I meant to write this post about a month ago, but writing it now just validates the points I was going to make anyway, so read on!
Back when I wrote 3D Printing is the Future, I mentioned a number of companies, including MakerGear, Ultimaker, and of course MakerBot Industries. Four months later, I’m going to update my thoughts on them, and specifically focus on what the MakerBot folks do in the area of marketing.
Wait… Marketing? If you read the piece in Fast Company you’d know that MakerBot Industries doesn’t do marketing:
… When I speak with MakerBot’s Keith Ozar, he seems offended when I refer to such undertakings as “marketing.” His background is in underground music promotion, and he joined MakerBot when the company advertised a “marketing experimenter” position in early 2011. MakerBot doesn’t really market at all, he counters; it actively participates in the community the company seeks to both cultivate and create, involving “people who are creative, people with imaginations.” That means a presence at Maker Faire-style events, where hardware hackers congregate, and more recently at comics conventions and the like.
Here’s where I haul out the disclaimer: I work at a marketing company. I also market myself, and the things I do. Almost everyone does, even if they don’t call it marketing. If MakerBot doesn’t want to call it “marketing” I’m fine with that, but let’s be honest, that’s what it is.
With that out of the way, let’s look at the marketing that MakerBot does…
MakerBot has a web site. Hmmm, that’s nothing special. Let me rephrase that: MakerBot has a good web site. Their web site clean, well designed, and organized. There’s a store, there’s info on the community, including links to User Groups, Twitter, Flickr, Google Groups, etc. as well as a link to Thingiverse. Their support page has a lot of links to their wiki, and then there’s the blog.
The MakerBot blog isn’t just some “look at me!” thing where they talk about themselves (though it has been a lot of that lately, due to the recently launched MakerBot Replicator.) The blog also highlights things that members of the community are doing/making. And the blog is updated very often. Very often. That’s key.
When the Ultimaker came out I heard a lot of talk about how much better it was than the Thing-O-Matic, and it may be better, but take a look at the Ultimaker web site. It just looks like a blog, and as of my writing this, it’s been over a month since it’s been updated. And before that it was a month and a half. I know blogging takes time, but for a small company it can get you the most bang for your buck when trying to tell people about your product.
In the world of RepRap, reprap.org is packed full of information, but if you want to buy a RepRap kit, MakerGear is a pretty well known and respected seller of the Prusa Mendel kit. They also recently came out with the MakerGear Mosaic, which is their own design, and is a capable machine from all I’ve read.
Visit the MakerGear web site and let me know what gets your attention… if anything does. There is a “What’s New?” link on the home page, that links to a page with a post that was written nearly two months ago. (With a typo in the title.) I’m a MakerGear customer, and I think they’re a good company, but I wish things looked a bit more professional. For a first timer visiting their web site (or the Ultimaker site) I don’t think they’re going to be impressed.
But then, maybe these companies don’t want to impress people. Maybe they’re only targeting the alpha nerds, who know the inside scoop, and think that MakerBot is for people who don’t know better, and the real desire is for servicing a niche market. If that’s the case, then that’s fine… I honestly don’t know.
So besides the web site, what is the “MakerBot Marketing” you ask? I’ll just throw a few things out there.
MakerBot: has good photography, has good videos (including MakerBot TV), they have a curriculum for schools, are behind Thingiverse, they’ve implemented an Artist in Residence program, did the Project Shellter thing, scanned people’s heads, and on and on.
Some of those things take a bit of money, which smaller companies may not have, but there’s no shortage of clever ideas, some of which are relatively cheap, and if it gets people talking about you, isn’t that what you want?
So yeah, MakerBot Industries does marketing, and it may be marketing on their own terms, and in their own way, but in the end, if people find out about you, and keep hearing about you, that’s building your brand, and that’s worth a hell of a lot.
Here’s the thing: You can have the greatest product in the world, but if no one knows about it, you won’t have any customers, and no customers equals no business, so marketing is important… even for nerdy 3D printer companies.
(Oh, there’s one more thing that’s key to MakerBot’s marketing effort, which I’ll probably talk about in another post.)