Brands turn to 3D printing for more personalised marketing

Once reserved for prototypes and hi-tech research projects, 3D printing is now being used by brands to personalise products and campaigns. However, reputational risk of piracy is slowing mass adoption among brands.


The technology has been used to finesse design concepts and fast-track product development for the past 20 years. During this time, the process has become quicker and generally cheaper as printing  firms such as Shapeways and Makerot have emerged to make 3D printing more palatable for brands and consumers.

Brand owners are now exploring ways to make the technology part of their marketing activity. The likes of Nokia, Converse and Soundcloud are adopting a more low-key approach with services that develop existing co-creation initiatives.

Converse is allowing shoppers at its flagship store to design their own sneakers on the spot and walk out the door with them within the hour. Soundcloud recently ran a campaign for fans to turn their favourite songs into 3D-printed iPhone cases.

Elsewhere, Nokia is planning to expand its current offer allowing customers to print their own phone cases for its Lumia 820 and 520 models to other accessories.

Thomas Messett, European head of digital marketing and advocacy at Nokia, says the uses of 3D printing are “far reaching” for marketers, but it will take “three to five” years before it becomes more widely adopted.

He adds: [3D printing] has the potential to offer the next leap in social for brands. It is at the peak at the hype cycle right now but there are only a small number of people who own or have access to a printer. With CAD files (electronic blue prints for 3D objects) being shared on the Internet, we’ve had to be careful about how we protect our intellectual property.”

Advertising experts say brands should look to forge iTunes or Spotify-type deals with companies like Makerbot to avoid the same copyright battles the music industry faced during the advent of the Internet.

Hils Jakison, creative technology director at the Marketing Store, says: “Think of the bedroom coders that have developed some of the best apps since the App Store was devised, some of them are children. And I would imagine that once 3D printers are in the home and somewhat easier to use and maintain, we’ll start to see some really exciting things.”

Read our January feature on how 3D Printing is changing the manufacturing process.  

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