3D Printers – a potential future for B2B content marketing

Rapid prototyping has been around since the 1980s, used for R&D mainly in universities and enterprises. However, companies such as MakerBot Industries (who were featured in Fast Company earlier this year) are now bringing affordable 3D printers to the masses that would also fit easily in an office, bringing us closer to the possibility of a desktop 3D printer. In fact there’s already a whole community of home-grown 3D printing enthusiasts.

Image courtesy of Jon Olav Eikenes

When I think about all the physical content that comes the way of people being marketed to in B2B, from brochures to webinars, I can’t help but think that it’s all just a bit flat (pun intended). It’s not like you’ve got something there and then that you can use.

But what if you had a 3D printer in your office? What if a business that was trying to sell you something, sent you a file in an email with the plans to print something truly awesome for your office? If the costs of 3D printing can come down as the cost of mass personalization has – I can see that being part of the future of B2B content marketing strategies.

Imagine

For a moment, think about sitting at your desk and not reading this blog post. Instead, pretend that another marketing email has drifted into your inbox. For a moment, believe that you have a 3D printer in your office. Now, imagine that the email you’ve just received has an attachment for the digital blueprint of something awesome, but the sender has been clever in not telling you what it is. Finally your curiosity becomes too much and you choose to print the file.

There is a chance that someone would be unoriginal and send through the digital blueprint for something like a branded pen pot. Instead, imagine that as the printer works on the object, you begin to see what has been sent your way. It’s not a pen pot – it’s a personalised LEGO figurine.

(Of course, if you’re a brand that sells pen pots to businesses, then sending over a sample in an email is probably the way to go.)

Not just office supplies and LEGO

I do suspect that the biggest boon of 3D printing being widely available will come to design industries that need to woo over prospects. An architectural firm could send over a scaled, full 3D model of a housing project proposal for a big contract they’re trying to score. Rather than having to print the prototype themselves and then transport the model, all they have to do is to send an email of the blueprint. Having an image rendered in CAD is one thing – having an on-demand, printable model like this is something else entirely.

Of course it wouldn’t just be architects that could benefit from this. Think about it – anywhere a physical product is being sold, you could send a prototype, instead of a brochure, to a person who is part of the way through the buying process. Or if you’re worried about costs to the recipient, you could print the item yourself and send it over to them. Regardless, it has the potential to change the face of B2B email marketing and bring a whole new angle to content.

Best not get too excited yet

MakerBot’s founder Bre Prettis is aware that 3D printing has one major hurdle, as he explained to Fast Company:

“One of the criticisms we get is, ‘Does the world need more plastic crap?’ But you have to look beyond the plastic crap, to the design, to the experience, to the empowering nature of the MakerBot and the community.”

Being empowered by an on-demand printed, plastic figurine, which looks suspiciously like you, is obviously fantastic. Yes, just so long as the blueprints don’t come in as thick and fast as junk faxes use to…

Header image adapted from “Rapid Chess” by Jon Olav Eikenes under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.


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