PepsiCo Head of Design On Building Better Brands with Design

The pressure to connect consumers and brands is more meaningful than ever before. Those who can make the connection are thriving and those who cannot are fading away.

That’s why we sat down with Mauro Porcini, SVP & Chief Design Officer, PepsiCo,, who will be speaking at the upcoming FUSE 2016 conference in Miami this spring on PepsiCo’s culture of design-led innovation. Today, FUSE is the only event focused on design as a strategic force in your quest to build brands and businesses that connect beyond compare with consumers.

Porcini shared his insights into how building better brands can change the world, why it’s important for brand strategists and designers to work together, what exactly makes a design “iconic”, what it takes to build a culture of design-led innovation, and more.

Here’s what Porcini had to say:

IIR: How can building better brands and businesses ultimately change the world?

Porcini: Building better brands and businesses may change the world because these two variables greatly impact the life of any human being, every day, directly or indirectly. But better brands and better businesses don’t necessarily imply a better world and a positive impact: it may sometimes even be the opposite.

Therefore I would rephrase the question in a different way: “How can building better brands and businesses ultimately create a better world?” Design can play a unique role in this. The ultimate goal of a designer is – by nature, by culture and by training – the one of feeling, investigating and understanding people’s needs, wants and desires and then developing meaningful solutions and relevant ecosystems of experiences aiming to satisfy and fulfill them. As such, Design puts the human being at the very center of its universe and constantly crafts products, services and brands that can add moments of joy, of comfort, of convenience, of safety, of peace, of fun, of health to the life of people.

All of these experiences are fragments of a broader global happiness that the entire design community can dream of, design and generate, if we are all joined by this vision and this mission.

Design can design a better world. Design should design a better world. Because Design has all the tools to generate a world that is more sustainable from a social, an aesthetic and an ecological point of view. The business world should engage the design world more and more and give designers the right stage to drive this positive change. But to make this happen, the design world must do a better job of understanding that business world, figuring out how to become a relevant and reliable asset, able to generate value and drive growth. The two worlds need to approach each other more and more, understand each other, work with each other and ultimately learn to love each other.

IIR: Why is it so important for consumers and brands to connect?

Porcini: Because we live in a society where people are consumers of stories more than of products or services. A product is like a body, but a body without personality is just an empty shell: the brand is what marketing has invented to give a personality to that product. Designers have the ability, the culture and the training to take that personality to life, in this social media driven society, through visual language and storytelling focused on users and consumers’ needs and wants.

IIR: Why is it important for brand strategists and designers to work collectively?

Porcini: In the past, the design asset was a “nice to have” for the business community. In a world where TV advertising had been the key asset to build brand personality through its controlled content, communication was a one way street. That era is over. Today, the age of social media is radically changing the rules of the game: brands are on stage 24/7, broadcasted every second millions of times a day, and their personality is a topic of conversation – more than a simple one way message.

Additionally, brands are now defined by the synergy of every single touchpoint, from product to packaging, from digital to events, from retail to service. The presence of these multiple touchpoints becomes an incredible asset to build unbelievable and unexpected experiences, especially for smaller and easy-to-control business ventures. They can, however, also become the worst marketing nightmare if a brand doesn’t have a consistent and believable personality. Quite simply, these touchpoints will expose schizophrenic behaviors and any lack of authenticity. In our hyper-connected society, visual language has become the most powerful and intuitive way to convey a meaningful, straight-to-the-guts, memorable message for our brands. And Design – as a discipline, as a function and as a community – generates, manages and controls the brand’s visual language and therefore the meaning associated with it.

The world has changed. In just the past few years, it has become evident that for businesses to survive and strive they must promote a new alliance within their organizations: Design and Marketing must become co-conspirators and need to learn to co-lead the invention, the launch and the management of the brands of the future. That’s Marketing 2.0. And that – also – Design 2.0.

IIR: What makes a design “iconic”?

Porcini: Iconic design is beautiful, memorable, timeless, relevant and meaningful. All of these variables are people-related: you become iconic when people like you, when they remember you, when they don’t get tired of you, when you play a role in their life and when that role gives some form of sense to their life. To be iconic you don’t need to change the world, you may just add some fun to it, some comfort, some taste, some convenience, some safety. Post-it is iconic. Pepsi is iconic. The Apple iPhone is iconic. The traditional Italian Moka Coffe maker is iconic. A Dyson vacuum cleaner is iconic.

IIR: Knowing how consumers will react can be an art and sometimes involves clairvoyance. How have you developed this skill?

Porcini: I love the word you use: “clairvoyance”. I love it because clairvoyance is not a job: it’s a fine blend between a gift and an art. The dictionary defines clairvoyance as, the supposed faculty of perceiving things or events in the future or beyond normal sensory contact and the alleged ability to gain information about an object, person, location or physical event through extrasensory perception.

I remember being fascinated at school by an early clairvoyant: The Cumaean Sibyl. She was the priestess and prophetess – indeed what we would call today a clairvoyant – presiding over the Apollonian oracle at Cumae, a Greek colony located near Naples in Italy. Her prophecies would inform kings and heroes, guiding them in their decisions. When asking my literature and philosophy professor how that was really possible, she gave me an answer that I kept inside my (future) designer’s heart until today. It was about 25 years ago, but she told me something that I like to remember sounded like this: “She was probably an extremely sensitive person and an extraordinary observer of people, facts and events. That was her real gift. On the basis of her perceptions and her observations she then developed the art of crafting believable truths and scenarios of a possible future.”

Well, isn’t that what a designer does or is supposed to do in our everyday life? Observing reality, feeling people, understanding their needs, envisioning their aspirations, and then generating possible solutions. But to really do this you need to be a designer 24/7, not just at work or during a project. One must always be on, senses alerted, antennae up, inner eyes open, hungry for learning, thirsty for experiences, constantly absorbing facts and events. Sooner or later your instincts, assumptions and knowledge will lay a meaningful foundation and provide the ability to transform your projects and your life’s work. Designers must act as a modern-day Cumaean Sybil. That’s a gift and it’s an art. It’s in you, it’s in your life, it is your life, and it is not a job. And you need to nurture it every day. Every single moment of your life.

IIR: What is the biggest challenge about designing for a brand?

Porcini: The biggest challenge is to maintain the brand’s authentic personality while keeping its behavior consistent, sustainable, believable, and yet evolutionary to keep up with the times. The specific challenge of our current age resides in how to be relevant in a hyper-accelerated society without betraying your nature and your heritage. We must grow brands like a person, but dealing with the fact that person is also – or at least aspires to be – a celebrity on stage 24/7 and his ambition must be to engage and never alienate his beloved consumer. As both that person/brand and his consumer are evolving and maturing, but at different paces, in different cultural and geographical contexts, each of them in different stages of their lives.

IIR: What does it take to build a culture of design-led innovation?

Porcini: Your company needs to develop a space for design to exist and express itself in deep integration with the business units but with the right empowerment and freedom. Isolation in ivory towers is the worst mistake. Central to this is the principle of co-leadership between marketing and design, to drive brand building and innovation. Whereas the business leader is the ultimate owner of the brand destiny, marketing and design must be deployed together to create, develop and manage the brand vision and strategy.

To make this happen in a non-design-driven culture, you need both a top down push and a bottom up effort. A top down push requires sponsorship and protection from the CEO or a top executive, while a bottom up effort, integrated across the company, allows the entire body of the organization to own the new design culture and drive it with you, project by project, brand by brand. In order to accelerate effectiveness, you should always hunt for some quick business wins to prove the value of this new culture. This endeavor will sometimes mandate taking shortcuts or compromises and ignoring some chapters of the book of the perfect designer, putting the bigger picture in front of you. Once you acquire the right credibility, trust and a seat at the table within your organization, you will then have time to consolidate all your efforts for the perfect design vision and finally deliver sustainable innovation and long term business results.

To drive all of this you need design leaders with the right characteristics to strive in such situations. Remember: the quality of your design leaders is the most important asset you need and it trumps any process or framework. You need design leaders with knowledge, vision, passion, resilience, optimism, empathy and curiosity. Without them, don’t even start.

IIR: What are you most looking forward to about FUSE 2016?

Porcini: The positive collisions of personal experiences, individual point of views and collective visions of senior design leaders and young creatives. The cultural debate about the past, the present and the future of Design in this hyper-accelerated society, between business experts and design thinkers.

Want to hear more from Mauro Porcini? Join him at FUSE 2016 April 4-6 in Miami. He will be presenting a keynote session, “PepsiCo’s Culture of Design-Led Innovation” and hosting a fireside chat. To learn more or to register for the event, click here:


Martine Cazes said...

as interior designer, I totally agree.
All brands or companies should think in this way.


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