(By Jonathan Salem)
“I know it sounds like science fiction, and that horizon I mentioned isn’t anywhere near today’s sunset. Also, the process of 3D’s rollout will not only be gradual, but also impact intermediaries long before end-users…so dentists will be able to replicate teeth and restaurant chains replace ketchup dispensers before parents print batches of diapers.“
We all know what happened to books, music and other forms of creative content that were easily digitized. Are you prepared for what could happen to your brand when 3D printing starts digitizing everyday consumer products?
The change will come slowly, but it’s inevitable. Already, printers can produce detailed solid objects, though not inexpensively. The prices will eventually fall, just as speed and quality increase, so consumers will be able to “print” everyday objects, from cups and glasses, to replacement parts for devices and DIY projects. It will wreak havoc with hardware stores and parts distribution services, and be a boon to whomever figures out how to produce, store and ship the goo that powers these home replicating machines. Internet ordering will seem like using the Pony Express.
Just think what it will do to consumer brands.
First, it will change how consumers acquire products. Imagine a day when online communities don’t just share opinions about marketing messaging or their experiences, but swap designs for, say, detergent bottles or soap dishes (the premium content will come at a price). It will change the way major consumer brands envision packaging, as products will be stripped of external identifiers and reduced to their very substance. Imagine bags of shampoo on grocery shelves with little more than an identifying tag on them, or bath gel shipped to homes and then ladled into home-printed containers. It will turn many products into constant refills, and have significant impacts on how consumers shop.
Second, it will create immense opportunities for customization and DIY involvement. Many products will be able to outsource parts to home printers, thereby not just reducing prices but allowing consumers to have some say in how things are assembled. Want a different cover on your laptop? Print it at home, or even buy the device without a cover (it may be cheaper for consumers to create their own objects to complete products). In fact, products could be offered at varying levels of “completeness,” allowing customers to choose how involved they’d like to be in the manufacturing process. Consumers will mix-and-match parts to create unique versions of things, and then perhaps share their designs. Again, think of all the social media and community functions that will sprout up to support these activities, not to mention the sense of co-creative ownership consumers will feel with their brands.
Third, bioprinting is on the horizon, which means that replicators will be able to produce the stuff that goes in those bottles, not just the bottles themselves. Simple compounds will come first but, conceptually, anything could be digitized some day. This would reduce brands to their constituent formulae, and possibly make them providers of raw content from which consumers could assemble their purchases.
I know it sounds like science fiction, and that horizon I mentioned isn’t anywhere near today’s sunset. Also, the process of 3D’s rollout will not only be gradual, but also impact intermediaries long before end-users…so dentists will be able to replicate teeth and restaurant chains replace ketchup dispensers before parents print batches of diapers.
But the premise that all things are conceivably digital content could be a powerful planning and development tool for marketers. If every product is ultimately intellectual property (a secret recipe or unique configuration of rare parts), how do you not just promote but protect it? If the product underlying your brand promise no longer exists in physical space, but literally pops into existence when consumers create it, what are you promising, exactly? As every aspect of the consumer purchase equation changes and/or shifts, doesn’t it affect your definition of what the “brand” is with which they’re engaging?
The brands that survive this evolution will both embrace the steps along the way (like homemade packaging), and enable its advancement, perhaps even promoting it as a benefit to consumers. The rationale for considering such activities now is simple: Look what happened to the industries impacted by the last wave of digitization. Nothing is the same, and many categories are still struggling to define not only what their brands stand for, but how they can make money. Wasn’t it a lot more obvious to them that text could be created for free online, or music reduced to sharable binary bits? Even with that explicit warning, lots of brands were slow to respond, if not wholly unable to do so.
The time when your consumers use replicators like those on Star Trek may be in the future but, like most sci-fi, its not really fantasy as much as future fact imagined in the present. You need to come to terms with it.
Your communications aren’t your only digital content. Your product is coming next.
“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”