3D Printing in the Commercial Printing Industry: Think Dimensional Mail

By | April 11, 2014

I’m stunned. I just looked back at my post on using 3D printing to drive digital printing and there are 68 shares on LinkedIn. I don’t think any post I have written — ever — has gotten that many LinkedIn shares. This tells me I’m on to something.

Part of the reason, I think, is that all of the discussions I’ve seen around 3D printing have to do with bringing existing products, services, and business models into our industry. That means discussion about whether printers should try to replicate what’s already being done, and done well, by companies that are far more entrenched and expert at it than printers are. Of course the answer to that is, “No!”

What nobody is talking about is how printers can apply the technology in a complementary way to drive more sales the products and services they already offer. That’s why I think that post resonated so much. As I discuss in the report “State of 3D Printing in the Commercial Printing Industry: 2014,” I believe 3D printing will provide significant opportunities for this industry, but most important applications will be the ones nobody has come up with yet (although I’ve proposed a few).

We are hearing many printers express concern that 3D-printed products are simply too expensive to be used in marketing campaigns, but I don’t think 3D printed products should try to compete with traditional response incentives or ad specialties. I believe 3D-printed products should be used for creating customized or personalized products (branded items), one-off products (personalized, highly unique incentives like action figures of company executives), or for ultra-short-run campaigns with a highly targeted audience.

In this, 3D printing would compete with dimensional mail. When going after corporate executives, marketers understand the value of sending a personalized box, complete with personalized marketing collateral, personalized sales letters, and personalized incentives ranging from radio-controlled cars to personalized baseballs. Now imagine a 12” action figure that looks just like the CEO of the target company staring out at the recipient (or his gatekeeper) from underneath a plastic window as part of a mailing box. I can imagine an open rate in that campaign of 100%.

So when thinking about 3D printing, forget replicating what’s already being done. Think how the technology can be applied in complementary ways to drive the business PSPs are already doing!

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3 thoughts on “3D Printing in the Commercial Printing Industry: Think Dimensional Mail

  1. Chuck Gehman

    I think there are few opportunities for traditional, real printing companies to pursue 3-D MAKING, as it should really be called. And in fact, the opportunities for people who make the machines aren’t quite living up to the hype, either, http://on.wsj.com/1iAKVwb

  2. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    I’ve been round and round with people on the issue of whether 3D printing should be called printing. I think we can make this argument, but in the end, I think we’re going to lose. I’ve actually been fascinated by the number of rationales from people, including in this industry, for why it should be called printing, even though it’s really a manufacturing process. Accurate or not, I think we’re stuck with it.

  3. Joe Manos

    Heidi I completely agree with you on your points about 3-D.

    We have a number of customers hitting the ball out of the park with dimensional marketing programs that are delivering “exceptional results” for their customers.

    To your point, these are manufacturing – print projects BUT the proposal approach is 100% different from what printers present for print projects. The customer is paying more, in may cases a lot more, but they are achieving an ROI that traditional print alone could never deliver.

    They do have micro sites attached to the programs for a VIP special offer but that’s all part of the program design.

    My point is simple, until the majority of printers start to focus on the new emerging needs of their customers that might require deliverables (and new approaches) outside of their core competency, they will view new opportunities from a negative perspective rather than a positive one.

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