PepsiCo’s First Chief Design Officer: People Don’t Just Buy Products Anymore

March 20, 2017, 8:06 AM UTC
Mauro Porcini, chief design officer of PepsiCo.
Photograph by Jordan Goh for Time Inc.

PepsiCo (PEP) no longer just competes with other food and beverage brands.

“In a world where relevance changes almost day by day,” gone are the days of deliberating market research for months, said the company’s first-ever chief design officer, Mauro Porcini, at Singapore Design Week’s Innovation by Design Conference this month.

“We compete with the latest song of Beyoncé, with the latest telephone from Samsung (SSNLF) or Apple (AAPL). We compete for mindshare and relevance in the life of people.”

Porcini, originally from a small Italian town not far from Milan, was recruited by PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi five years ago to help spread design thinking at the company, which is home to brands like Pepsi, Lay’s, Tropicana, and Doritos.

It’s a task that’s easier said than done—but this isn’t Porcini’s first rodeo. Prior to PepsiCo, he served as chief design officer at 3M (MMM), and he’s learned that the process takes years.

Asked by Fortune’s Brian O’Keefe how to refresh the culture of PepsiCo—a corporation that begun in the 1890s and has grown to some 263,000 employees—Porcini said he’s discovered three phases “every designer building a new organization should be aware of.”

The first is denial. “The company doesn’t understand that they need you, that they need this new culture,” said Porcini.

The second: hidden rejection. “You go to these meetings, everybody’s nice to you, they love you, and then as soon as you’re out, they’re like, ‘Okay, thank God he’s out. Let’s go back to the real life,’” said the designer. “And it’s very important to understand this because that’s the phase, at the beginning, where you think you’re getting traction, and you’re not at all.”

Last comes the occasional leap of faith. “Essentially, you find some people, what I call the co-conspirators, that decide to bet on you for a variety of different reasons,” said Porcini. He advises designers to capitalize on this support, and help allow higher-ups to lead by example by introducing what he calls a “top-down culture” of embracing design thinking.

This generation of social media-fatigued consumers has forced traditional retailers to shift their businesses toward designing experiences, not products, Porcini explained. He cited statistics: 78% of millennials would rather spend money on an experience than a product, while 47% of consumers want brands to provide inspiration for things to do.

“People, therefore, are different. They behave in a different way with our products and brands. They don’t buy, actually, products anymore, they buy experiences that are meaningful to them, they buy solutions that are realistic, that transcend the product, that go beyond the product, and mostly they buy stories that need to be authentic,” said Porcini.

“We need to understand how to provide those experiences, as brands.”