Several years ago, 3D printing gained attention as the technology that would shift everything, from how we fix problems to how we make things. There was promise of a technology that would allow families to spend more time building and less time in front of the TV.
But the consumer side of 3D printing never gained traction. The real opportunity is in B2B manufacturing and technology, in verticals like medical devices and automotive.
Manufacturing using 3D printing is called Additive Manufacturing. It’s a method of production and prototyping that stands in contrast to traditional methods based on milling (Subtractive Manufacturing) and injection molding. It offers a variety of benefits and opportunities for manufacturers.
3D Systems is the inventor of 3D printing and its marketing function is led by Doug Vaughan, who joined as CMO 18 months ago.
While some companies are using Additive Manufacturing to accelerate product development, others are designing entirely new products based on the Additive Manufacturing process. Vaughan uses the analogy of a toolbox. Historically, companies innovated using their existing toolbox of subtractive and formative manufacturing. Additive is an entirely new tool for engineers, offering complete freedom to design new shapes in new ways.
Additive manufacturing is a disruptive technology that allows engineers to do things differently than they have done with traditional methods (e.g. subtractive and formative manufacturing). 3D printing is essentially a new toolset to design, develop and innovate new products.
In a customer centric organization like 3D Systemsm, the marketing function has a laser focus on the applications and industries where Additive Manufacturing can offer the greatest impact today. Doug Vaughan tells us how this all works.
Tell me about Additive Manufacturing and how you successfully pitch something so transformative
While it’s a disruptive technology that has some very clear advantages, it’s not ever going to totally replace subtractive or formative manufacturing processes. So companies need to understand how Additive Manufacturing can solve specific challenges. For many companies, Additive is a means to accelerate product development and reduce the development costs of iterative design and prototyping.
For others, additive is a path to solving design challenges or simply designing a better part. For example, if an aerospace manufacturer optimizes a part to reduce the weight by half, without sacrificing structural integrity, they can save thousands of gallons in fuel consumption. And for other companies, additive is a means to disrupt entire industries through mass customization, like we’ve seen in hearing aids and dental aligners.
Like any disruptive technology, there is a huge education component. Additive requires engineers to think differently about how they approach a problem and how they approach product design.
Fortunately, that puts 3D Systems in a unique competitive position. We’ve spent the last three decades collaborating with more manufacturers, in more industries, applying this technology to address the widest range of customer challenges.
Unfortunately, the company had not done a good job of communicating that expertise and experience, so we have some ground to make up. That’s really where we’ve refocused our marketing and we will continue to be at the forefront in compelling ways, whether it’s through direct engagement with prospective customers or through broader content marketing.
How has marketing in the 3D printing industry changed?
One of the things that has held this industry back is that marketing has, in fact, not changed.
The industry has been a lot more about hype than substance, and there has been an over-dependence on talking about the technology. If you look at how the industry historically has marketed the technology, it was around the newest 3D printer. That’s not inspiring and doesn’t bring more companies into the conversation.
That will change fundamentally in the next two years. If you look at other disruptive technologies, the ones who have moved fastest from innovators to early adopters, these are technologies where users clearly understand the economic value of the technology—to the point that not adopting becomes a bigger risk.
Marketing and messaging must be grounded in reality—what problem is additive solving for the customer? What challenges do they have that additive can solve?
Where we’ve shifted our marketing is around applications that can scale across customer segments and industries. As you focus on specific applications that solve real customer problems other elements like materials science, workflow software, and consulting services become more important elements of your message.
From a marketing standpoint we spent this past year really beginning to understand which key applications will accelerate adoption of Additive Manufacturing, asking ourselves, “what are the specific use cases within each industry? Which ones are the biggest market opportunities? Where do we have unique advantage that we can scale?”
Then we get into specifics of how our solution solves the customer problem better. In some cases, our solution is better than alternative methods of manufacturing. For example, our new Figure 4 technology offers clear advantages over traditional injection molding for low-volume manufacturing.
The marketing function identifies where those opportunities are, how we’re differentiated in our product service solutions, and how to apply that to certain segments within vertical industries, Marketing becomes a core mechanism to transition customers from where they are today to where additive can help them.
How do you segment your markets?
We segment by industry, by use case, and by application. Given this is an emerging technology, it’s important that we understand the companies within those segments, and understand who will be the early adopters and the early majority.
We use a maturity curve that defines four stages of a company’s adoption of Additive Manufacturing. The first level is companies with no experience in additive. Level 2 companies are beginning to test and learn. Level 3 companies are actively using additive in a champion department or function. Level 4 companies are using additive strategically across the organization.
In Marketing, our primary job is to grow revenue so our focus is identifying and engaging companies in Level 2 and leading them up the maturity scale. This allows us to efficiently deploy our resources to reach and educate companies that are starting to test, explore and discover Additive Manufacturing.
With that focus, we don’t waste resources trying to educate everyone, and we rely on our application engineers and other internal domain experts to engage strategically and collaboratively with companies using additive strategically across the organization (Level 4). Marketing becomes more of a supporting element at that stage.
How do you identify where companies are in the maturity curve?
We have the advantage of being in this industry since day one, so we have a tremendous database of customer knowledge and insight. We gather this information by talking to prospects and customers. That’s where our service capability and our application expertise gives us a distinct advantage over other 3D printing and Additive Manufacturing companies.
Beyond existing customer relationships, we also have a global footprint of application engineers and on-demand manufacturing services that enable companies to engage with us early on in their testing and experimentation of the technology. Not only is this a competitive advantage for us, but it gives us direct customer knowledge and insight that we can use to refine our marketing approach.
In some cases, application engineers collaborate directly with customers to address a problem that they can’t solve with traditional manufacturing methods. We have application engineers at customer innovation centers in the US and Europe where we bring in customers to co-develop solutions for whatever problems they’re trying to solve. Again, this gives us tremendous customer insight that we use to refine our marketing.
What trends do you see that will shape your Marketing?
Like many other B2B industries, digital will be increasingly important. Having an integrated digital demand and lead generation system is just a first step.
At the end of the day marketing needs to contribute to the sales pipeline and ultimately revenue. With our On-demand Manufacturing services, there is an opportunity to close the gap between when our marketing is occurring and when we are invoicing those customers who are testing and experimenting with the technology.
As those customers grow their capabilities. with us and go beyond testing and experimenting, they become prospective customers for our software, our printers, our materials and our services. Digital provides a way to stitch together the entire customer experience, understand where each customer is as they move up the maturity scale, and allow us to provide the right content, at the right time, and through the right channels to help them take the next step in their adoption of the technology.
The next logical step is using data to understand how people are using our products. Not only does this help us improve the customer experience, it also provides insights to offer other solutions to expand our relationship with the customer.