How Will Bozoma Get People To Love Uber When It Feels Like Loving A ‘Very Bad Boyfriend’?

Written by Dana Sanchez

Bozoma Saint John, Uber’s newly hired chief brand officer, has the unenviable job of making people love the tech firm again, and she’s doing it by telling Uber’s story with drama, great shoes and a self-described “badass” attitude — in a good way.

Saint John has been making waves in the tech world for a long time, Time reported. A Ghanaian by birth, she moved to Colorado Springs at age 13 and made friends with her fellow high school classmates by bonding over pop culture.

She credits her success with landing a temp job out of college as an assistant at Spike Lee’s ad agency, SpikeDDB. She worked with celebrity clients including Janet Jackson and Beyonce’s first commercial with Pepsi in 2002, directed by Lee.

From there, Saint John went to work at PepsiCo, becoming head of music and entertainment marketing. In 2013, Saint John’s husband died of cancer and she left Pepsi for Beats, led by Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine. Saint John headed marketing for the startup. Her career at Apple began four months later after Apple acquired Beats for $3 billion in 2014. Saint John rose in the ranks to head of global consumer marketing for Apple Music and iTunes, charged with figuring out how to sell the $531 billion company’s latest streaming service, Apple Music.

Known as “Boz,”  Saint John, 40, has her work cut out for her. Uber’s brand has been tarnished by accusations of sexual harassment, stolen trade secrets and profiteering from protests.

Bozoma Saint John. Photo: Kendrick Brinson

Can Bozoma love Uber back to health?

She has to win back the love. She plans to do that with emotional connections and storytelling, Saint John said in a Recode interview. Building a new brand image has to happen in the background by hiring women and people of color and changing company culture, she said:

“There needs to be love there, some emotion connecting the user to the product … We’ve got to get people to be in love with the product … You have to show it … I don’t think you can in an ad.

“There has to be more of us. Hire more women. The numbers matter in this particular case. There’s no magical Wizard of Oz that’s going to fix this for us.”

Here’s more from the video interview with Saint John:

How can you get people to love Uber when it feels very “bad boyfriend”?

Bozoma Saint John: It is about movement. If I think about it emotionally, it’s a movement of upward moblity and opportunity … for people to have a platform to improve their lives and have their own businesses. It’s a very complicated group of thoughts that I’m trying to synthesize. It’s clear that people love (Uber.) They want to use it. They rely on it, and it’s growing. People don’t necessarily feel attached to it. People often associate feeling with a brand. It’s about feeling inspired to be greater, even if you’re sitting on your couch.

How do you get that across when the only attachment you have with a brand is through its app?

Bozoma Saint John: That’s through the storyteller. I’m talking about the movement of people and emotion and upward mobility. I want people to see drivers who have changed their lives because of this opportunity. When you get in a car, it’s a very intimate space. What is that moment? I’m going to drive (Uber) soon. I love it when I get into the Uber and take a sweater off and the driver turns on the air — these little cues that happen.

It sometimes feels like (Uber) brought in the women to clean up the mess that the men made. How do you see that? How do you look at being a symbol or token? It feels a little like that — “lets get us a lady cleaner.”

Bozoma Saint John: I still face these things daily. It doesn’t matter where I am. This thing happens to me all the time. I’ve been a black woman all my life. It is really bad in Silicon Valley and that’s where I work. (Forgetting about the labels) just isn’t possible today.

Did this feel like a public effort to fix (Uber’s) diversity issue?

Bozoma Saint John: I dont think that way and I cant think that way or I would be angry all the time. I always feel I have something to prove.

How do you fix this probelm? What has to happen?

Bozoma Saint John: There has to be more of us (women). The numbers matter in this particular case. There’s no magical Wizard of Oz. We just have to open the door. I don’t want to talk about anything else until we get more.

How do you do that?

Bozoma Saint John: Well I’m here.

How do you feel about being a role model for young women?

Bozoma Saint John: My nickname is “Badass Boz“. I’m really proud to be in the spotlight to represent (young black girls. I’m the mother of an 8-year-old third grader). It resounded for me how important it is to be visible and to do this in a really powerful and unapologetic way. I want to do something that is worthy to be bragged about.

Are you the chief marketing officer? Were you offered that?

Bozoma Saint John: I like “brand” (officer title) because it represents a holistic picture. Marketing can be very mathematical sometimes. I think people forget that. I’ve had marketing jobs my entire career, or brand marketing, which is interchangable also. Brand feels more creative to me. I feel I have more license to do things that perhaps cannot always go back to an ROI or cannot be added up. There’s a little bit of theater — some magic that happens. That is more important to me at the moment, especially with this brand.

What about Uber’s new CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi?

Bozoma Saint John: I’m so excited. He is forceful, he is steady, he has a really strong point of view, and he has enough edge. I love a little badassness in there because I am too in the right way.

You came from apple. Are you going to buy the $1,000 Apple iPhone X?

Bozoma Saint John: I love my gadgets. I have everything and I’m in love with the new technology, the facial ID, all these other things. I really really want it. I’ve got two of them (iphones). It’s $1,000. It’s a lot of money.

I think you’re wearing that on your feet.

Bozoma Saint John: I am. Don’t worry about that. Why are you in my closet? Know what I’m saying? Yeah. There’s sticker shock but I love the product so much I think I’m going to do it anyway.

 

 

 

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