's lifestyle habits and recommends brand new product ideas that they can instantly turn into tangible objects, the 'print runs' are truly bespoke - and with zero wastage.
Manufacturing costs are reduced dramatically, as is the need for research and development investment. It's a one-size-fits-one approach. New products can be recommended and manufactured knowing that they should fit the needs of the consumer precisely, no matter how idiosyncratic they are. Exact physical dimensions, colour, materials, location-specific data (such as weather-resistant materials) and - crucially - application are 100% bespoke. Individually configured and created computers, cars, clothes and even houses can all be tailored to the needs of different people.
All this could, in turn, afford huge opportunity to brands to express themselves in totally new ways.
In the future, the innovation and desirability of a brand could be encapsulated by the unfamiliarity of its products, rather than the uniformity that knits product lines together currently.
As long as that unfamiliarity encapsulates the essence of what makes the brand unique, and differentiates it amongst the commercial noise.
But, before all of that, expect a flurry of land-grabbing as brands try to stick a flag in the ground of this interesting new landscape.
In a similar way to how some advertisers over the past few years have used emerging technologies in innovative ways to both define themselves and stand out, those brands who lead the way in 3D printing could generate a huge amount of awareness and discourse.
Perhaps most interesting of all, though, is the irony that runs through all of this. If consumers themselves can use 3D printing to create and generate their 'own' products which act as expressions of well-known brands in their own right - whether sneakers, watches or furniture - then the laws of marketing will really have been inversed.
That is, consumers manufacturing brands' products for them.
It seems with 3D printing, anything really is possible.
Jeremy Garner is executive creative director at Weapon7