4 Questions for… Laurence Pernot

Laurence Pernot is Vice President of Communications for Saint-Gobain Group. Given that the COVID-19 crisis has dealt us a new hand, she explains how brands can – and must – start building the post-crisis world.

It is said that “strong brands” are more resilient, that they get through crises better. But what is a “strong brand”?

A brand is first and foremost an intangible strategic asset serving the company’s ambitions and growth. A strong brand is a brand that is committed to the common good, one that conveys meaning and social – not just commercial – benefits. In actual fact, a strong brand is one like Saint-Gobain. A brand that stands out because of its innovation, performance and quality values: you don’t get to last 350 years without reinventing yourself. We leverage the Saint-Gobain brand to create a bond between our brands, to show that all adhere to the same values. This is even more important in the context of the COVID-19 crisis that has shifted all our points of reference.

Have people’s expectations changed as a result of COVID-19?

Yes. The brands that will come out ahead from the COVID-19 crisis will be those that are meaningful and able to demonstrate their social utility. Pragmatism, creativity, innovation, environmental ambitions: this crisis is creating new consumer expectations for brands to prove their commitment to getting through the crisis and addressing the recovery head-on. For example, we are witnessing a clear aspiration to “living better,” based on comfort, responsible consumption and the planet’s conservation.

Brands are also expected to show the way, to guide change and, above all, to refocus on the core of their missions, their “essentiality.” In other words, they are expected to be entirely centered on their core business, culture and values. It is crucial to grasp these changes to continue to exist and to be chosen by our customers and by the talented individuals who we want to hire.

The good news is that meaningfulness and utility are at the heart of the Saint-Gobain brand communication. This crisis has actually further proven the worth of our model and strengthened our brand positioning, because our “essentiality” means facilitating access to a “better life” by providing solutions that help improve performance and wellbeing within a sustainable perspective.

Is it brands’ role to build the post-COVID-19 world?

Crises speed up existing trends, for better or worse. Prior to COVID-19, companies and their brands already had a certain social utility, but the visibility of their important role in changing the world (or at least helping it progress) has become far greater. All the solidarity and innovative actions implemented around the world by Saint-Gobain in a majority of its companies have played a central role here. However, this increased focus places greater pressure on brands, as they are expected to be faultlessly committed to building a more sustainable and inclusive post-COVID-19 world. This is a major responsibility. When the Saint-Gobain brand offers solutions to its customers promoting the energy transition, facilitating greener mobility or more sustainable construction, it is playing an important social role and is responding fully to society’s expectations.

How do you communicate in this COVID-19 world? 

People’s aspiration to “live better” on a planet that is better respected is a call to greater authenticity and awareness. Brand communication must take stock of this: it must reflect the values and commitment the organization wants to convey, in both content and form. Saint-Gobain strongly conveys this desire for a green recovery and eco-responsible development. Obviously, our communication will be more restrained, less ostentatious, with very strong content positioning us as an opinion leader across all the major issues facing society. This will also be reflected in our purpose, which being written as we speak.