If you’re an enterprise that makes something, whether medical devices, cars or luxury jeans, and then sell that physical product, the next five years have the potential to be revolutionary.  3D printing will open the door to dramatic savings across the entire manufacturing process (a topic I won’t get into here as it’s easily worth three or four blog posts on its own.)

Imagine for a second (and this isn’t that far off, if the panelists I observed are worth their salt) compressing the manufacturing process for those luxury jeans into a single, custom, on-demand process on a 3D printer happening in retail locations across the globe. Now imagine the potential savings: far less spent on multiple manufacturing processes, held (and sometimes never sold) inventory, on multiple sizes, on transportation.

Some of those savings will be passed along to shareholders, some to customers, but much will be reallocated within the enterprise, to places like R&D, HR, Legal, Marketing and Corporate Communications. So what does this all have to do with being smart?

If you buy the premise outlined above, it isn’t a huge intuitive leap to arrive at this possible reality: the groups within the enterprise most equipped to capitalize on a world even more dependent upon “on-demand” will be the victor, and to the victor go the spoils.  And for those of you thinking this “on-demand” thing can’t be that significant a driver of anything, let’s talk about those jeans again. Consider a company like Zara. How did they become the single largest fashion retailer in the world? They get trendy, high-quality products designed, manufactured and in stores faster than everyone else.

Zara A recent ad for Zara, a fashion manufacturer that could potentially benefit greatly from 3D printing.

 

 

So how can communicators and marketers become the victors? Well, we need to understand how to capitalize on this evolving space. We need to understand a new (and rapidly changing) consumer based on a set of behaviors that are far, far less static than they have ever been. We need to be smarter about this world than the rest of the enterprise. We need to be broader and deeper. We need new skill sets. We need to be subject matter experts and counselors capable of rapid redeployment across products, businesses and industries.  We need to be problem solvers, and we need to do it all based on ROI determinations made on the fly. (And let’s not kid ourselves, many of the things we’ll be calculating ROI for don’t even exist yet).

We need to come to the table with ideas and programs that are better, more insightful and more impactful than the ones everyone else is bringing to the budget war. And if we’re going to do that, the capacity building has to start now.

Many of us have gotten caught up in managing this crazy social world instead of on learning how it works so we can anticipate, predict and capitalize. This means new skills are required; it means new approaches to training and significantly higher investments in training, for that matter.

We need to make sure our entire marketing, communications and PR groups first understand what the fish are, but it doesn’t end there. We also need to know how to catch the fish, clean the fish, cook the fish and sell the fish to folks looking for fish and to those looking for steak.

The R&D guys are about to revolutionize the entire supply chain, reduce the carbon footprint and bring manufacturing, on a potentially large scale, back onto American shores.

Are we doing enough?