Bozoma Saint John on marketing with a heart

Named one of the World’s Most Influential Chief Marketing Officers (CMO) in Forbes’ 2018 list, Bozoma Saint John got the world’s attention with her address at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference in 2016. She shocked everyone by jumping ship to become Chief Brand Officer at Uber, which at the time was one of the most vilified of the Silicon Valley disruptors. Now CMO at William Morris Endeavor, Saint John was a keynote speaker at the recent PCMA Convening Leaders 2020 in San Francisco. CIM was there to hear her take on making a brand cut through to its audience in a meaningful way.

Has anyone told you to behave a certain way? Anyone who told me to act differently, or dress differently or to use different words just didn’t understand me. I found it really tough to be something else, I did try for a little bit. But it’s too hard, I was exhausted, whether it was trying not to gesture too much in meetings or show my excitement because I didn’t want to overwhelm. So I gave up on pretending to be something else.

What did you learn from working at Apple? I was excited bout it because I though their was an opportunity to do what I thought was a once in a lifetime thing, which as a marketer is to be able to really put your mark on a brand. And brand like Apple is hard to put a mark on because it is so large it’s already innovative and done incredible things.

Looking at the landscape of what entertainment was going to be in streaming music that could then revolutionise the way that people listened to music or consumed TV shows or films that was exciting.

For me it was about looking at a product that could use some humanising.

For me at Apple Music it was about how to market the brand in a way that felt more human. We were so focused on the algorithms or how many clicks it will take you to get to the thing you want and trying to make that as short as possible. But for me music is about the journey and all the memories we have and the nostalgia we have about a song we heard once. I wanted to try and understand how we connect our human emotion to what was the best technology interface in the world.

(L) Holly Ransom interviews Bozoma Saint John, CMO of Endeavor, at PCMA Convening Leaders 2020.

What advice do you have for organisations trying to connect with their audience? I always think it comes back to remembering that people are us. We talk about our audiences like we don’t know them, but they are you, me and our friends. They are us and we are them. It’s so simple but it’s true. We talk about things like they are data driven, but if you sat back and thought about what motivates you and make you excited you would have a much greater chance of keeping your audiences doing what you want them to do.

I say to my teams all the time, it’s not a focus group of thousands, it’s a focus group of one. Use that as a barometer to create change or a message is what you should be focused on.

You shouldn’t ignore the data, but it is only as good as the story you tell out of it. I lean more on emotion than data in everything I do.

Why did you go to Uber at such a turbulent time in its history? It was undeniable I had to go. One it right after Apple, and I thought it would be a second shot at making a real impact on a brand. I had an opportunity to really affect how that brand was going to be loved from that moment in time and if I cold do that it would be defining for my career.

Also on a more personal level, at the time Silicon valley was not a friendly place for women or black people, so when you are checking two of those boxes I knew that as a C-suite executive I could make a statement in simply just being.

The challenge of Uber was not so much about being caught up in tech, it was the perception of what happens in the car. Am I safe if I get n the car, am I going to get to the destination I want to on time, are the people working at Uber as a driver or employee being treated well. I am morally okay with how these people are being treated.

Those questions could not be answered by more tech. They had to be answered by an example of who were the 17,000 people who worked for Uber.

If I can get you to connect emotionally with a brand I have a much higher chance of getting you to use it. It was about creating a human brand that people would forgive if it made mistakes and therefore learn from them.

There’s no going to be perfect ride for any brand so how do you create the space and trust for your customers to say it is okay when you make a mistake. And the really higher order one is to do it in a way that they will defend you.

The biggest trend for 2020? One word. Transparency.