New brands can develop when an entrepreneur takes an existing product or service and adds features that are completely new. These characteristics can easily define a brand. As we've already seen with automobiles, a singular focus on a set of features can define a company and its products.
If you travel from office to office offering haircuts for high-level executives who don’t have either the time or the inclination to come to a salon, you provide a fundamentally different offering than a brick-and-mortar salon with a wide range of hair, makeup and spa services where customers can spend the better part of a day. Each of these offerings requires a distinctive brand that conveys the experience. The characteristics of the services you offer determine how you communicate and establish your brand in the mind.
Of course, the same thing is true for products. Even a product as simple as blue jeans can evolve. Over the last 20 years they've been dyed hundreds of shades, pre-washed and distressed to make them look well-worn, cut to make them fit more tightly or to allow greater freedom of movement, and produced in fabrics that range from organic cotton to waxed denim to synthetic blends. And, of course, these differentiating factors justify a wide range of prices.
Tom’s Toys: 3D Printed, Custom Toys
All children, in every time and culture, play with toys. When children don’t have access to toys that have been crafted or manufactured they will take common objects and make them into toys — they might fashion a doll out of a stick or make drums from pots and pans. When Tom was developing his new toy company he began to wonder what makes toys so important and how he could improve upon mass-market products to set his brand apart from the competition.
Toys do two things simultaneously: they stimulate imagination while they teach children about the world around them, allowing them to practice engaging with all kinds of people and situations, both real and imaginary. Toys allow us to explore possibilities and make mistakes without suffering real consequences. But different children have different needs, and one child may love a toy that another dislikes. Tom decided that highly customized toys could more deeply engage children and open up new opportunities in the marketplace. He decided to purchase a 3D printing system and find ways to utilize single-item manufacturing in the toy industry. Tom decided not only to create new products, but also to find new ways for toys to engage the mind, advancing both learning and play.
- Children are fearless artists. They draw family members, animals, monsters and heroes that the world has never seen before. Tom offered to take these drawings and render them as 3-D sculptures. Parents submit a child’s drawing, then Tom's team digitizes the artwork and turns it into a relief sculpture which can be printed in a wide range of colored plastics. The finished relief can either be hung on the wall or magnetized for placing on the refrigerator.
- Characters from kids' drawings can also be turned into freestanding sculpture. These one-of-a-kind figures can be rendered with movable parts. As a result, children are no longer limited to mass-market dolls created by corporations, adhering to preconceived social standards of "beauty" — they can produce their own dolls and action figures to play out imaginary scenarios of their choosing.
- Puzzles can be customized the same way. Once a sculpture is designed, it can be rendered with interlocking pieces. This process creates unique three-dimensional puzzles offering many degrees of complexity.
- Tom quickly recognized the opportunity to take this technology in even more emotionally engaging directions. Using photographs taken from multiple directions, Tom was able to render small models of real people. He began reaching out to educators and developmental psychologists to see if his products could help children in certain situations:
- Could 3D printing help children who don’t feel represented by mass market dolls? For example, a child with a physical disability might want a doll that looks more like herself.
- Could figures created to look like people who have passed away help small children work through the grief of losing a loved one? What about pets? Would a small statue of a beloved dog help a child process grief? Does a three-dimensional representation work like a photograph, or does it affect the mind differently?
- Could dolls created to look like a parent help diminish separation anxiety for children of military families facing long deployments?
- Could these types of dolls also help psychologists communicate more effectively with their patients? Can it help a child get through a traumatic experience?
- Tom also began reaching out to experts in the field of cognition to discover new ways for custom toys to help teachers work with children with a wide range of intellectual disabilities.
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