Netflix Chief Marketing Officer Tells Her Story at YSU

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – She’s been inducted into the American Advertising Federation Hall of Fame and Billboard’s Women in Music Hall of Fame. She’s been featured on the cover of Ad Week as one the Most Exciting Personalities in Advertising. And in September, Forbes recognized her as the World’s Most Influential Chief Marketing Officer.

Her work has helped reshape the image of some of the world’s best-known companies: PepsiCo, Apple Music, Uber, Endeavor and now Netflix.

So, how would Bozoma Saint John wish to be remembered?

“That I was me,” she told a hushed crowd at Stambaugh Auditorium Wednesday evening. “No one else. I didn’t try to copy anybody. I didn’t try to emulate anybody. I didn’t hold myself to anybody’s standard but myself,” she said, before the crowd erupted in applause.

It’s perhaps this sense of authenticity that has guided Saint John’s rise through the marketing world to become one of the most inspiring and motivating leaders inside and outside of the corporate boardroom. Since 2020, Saint John has served as the chief marketing officer at Netflix, the first Black C-Suite executive at the company.

Saint John shared the personal insights and wisdom that have shaped her life as part of Youngstown State University’s Thomas Colloquium on Free Enterprise series, sponsored by the Williamson College of Business Administration.

The hour-long event, fashioned as a discussion on stage between Saint John, associate professor of marketing Christina Saenger, and students Jenna Binsley and Judin Balella, explored Saint John’s journey to become one of the world’s most sought after marketing professionals.

“I truly have a love of people,” Saint John said. “That’s really at the center of everything marketing.”

Understanding people, their communities, their backgrounds and their personal stories are important to making an emotional connection that can resonate, she said.

Such was a key strategy in building out Apple Music when she served as the head of global marketing for iTunes. “For every moment in time, you recollect some sound.” Saint John said. “Perhaps it’s a song you were cleaning the house to, or your first heartbreak, or the song you first got married to.”

Good marketing is nuanced marketing, she said.

“It’s specific. Bad marketing feels like it could be sent to anyone,” she said.

Saint John said she welcomes challenges presented by entering a new company, role or position and it’s her objective to introduce new ideas. However, she adds that it’s important to first understand the culture of the company and the ideas brought forth by different employees and teams.

“Then bring that idea,” she says. “Without the shared goal and shared objective, the idea’s not going to win anyway.”

Saint John discussed some pivotal moments in her life, including the grief over the death of her husband, her growing up in Colorado Springs with her family after arriving in the U.S. from Ghana, and some of the hurdles she faced in the corporate world.

Experiences, both good and bad throughout her corporate and personal life have, in the long run, provided some benefits, either through success or lessons learned from failure, Saint John said. “If I look back on my career, I could see how each experience has been a building block,” she said. “I don’t want to change anything.”

Saint John noted that the death of her husband to cancer nearly eight years ago brought a whole new perspective to life and career. “I am as committed to making sure that as I move through my experiences in life, that I am purpose-driven,” she says. “Even in the small things.”

It’s often dangerous, Saint John continued, to define yourself by the company for which you work or your superiors. Instead, she strives to work toward goals that “fulfill me as a person.”

She serves on the board of Girls Who Code, an organization dedicated to advancing women in the engineering field, for example. “I prefer that kind of influence,” Saint John said.

Saint John said inspiration can come from anywhere and anyone, even complete strangers. “A lot of times it is my daughter,” she said. “And I have really stunning colleagues who work really hard to bring about stories that can touch the world.”

A diversity of opinions, ideas and culture is also very important in growing as a person, she said.

“Our ideas should constantly be challenged so that we continue to evolve and become smarter and more empathetic as human beings,” she said.

Pictured: Christina Saenger, associate professor of marketing at YSU, and Bozomo Saint John

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.