It’s Nice To Be First In 3D Printing; It’s Better To Be Best

[Stock image / via Gartner]

A tweet from Fabbaloo friend Julie Reece has me thinking about market positioning in 3D printing.

Until very recently, Julie was the VP of Marketing at Rize, leading the messaging efforts for the company’s unique 3D printer and helping to position them in the market. She has years of experience in the 3D printing industry, including with Mcor, 3D Systems, and Z Corp, and has now established her own consulting business, J. A. Reece Marketing Solutions. She knows, in short, what she’s talking about.

Sometimes it can seem like marketing might be the underdog department in a startup. But if no one knows what you’re talking about — they can’t talk about it.

We often come back to the importance of messaging when it comes to market position. These conversations are only becoming more necessary as additive manufacturing continues to gain prominence across more applications, picking up new users who aren’t entrenched in the depths of these 30-plus-year old processes.

First To Market

With more than three decades of development, 3D printing isn’t wholly “new” anymore.

Only it still is.

Companies and job shops are adopting additive manufacturing more and more today. We’re talking about rising rates of adoption, and that means a lot of beginner-level users are taking up increasingly advanced equipment.

In the 1980s and 1990s, early adopters flocked to the stalwarts in rapid prototyping. For the most part, these meant 3D Systems for SLA and Stratasys for FDM, as these companies employed the originators of these original 3D printing processes. The trend continued, as the first-to-market companies had the edge as, for quite a while, the only ones on the market.

But they’re not alone anymore.

ASTM International currently recognizes seven unique categories of additive manufacturing processes, and more are being evaluated for consideration in expanding these categories. The means of 3D printing are expanding — and so are the providers.

The advantage of having been first to market is dwindling as other companies commercialize similar technologies. During my recent visit to SLM Solutions, which holds patents key to originating SLM technology, the team noted that they needed to strategically refocus now that being first wasn’t in and of itself enough anymore:

“There’s been a sense of ‘we were first and the others are playing catch-up’ — now they’re starting to catch up. So what do we do now?” asked SLM Solutions Application Engineer Kyle Adams.

Only On The Market

So if being first isn’t enough — what is?

Being the best. Being the only. As Julie astutely points out:

If there’s one thing I’m sick to death of working on the media side of this industry, it’s announcements of a “new world’s first” machine/process/software/anything. At this point, frankly, a lot of these are utterly inaccurate and simply aren’t the first in the world. The world is a big place and 3D printing is a very global industry.

But even if it is a genuine “world’s first” — so what?

These are the kinds of sparkly marketing-speak that don’t necessarily mean anything. It all sounds the same after a while.

What doesn’t sound the same? A unique solution.

Not by calling it a “unique solution” but by actually being one. That’s the key to real, valuable messaging. Can a press release convey actual, realizable, verifiable results that solve real-world problems? If so, that’s the ticket.

What the market is calling for is a solution to a problem. If your system is the only one that can provide a solution, you have just gained interest.

For the most part in 3D printing, those solutions come down to what manufacturing needs:

  • Speedier solutions — faster time to market

  • Lower-cost solutions — reduction in manual labor, materials costs, time spent both making and post-processing parts

  • Lighter-weight solutions — automotive and aerospace applications in particular are always looking to provide strength with lower weight / less mass

  • Part consolidation — making in one part what had previously been dozens or more components welded together strengthens the whole and removes assembly time

  • Advanced geometries — making the ‘previously unmakeable’

  • Verified solutions — repeatability, durability, qualification; ensure quality and real-world viability

  • Secure solutions — IP protection and other security measures are coming more into focus as digital manufacturing gains traction in Industry 4.0

  • Familiar / varied materials — especially for companies familiar with conventional/subtractive manufacturing, working with familiar materials eases the way into working with a new process, especially for qualified applications

Being the only provider of any of these or myriad other potential benefits will position a company strongly in the eyes of industry.

It doesn’t have to be all of them, of course; an educational customer is looking for price, safety, and reliability, while an aerospace contractor needs high strength and FAA approval.

Finding a marketing niche means being smart about what’s being offered — and being sure that that messaging is on point.

Never undervalue what good messaging can deliver: an open door to the market.

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