How to market and sell your 3D printing services

In the final of this 3-part series, we’ll explore how to market and target customers with your 3D products and services.

3D marketing 101

The challenge with 3D technologies is that they’re “cutting edge”. Only a few firms so far have been true pioneers in using 3D to enhance their brand while communicating the benefits in a concise and value-added way. As a result, many of your customers won’t completely understand the advantages of your new 3D services, and so you’ll need to engage them with examples specific to their needs.

The power of samples

Engage your customers with impressive, diverse samples to show them what’s possible using today’s 3D printers and scanners. There are still many misconceptions out there in the world of 3D and customers can’t be expected to do all the research themselves. It’s your job to show them what’s possible via samples that cater to their needs and particular industry. Don’t explain why 3D printing can help them – show them!
For example, if your customer is in tool and die making, 3D print a jig or a fixture. If your client is an automotive designer, show how they can design and build 3D printed car parts from a 3D scan. Show display companies a 3D-printed booth mock-up. If they’re willing to give you an STL or CAD file for test printing, that’s even better!
Make sure the materials you use in your samples are also diverse – wax, rubber, polymers, nylon, carbon fibre, metal, etc. – as well as full-colour options and a variety of plastics and resins. The amount of printable 3D materials is constantly expanding.  The more materials you can show, the more likely one of them will impress.

Who should you go after?

The variety of industries using 3D technology may shock you. For example, ever heard of Invisalign? Invisalign uses 3D printers to produce clear, custom orthodontic braces. I recently learned of a detailed, 3D printed prototype of a new sports stadium done in less time and for a fraction of the traditional cost of $500,000.  One shoe company wanted prototypes of different designs and used 3D printing to get samples faster and cheaper. Then there was a tool manufacturer that needed 3D samples to ensure that its products fitted comfortably in the hand and that its switches were easily accessible. Get the picture?
So what companies should you approach? The answer is just about any business! And never forget about consumers who will be amazed at your 3D prints and other products and novelties. I’d also investigate tradeshows (booth design), display companies (indoor/outdoor, POP), ad agencies (2D artists), industrial and commercial prototyping, packaging, marketing firms, premiums and incentives, etc. There are literally thousands of possible applications today including aerospace, automotive, consumer products, healthcare, governments, industrial/business machines, education, research, arts, architecture, engineering and so on.

How to demonstrate the value of 3D technologies

While 3D printing is new and exciting, its advantages are the tried-and-true benefits that most businesses want:  better quality, reduced material and labour costs, faster time to market, maximum flexibility in design and mass customization. Even complex 3D components are generally lighter and, depending on technology and material, stronger and more robust. And the best news of all – you can offer unprecedented cost savings to your clients while still marking up your products substantially.
If you’ve purchased a 3D printer, conduct on-site demonstrations and have an expert on hand to explain how the machine works. Alternatively, get an expert from the company you’re partnering with to perform demonstrations if you haven’t purchased the equipment yet. People feel more at ease purchasing when they understand the process.

What do you need to compete as a 3D print service provider?

Anyone can purchase a consumer-level 3D plastic printer and claim to offer “3D Print Services.” For a $2,000 investment you’ll have a box that can jet plastic and produce small, monochrome objects with extremely simple shapes, and not a lot of durability. But if instead you choose to work with an experienced 3D studio, not only will you get access to high-end machines that can print complex geometries, functional parts and full-colour models, you’ll also gain valuable knowledge to properly operate the equipment to achieve best results.
Finally, it seems to me that with an experienced 3D printing studio as a partner, you’re limited only by your imagination. Good luck!
A special “thank you” to Matthew Belo and the pros at Toronto’s Objex Unlimited 3D Printing Studio for providing the information and guidance for this three-part series.

Tony Curcio
Tony Curcio is the news editor at Graphic Arts Magazine.

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