Sunny Webb, Digital Experiences
As the manager of a project that utilizes 3D printing, I receive a lot of questions about the prosumer 3D printer sitting in my office. Generally there are two types of inquiries: “Can you print me?” and, “Is this going to change the world?”
To address the first question: Hmmm, well technically, that’s not currently within project scope, but I aim to please, so here’s how you can do it.
And while the later question stems from headline-friendly stories like individuals who want to print weapons or consider medical applications – my answer is yes, 3D printing will change the world we live in – but probably not within those extremes of the possibility spectrum.
Let me explain.
One point along my college journey, I found myself enamored with the study of film. So enamored, that I talked a professor into helping me outfit and operate a full production studio. I picked up several life-lessons:
- You can spend a lot of time doing something that doesn’t pay you,
- In life, it is generally wiser to be behind a camera than in front of it,
- Video equipment used to be expensive, thus limiting content contributors.
I say used to be, because thanks to Moore’s law, we can now purchase a video-supporting Digital SLR for fractions of the cost of those high-quality digital video cameras that I purchased in college.
This is relevant to the conversation of 3D printing because the industry of 3D printing will be to manufacturing the same that low-cost video editing software/hardware was to the film industry. To expand on that thought, consider how the original “content creator” definition within the film industry was initially limited to production staff. In the days of Orson Welle’s creating Citizen Kane, Mr. Welles was contractually tied to act as a content creator for the RKO production company. Fast forward to today, and we have video recording hardware that is priced for the average consumer. Lowering this entry barrier led to the opportunity for non-contractual individuals to act as content creators for new material (think Sundance Festival) – which then in turn are acquired by production companies for further distribution (think Napolean Dynamite, Little Miss Sunshine, and Clerks).
This is an interesting shift, and it’s about to occur within manufacturing for the same reasons it did film: the price barrier to participate has been lowered. For those visual learners out there, I drew you a nice illustration:
The Shift of Content Creators
Traditionally, in manufacturing, new products are created by in-house R&D teams, and then distributed to the general public by large manufacturing operations. While the large manufacturing operations are still and will remain a critical component to the consumer supply chain, lower-cost 3D printers will inject a fresh new stream of “content creators” for innovative product concepts. Soon-to-be-gone are the days of relying on consumers to tell manufactures what they want – instead, they will show manufactures what they want. At that point, it will be up to the manufacturer to ingest the proposed product modifications, or to ignore them.
For example, I suddenly come to the revelation my office chair could be improved by adding a small indention in the armrest where I rest my elbow. Inspired by enhanced posture opportunities, I set forth to create the design of the perfect office chair armrest. Now suppose that after designing, I now have the means to print this with a 3D printer, and I show it to all of my co-workers, who erupt in armrest-jealousy. As an individual, it does not make sense for me to print these armrests at large volume scale - rather, I bring my new concept to the chair manufacturer and suggest an enhancement option for their chair. This example is essentially applying Henry Chesbrough’s open innovation model to product design.
Of course, this line of thought raises questions of intellectual property rights and other debatable topics – however in this specific blog entry, I’m talking about the opportunity for the design shift to occur – not what happens when it does.
The key thought of this upcoming shift is not whether 3D printers can replace manufacturing (they can’t) – but how 3D printers create collaborative opportunities for new product concepts between the individual and the manufacture. Manufacturers who embrace this upcoming consumer-driven design shift will surpass their competition because they will be proactively positioned to survive a trend we’ve witnessed in multiple industries.
Ian P. Blitz
Business success has always been built on relationships. Just a few generations ago, consumers were often friends, or at least neighbors, of the local grocer or pharmacist. But that model changed, first with large-scale industrialization and then with the introduction of IT. Over the last few decades, consumers in general have been treated with greater indifference and far less personal attention.
But the pendulum is swinging back. Technology is finally at a point where buyers can be treated like individuals again. Consumers are more than faceless transactions, more than a cookie file or a demographic profile; they’re real people with real differences. Digital transactions are giving way to digital relationships.
The ability to build, maintain and scale digital customer relationships is one of the emerging IT trends in our recently released Accenture Technology Vision 2013 report, which outlines our predictions on which technology trends and innovations will have a significant impact on organizations—for both their IT departments and their businesses overall—in the next few years.
Digital relationships are at the top of the list of emerging IT trends for good reason. Technology innovation has given companies ways to communicate with consumers in a much more personal way through mobile, social media, and context-based services. Individually, these IT innovations represent new types of user experiences, even new sets of sales channels—but that’s not the real opportunity.
Taken in aggregate, digital relationships represent a key new approach to consumer engagement and loyalty, because it enables companies to manage relationships with consumers at scale. The goal is “mass personalization”—and no, that’s no longer an oxymoron. Mass personalization is about using what you know about a consumer from the communications channels he uses to better understand his behavior and needs. Think of it as providing resort service at a motel cost.
Digital consumers have ratcheted up their expectations about how businesses will communicate and respond. Companies that hope to remain competitive need to find new ways to use these technology innovations to make the consumer feel special as never before, to increase engagement and develop intimacy.
Mass personalization can deliver a variety of new benefits. Because shoppers can move—quickly and entirely digitally—from awareness to recommendation to purchase after interacting on blogs, Twitter, Yelp, and other social sources, it’s actually possible to compress the sales cycle. Offering on-the-spot promotions through digital channels also potentially increases impulse purchases. Providers that are better at controlling that experience will benefit by lowering the costs of sales and marketing and generating greater sales volumes.
Personalization also creates a virtuous loop. The more you personalize the experience, the richer the data you’re collecting becomes. Companies can boost the quality of data in much the same way that night-vision goggles amplify available vision: to shine a light on data and behaviors, already present, but previously undetected.
A new level of intimacy with consumers is now possible. But effectively scaling meaningful digital relationships represents a real change in the way companies need to approach their consumer strategies. This shift is being enabled by technology; however, implementing it will require a new, unified approach across IT and the business.
Now is the time to act. The customers are out there; it’s time for businesses to get to know them better than they ever have before.
To learn more about digital relationships and other 2013 tech trends, download the Accenture Technology Vision report.
A while ago, we started an R&D program called Integrated Digital Experiences (IDE), where our goal was to develop solutions for new digital channels such as social networks, and to integrate those channels to provide a single consistent multichannel relationship between our clients and their customers. The previous sentence will take many blog articles to fully explain, but today I want to focus on social networks, social media, and all things “social”, and set the stage for later, more detailed articles.
I often have the pleasure of presenting to clients and conference audiences about current trends and opportunities around social. By and large, people now recognize that sites like Facebook and YouTube can be powerful marketing channels, but I still get people who ask if Twitter is a fad, or if the excitement around social networking will die down. If you’re reading this, I’m probably preaching to the choir, but I want to spend some time answering those questions, and give some examples of why I think we’ll be talking about Facebook and social tools in general for quite some time.
Let’s talk about “social” in general. If you’re over 30, Facebook feels like a new fangled tool, but it (and many others) is simply supporting a human behavior that has existed as long as we have. We communicate, we share, we express our interests, and we align ourselves with different communities and interest groups. Facebook didn’t invent these behaviors. It simplified them and, in the process, made them more manageable and visible to others. Similarly, we can describe Twitter in Web 2.0 terms like “microblogging”, but the important part is that it’s a manageable communication channel between individuals and the people who care about them. These are capabilities that people always wanted, but technology didn’t allow us to do this in a scalable way. So, what are people doing with these “new” social tools? They are doing the same things they’ve always done, in dinner parties, postcards, fan clubs, and reunions. The difference is that they are doing it more broadly and more easily.
Now, let’s talk for a moment about businesses using these tools to communicate with their customers. I will say much more about this in other posts, but I’ll talk in broad strokes here. If the consumers are communicating on social networks in a way that is both personal and social, then the same should be true for businesses. However, many businesses are locked into a mindset of mass marketing and broadcast messages. This leads them to do counterproductive things like sending mass emails to their Facebook fans instead of recognizing the fact that their fans have established a much richer connection with them over Facebook itself. Instead, businesses need to reset their thinking to match the new capabilities of social channels. They need to adopt the mindset of the small town shopkeeper. This was a person who knew his customers’ faces, their names, their habits, and their friends. He said hello to them when they came in, and chatted about the things that were important to them. He listened to them. He didn’t scream slogans at them when they walked by.
Everything I just described can now be done on Facebook, at a global scale for millions of customers. In later posts I’ll talk more about how to do it successfully. In the meantime, ask yourself where you are on the spectrum between mass marketer and shopkeeper, and if you need to change your mindset.
*Kelly Dempski is the Director of Research for Accenture Technology Labs, Sophia-Antipolis, France. He can be followed at @accenturesocial.
** photo by Gauldo.
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