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MakerBot Wants to Spark a 3D Printing Revolution Through Content Marketing

There are very few startups these days that could have a more profound impact on the human experience than Brooklyn’s MakerBot Industries. Launched in 2009, MakerBot is the world’s biggest producer of desktop 3D printers, which allow aspiring manufacturers to design and create products made from plastic filament in a matter of hours.

If all goes according to plan, desktop 3D printing could lower the barriers to entry for manufacturing in much the same way that the Internet allowed everyone with a computer to become a publisher—something many people are calling nothing short of a revolution.

From a content marketing perspective, all of this puts MakerBot in a unique position. On the one hand, it needs to inspire its community of tech geeks and “makers” to go out and build the next awesome new 3D printed product. And on the other, it needs to help educate people about how 3D printing actually works, as well as how they can use each of MakerBot’s rapidly evolving printing machines.

Those are the fast-growing company’s primary marketing goals, and how successful MakerBot is in achieving them will play a significant role in the future of 3D printing.

“Desktop 3D printing, the industry that we helped create, has only been around for six years,” said Yuri Salnikoff, MakerBot’s chief marketing officer. “It’s so new that we must very carefully think about all of our communications in order to demystify and eliminate confusion in the market. From our perspective, the way we demystify what’s happening is by sharing real, tangible stories about how people are using desktop 3D printing.”

Luckily for MakerBot, the company is not lacking for customer success stories—and it likes to tell those stories through video. For instance, its MakerBot Stories series this summer highlighted how the company’s technology was instrumental in the creation of Coolest, a high-tech beverage cooler that raised more than $13 million on Kickstarter.

In the two-and-a-half-minute video, Coolest creator Ryan Grepper explains how he used a MakerBot printer to quickly build multiple prototypes of different parts of his contraption, a process that was much faster than having to build new versions of the parts at a factory every time he wanted to make a tweak. The video was released in conjunction with Grepper’s appearance at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new factory which MakerBot is building in Brooklyn, an example of the way Salnikoff believes content marketing should fit hand in glove with other elements of media strategy, such as public relations.

Other MakerBot Stories videos have shown how its 3D printing technology has been used for medical research, as well as in educational settings like SUNY New Paltz’s MakerBot Innovation Center and at major corporations like General Electric.

“Yes, it’s about MakerBot, but it’s more about ‘Look at the mind-blowing ways these entrepreneurs, these engineers, designers, these teachers, these students are using MakerBot’ so that people understand what’s happening and then they get inspired to go off and create,” Salnikoff said.

The other aspect of MakerBot’s content strategy is teaching prospective customers how to use its products, as well as providing general education about an industry that is evolving quickly.

For instance, the company’s public relations manager, Johan Broer, told me that some have the perception that desktop 3D printers can’t be used in an actual factory—an idea that the company believes is inaccurate. In order to help dispel this myth, a recent MakerBot Stories episode showed how MakerBot’s factory employees used 3D printers to quickly build custom parts that were used to make the manufacturing process faster.

In that way, potential buyers don’t have to take the company’s word that MakerBot can be used in a variety of ways—they can just show them the evidence.

I, MakerBot

All of MakerBot’s content is produced by a small internal team (the company declined to say exactly how many people are on it) that handles everything from strategy to filming. When it comes to distribution, Salnikoff is fond of saying that it’s important for the company to “make every asset sweat” by using it across several different touchpoints.

For instance, a video that goes up on the company’s blog and YouTube page will also be pitched to relevant reporters via the company’s PR team, posted on social media, shared at conferences the company attends, and emailed to qualified leads by MakerBot’s sales team. Occasionally, Salnikoff says the company will do a small amount of paid distribution to targeted audiences on Facebook.

For each piece of content, Salnikoff and his team will develop a specific set of KPIs, which can include a variety of metrics ranging from pageviews and impressions, to sales and customer feedback. The company also employs surveys to track how its content is improving brand perception over time.

“We’re not going to create an asset if it’s just going to sit there and it’s not going to be worked hard,” Salnikoff said. “We just don’t have that luxury.”

In the coming years, the company hopes that its continued efforts to educate the public about 3D printing will help its products gain widespread adoption—not only in corporate offices, but eventually, at home.

Already, students across the country are learning about 3D printers while using them at school. One day, the company surmises, those students will be adults who can hardly recall not having access to a MakerBot machine of their own.

“They don’t even realize what they’re doing, but they’re doing product development in seventh and eighth grade,” Salnikoff said. “Desktop 3D printing with MakerBot bridges the gap between digital, aspirational thinking, and physical. And boy, that’s creating a big change out there.”

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