MakerBot, the Brand that was going to bring 3D printing to the masses, is now facing its fourth round of layoffs – this time cutting 30% of its employees. If the 3D printing market is estimated to be worth $22 billion by 2020, where did MakerBot go wrong?
MakerBot launched its 3D printer in hopes of becoming a staple household item, allowing families to 3D print toys, small replacement parts for household appliances, and other household necessities. The software was designed to be straightforward, essentially operational with no knowledge of engineering or architecture, at a lower price point so they could reach more consumers who would eventually make MakerBot a household name. This is a big area where MakerBot went wrong, by targeting everyone they essentially targeted no one. It left the Brand’s message diluted, which didn’t give consumers who didn’t know much about 3D printing anything to grasp onto to see the value and make a purchase.
Brands and their products need to be created with the end goal in mind, and that is who – a specific target audience – will benefit from it. In the pharmaceutical industry, this is more direct; a drug treats an ailment, and the Brand should target those affected by it as well as the healthcare professionals administering it. Consumer brands are slightly more ambiguous, but still need a specific target-consumer segment. Once the audience segment is identified, it is important to target tailored messages that speak directly to them and educate them on the benefits.
When MakerBot hit the market, they were ahead of their time. They saw the benefit for the average consumer, but the average consumer was not ready or educated in the benefits of owning their own 3D printer. Making an effort to begin to educate the public on 3D printing, MakerBot partnered with SUNY New Paltz to provide the greater New York community a tool to educate and innovate, but was it too little too late?
More recently, MakerBot has tried to course correct more and began marketing themselves to the hobbyist, which could certainly be argued should have been their focus from the beginning. When working with new innovations, specifically in the technology space, establishing a core of loyal consumers and building outwardly with your Brand has been the model for success. Yahoo used to be more widely used than Google, and Apple computers were for oddballs on the fridge of the PC world. What these two brands did was focus on what made their offering unique and through building a clear, consistent, and compelling Brand, built a small but loyal following and grew outwardly from there.
Being ahead of the curve when it comes to new product innovations should be a good thing for companies working in the technology market. In order to maximize that innovation, a strong branding initiative with an understanding of the audience that is going to have the strongest, immediate interest in the product is what will ensure long-lasting success. In this case, MakerBot offers a product that exists more for the hobbyist, and with their Brand they attempted to reach a much more general audience which could be said to have alienated what the target should have been all along: a much more tech-savvy consumer, interested in the hobby of new and emerging technologies.