by Allison Banko
Microboards Technology had once positioned itself as a pioneer, patenting various CD duplication technologies. The company grew by capitalizing on similar applied sciences including CD and DVD printers. Now, nearly a decade later, CDs and DVDs are collecting dust in a technology sphere where the Internet rules.
"With the advent of Netflix and the massively high bandwidth, everybody is transferring audio, video and data to the Internet," John Westrum, Vice President, Microboards Technology, said.
While business in CDs and DVDs was dwindling, there were, of course, plenty of intriguing technologies on the horizon a few years deep into the millennium. In fact, 3D printing was generating quite the buzz. The 20-plus-year patent on the technology was expiring, presenting an opportunity for others to herald their own desktop 3D printers.
Microboards Technology collaborated with a designer to craft a desktop 3D printer
, and by 2012, the new product was ready to market. However, the company had built its empire and identity mainly on CD and DVD duplication — not 3D technologies. Because of this, Microboards Technology opted to launch its spin on 3D printing under a subsidiary, Afinia.
Afinia's challenge was not only marketing its product in an already crowded desktop 3D printer space with more than 20 established competitors, but doing so as a new, unknown brand with zero sales to its name.
After meticulously refining the model, Afinia was ready to market its printer in the summer of 2012.
Even before introducing its product, Afinia had an advantage coming into the scene. Competitors had already done the legwork of promoting the concept of desktop 3D printing, so Afinia wasn't tasked with being the first to market an unfamiliar idea on top of an unfamiliar product under an unfamiliar name.
With an already established concept, Afinia built its brand in the industry through a hands-on informational approach with:
- Social media
- Trade shows
- Product reviews
- Original content
"You don't want to be the only person out there evangelizing because nobody will listen to you," Westrum, who also serves as Afinia's vice president, explained. "If you're standing in a concert with more people, people start to listen."
Step #1. Scan the industry landscape to establish the Afinia brand
The start of the campaign was rooted in marketing the printer as clearly as possible from the get-go. The team thought introducing their printer under the Microboards name had the potential to confuse customers.
"Microboards" could imply the company worked with control boards or those types of devices — not 3D printers, Westrum said.
To sidestep this, the team opted to introduce the product under the company name "Afinia" as a subsidiary of Microboards. Afinia was a more vague, less implicating title.
"What does Afinia mean? It doesn't meaning anything, but it means everything and it sounds great," Westrum said.
Because Afinia was such a new company, Westrum explained establishing brand recognition was at the forefront of the team's efforts. Creating a perplexing product name for the printer, however, was not.
"If we try to really brand a product and market a product, we don't know how long that product is going to be here," he said. "And then, we're on to the next revision and the next product line."
So, the model of the printer was simply pinned as the "Afinia H-Series."
Step #2. Generate original, informational content for the company website
As a newcomer in the 3D printing industry, Afinia had to discover a way to pull in prospective consumers. A key driver to attracting those consumers was by organic search via search engines.
To get on search engines' good side and to increase awareness of your brand, you have to play by their rules. What is one of the items search engines fancy the most? Original content.
The team's efforts ensured Afinia's website was chock-full of content, featuring new pieces at least twice a week.
For example, Afinia posts a weekly "Time Lapse Thursday" YouTube video on its site, showing its desktop 3D printer in action. The videos are less than a minute long and demonstrate the range of items the printer can create. These videos show everything from a "cute octopus
" to a "gold atom
" being brought to life via the printer.
The website also features content including:
- Blog posts
- Demonstration videos
- Stop-motion videos
"It takes a lot of work," Westrum said of formulating batches of material. "However, it's a fabulous way to engage our customers."
Step #3. Investigate influential social media personalities and popular hashtags
While Afinia was surveying the 3D printing landscape, the team examined the lay of the land in social media, too.
The team investigated popular industry hashtags on Twitter as well as influential social media personalities in the 3D printing community. When the team discovered an influential user, Afinia would follow them on Twitter to garner some potential touch points in the industry. Those that were deemed influential were largely media, education engineers or competitors.
Afinia also wanted to develop a more intimate social media presence to show followers they were interacting with a human being, not just an automated computer. To achieve this, Afinia sent its new followers or Facebook fans a question or tidbit about something relative to the items on their Twitter profile or Facebook page.
By inspecting which industry hashtags carried the most activity, the Afinia team also discovered where prospective 3D printing consumers were in their decision-making process. The team was seeing tweets such as "I want to buy a #3dprinter for less than $2,000. Which one should I choose?" and this drove Afinia's informational social media approach.
Afinia's social media accounts strive to provide potential consumers with helpful content about 3D printing in general rather than bombarding them with sales pitches. By offering advice rather than a product, Afinia is able to develop trust with these prospective consumers.
A strong rapport with the STEM community
A portion of Afinia's consumers are teachers due to the fact that desktop 3D printers fall into the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education community.
"We want to support and try to establish a touch point with as many teachers as we can," Westrum said, "because these teachers are the decision makers of what comes into their classrooms."
Due to this, Afinia seeks to show teachers what they can do with the printer and how it fits in with next generation science standards.
On top of promoting the printer to educators with those popular, activity-heavy hashtags over social media, from June through December Afinia is running a contest
exclusive for teachers with its printer as the grand prize. The contest has helped attract social media followers and extend awareness.
"We're not just trying to get anybody and their brother, we're trying to get more focused people that are truly candidates for what we've got going on with 3D printing," Westrum explained.
Step #4. Promote product reviews to drive leads
Afinia had just begun shipping its printer when MAKE Magazine
reached out to the company. The publication requested a printer to review, to which Afinia happily obliged.
"You need to get your products reviewed," Westrum said. "You need to get out into the magazines and get people to read about you so that you can have something to reference to."
Westrum admitted that rookie Afinia was nervous about the review because MAKE Magazine
was doing a "shootout" comparing more than a dozen 3D printers, including some heavy-hitting industry veterans.
Just before Thanksgiving of that year, the reviews were released.
Afinia was awarded with Best Overall Experience
in MAKE Magazine's
"Ultimate 3D Printing Guide," decided by factors including ease of use and setup. The review gave the brand a solid foundation for marketing efforts.
"Once that review came out, that just gave us cannonballs for the cannon," Westrum said.
Afinia utilized the "Ultimate 3D Printing Guide" to target potential consumers in their decision-making process on social media. For example, if Afinia saw a social media user expressing interest in buying a 3D printer, the company would follow that person on Twitter and send them a link to the guide to help out.
Step #5. Foster company-consumer relationships with engagement after the sale
As a relatively new player in the industry, creating a community with its consumers was a priority for Afinia. Therefore, its relationships with consumers didn't end after a purchase.
This was especially true on social media. Because the company relies heavily on social media to sell its products, it utilizes the medium for timely customer support as well. Westrum said he and his employees seek to make themselves as available as humanly possible, answering questions and calls via social media and a support line on evenings and weekends.
"We've spent a big portion of our time making sure that we had a good product because we saw that the other competitive products in the marketplace were inferior," Westrum explained. "There was also a very inferior level of customer service that was out there. There was an inferior level of channel out there. Those were all things that played within our strengths and that's why we really attacked that."
One of the major ways Afinia fosters company-consumer relationships lies in its "Afiniacs" — users of the Afinia printer.
The company features many Afiniacs on its website to show what exciting things they are doing with the printer. Afiniacs can be discovered across social media channels showing off their creations. Afinia shows off Afiniacs by featuring them on the company social media accounts through retweets or on its blog with testimonials.
For example, a testimonial featured consumer Robert Hughes of Lucky Bug Lures, who uses his Afinia printer to create fishing lures on the fly.
Afinia's combination of marketing through social media, establishing relationships with consumers and creating original content for its website lifted the company to the following results with its 3D printer campaign:
- Year-over-year e-commerce sales went up 271%
- 3% per month growth rate in Facebook likes
- 12% per month growth in Twitter followers
Currently, Afinia boasts more than 1,000 likes on its Facebook page and has nearly 2,500 Twitter followers. Its YouTube channel features about 30 videos, totaling around 85,000 views.
Westrum attributes the success to the work mentality of the Afinia team.
"They've got the old saying, 'The harder you work, the luckier you get,' and I can say that everybody around here works extremely hard," he said.
Afinia effectively rose to a top brand in the industry, creating awareness through many marketing channels, and Westrum said he and his coworkers have enjoyed seeing it come to fruition on Twitter and blogs.
"We're seeing, 'Hey, have you seen the Afinia?' We love that," he said. "That's perfect. That's exactly what we wanted."
- Afinia H-Series
- Cute octopus
- Gold atom
- STEM teacher contest
- MAKE Magazine Award
SourcesAfinia Scott & Associates Inc.
Related ResourcesAfinia3DPrint YouTube channel Why Social Media is the New Customer Service HotlineEmail Marketing: Koyal Wholesale uses social media integration to boost seasonal campaign revenue 16%Marketing Research Chart: Data on content difficulty reveals customer reviews may be overlooked by marketersSocial Media Marketing: Why should I like or follow you?