How to Use Paper to Support the Customer Journey

I was intrigued by the soft-yet-chunky invitation, which featured a subtle Silver foil on the cover. I have seen more elaborate invitations for sure, but not from a car manufacturer. And certainly not as part of a direct mail suite. The final touch? The accompanying small booklet was printed on uncoated paper. At a time when we expect every car brochure to be ultra-glossy, this Mazda piece truly caught my eye.

Since many of you have expressed interest in finding out why creatives choose the papers they do, I reached out to Kaoru Seo, design director and SVP at The Garage Team Mazda, a bespoke WPP agency created exclusively for that company. I also wanted to find out why it is that Mazda seems to zig (e.g., using uncoated paper) when other car makers zag. Here’s what I discovered.

The Idea of Using Uncoated Paper Came from Mazda

“Like many corporations, at some time Mazda had a number of agencies all around the world doing their work,” Kaoru explains. “Which led to their look being all over the place.”

A turning point came in 2016 when Mazda beat out the likes of BMW and Ferrari to win the world’s most prestigious automotive award: World Car of the Year.

“In an effort to strengthen their one brand, as opposed to 20 variations of it, they questioned the idea of what Mazda was.”

With the help of The Garage Team and their designers in Japan, Mazda developed visual ideas and a language uniquely their own.

“One of the things that is unique to Mazda is the idea of the human influence. They truly believe that nothing is possible without that ‘human currency,’” elaborates Kaoru. “So, the real strength of Mazda is its people. And in turn the hands of those people, the creativity of those people, the sweat and the tears…is what Mazda is. One of the things that became very important was the need for that kind of tactile sense of their brand.”

The soft-yet-chunky invitation featured a subtle Silver foil on the cover.

The soft-yet-chunky invitation featured a subtle Silver foil on the cover.

‘The Fun Part Was We Started Using Paper Again’

Contrary to your typical automotive photography, the creative team developed a more natural, spontaneous look, or what they like to call “moments in time” – catching people taking a quick glance at the car out of the corner of their eye.

And part of creating and deepening the relationship with their clients is building on these moments by frequently sending printed pieces.

“It is quite a benefit to have a client that encourages you to use the paper to its full potential. Whether it be its tactile sense, its tooth or its color.”

In the case of this direct mail suite – “The Reimagined 2019 Mazda3” – they used:

  • Envelope: Mohawk Curious Metallics Ice Silver
  • Invitation: Mohawk Crane’s Lettra
  • Booklet: Mohawk Superfine Smooth

‘In the Spirit of Being Honest and Authentic … ’

This does not mean that Mazda or The Garage Team exclusively use uncoated paper. Kaoru is the first to admit there are situations where a coated sheet is the correct choice. But…

“In the spirit of being honest and authentic and a brand true to itself, we need to distinguish between times when you’re really having a conversation with someone and the tactile [nature] of whatever the piece contributes to that conversation.”

All this explains the uncoated paper choice in the direct mail piece. But then there is also the soft hot foil stamped invitation, which is not a road many car manufacturers would take.

The creative team developed something they call “moments in time” – catching people taking a quick glance at the car out of the corner of their eye.

The creative team developed something they call “moments in time” – catching people taking a quick glance at the car out of the corner of their eye.

Letting the Material Shine

Over the years Kaoru has surrounded himself with paper and printing providers that are the best in their field, and who help guide the process along the way.

“If you’re using a sheet that, like the Lettra one in this mailer, has so much tooth, then we don’t want to force ink into the situation,” he observes. “But you can use other options to your advantage to create a surface change. In this case, the pressure of the [hot foil] die itself creates kind of a deboss, which adds another physical aspect on top of the sheet’s texture.”

Using Paper to Support the Customer Journey

While the tactile experience is front of mind, Kaoru and his team are very intentional about when they use which papers. Frequently they use a mix of coated and uncoated papers in the same piece.

It is all about building a relationship, about romancing a client – not unlike dating – and paper is used to enhance this getting-to-know-you journey.

In the case of Mazda’s showroom brochure, the first few pages are printed on uncoated paper, featuring stunning visuals that reflect the “moments in time” theme.

The next chapter then (and changing to coated paper) tells the story of Mazda and its Japanese heritage, and the care they take with the design. The last part of the showroom brochure provides the technical points.

“We push that to the back because, by that point, you’ve already made a conscious decision to go that far. And that’s when you’re information gathering.”

Something is Working

“The shocker that happened last year was that despite the pandemic and the industry overall being down, Mazda had one of its banner years,” Kaoru shares. “So something is working.”

As with every product, every advertisement, and every direct mail piece, Kaoru’s goal is to get the brand noticed.

Which leads The Garage Team to continuously question everything from scale to the color of a piece, as well as the texture. This is all done with the goal to convey that while at first glance, this mailer might look simple, it was, like the cars themselves, meticulously crafted.