Bozoma Saint John on Showcasing Yourself — and the World
In this View From The Top podcast episode, the Global CMO of Netflix talks about understanding your own worth to become a better negotiator and person.
Having lived in four countries by the age of 12 and growing up the only Ghanaian family in a predominantly white town in Colorado, Bozoma Saint John had an expansive worldview at a young age.
In this View From The Top interview conducted by Jessica Lawson, MBA ’21, the chief marketing officer of Netflix discusses the importance of not comparing yourself to others and how content can spark curiosity and connection. “I think that entertainment has a very, very, very big role in changing societal norms,” Saint John says. “If we are able to use entertainment as a way to normalize experiences across the board, then we have a much better shot at being just better human beings.”
Stanford GSB’s View From The Top is the dean’s premier speaker series. It launched in 1978 and is supported in part by the F. Kirk Brennan Speaker Series Fund. During student-led interviews and before a live audience, leaders from around the world share insights on effective leadership, their personal core values, and lessons learned throughout their career.
Full Transcript: Bozoma Saint John
Bozoma Saint John: Really understanding what your own worth is, and being honest about that will help you to be a much better negotiator. First of all, you’ll have your number, and if anyone tries to offer you less you know that that’s not what you want. There’s a difference between getting into a job with a certain salary or negotiating a certain comp and then feeling as if they got the deal. That’s a terrible place to be. So as long as you are getting what you think you deserve, don’t worry about what anybody else is doing, that’s … that’s it.
Jessica Lawson: Welcome to View From The Top: The Podcast. That was Bozoma Saint John, global CMO of Netflix. Saint John visited Stanford Graduate School of Business, as part of View From The Top — a speaker series for students like me, sit down to interview business leaders from around the world. I’m Jessica Lawson, an MBA student of the class of 2021. This year I had the pleasure of interviewing Bozoma from her home in California. She shared invaluable insights on living with urgency and death, knowing your worth and showing up with intention.
You’re listening to View From The Top: The Podcast.
Jessica Lawson: Thank you, Jennifer. What an amazing intro. Wow. Bozoma thank you so much for being here. I’m so excited to be speaking with you today.
Bozoma Saint John: Thank you, Jessica. And I really appreciate that intro Jennifer. That was actually quite motivating. I was like, ooh yes, brush my own shoulders off, okay, yeah I’m out here.
Jessica Lawson: I love that. I totally echo that sentiment. I mean it is so exciting to have someone who has had such a consistently cool CV and has coined so many viral hashtags grace the View From The Top stage. So I’m just so excited to talk to you today. And social media takeovers are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what you do, you are a marketing and branding powerhouse and as a former marketer myself I am so excited to learn from you today.
Bozoma Saint John: I’m really just trying to do some good work, some fun work every single day. It’s like that is my mission, which is that I really love people. I love culture. I’m not ashamed of that and I think that there are so many ways in which we can learn from each other, but also do it and have a good time. It’s like what’s the point of this life if we’re not enjoying it? And I think that’s actually the beauty of marketing is that we’re able to bring out the joy in so much of what we interact with every day and I just try to find those moments and connect them together.
Jessica Lawson: I think that’s really beautiful when you speak about what you do as a marketer so confidently and I wanna start with your sense of self because you are so confident. I know you’ve been told that countless times, and you started to figure that out at a really early age because you were born in Connecticut, but your family moved to Ghana and then had to leave Ghana because of a coup. And eventually you landed in Colorado Springs around the age of 12 where you kind of stood out, right? You were tall and Black, you’re the only Ghanian family in the area at the time. And you said of that experience I love this you said you couldn’t be anything else, so you had to become everything that you were. What did that mean at that time and what does that mean for you today, and now?
Bozoma Saint John: Well, I mean it really literally that I really couldn’t be anything else. I think there’s a difference between, when you are just slightly othered than when you are fully othered; when there is there’s no mistaking that one of these things is not like the other, it’s like there’s no mistaking that. It’s not like I was a white girl who was brunette and I wanted to be blonde to fit in with all the other girls so guess what, just went in, bought some hair dye and then tried blonde. By the way I did try blonde at one point it was a disaster.
But everything was so different. There was no way to try and become what everyone else was. And that was not just physical it was not just the outward appearance, it was everything. It was the way I thought about the world as a global citizen. By the time I was 12 I lived in four countries already. I had already had classmates who spoke so many different languages who had different religions. I understood the intricacies and the differences and how people saw the world at 12. And my classmates didn’t have that. They didn’t have the privilege of that, actually do think of it as a privilege.
They had been in one place, grown up with the same kids, celebrating the same holidays. And so for me there was a difference in philosophy and approach. I had the kind of dad when kids would come over to have dinner on a Friday night just like have some pizza he’d be sitting there ask them if they understood the politics in Portugal. And you’re like dad, can we just talk about the Broncos and he’s like Bronco who, for what, you know what I mean? Like that’s the kind of upbringing I had and so that I had no choice. There was no choice in trying to just simply fit in. And so therefore, yes, I took everything that I already had and just became more of that, ’cuz there was no choice.
Jessica Lawson: And did you feel that you were successful in doing that as a child? Did you feel like you ultimately found your footing or was your childhood kind of this constant back and forth?
Bozoma Saint John: I was a total weirdo, I was completely strange. And I mean, I can better articulate it these days and celebrate it, but yeah I was a strange kid. I do distinctly and listen I’m gonna say this and it’s gonna sound like a lot of arrogance but it is what it is, okay? So you just have to deal with it. Which is that I do recall looking in the mirror and being like, but I’m so dope though. Like I don’t understand why these other kids, I don’t understand why they don’t understand that I’m so dope, like why don’t they get it? Because I did feel that sense of pride. I think Sally Struthers and everybody else at the time who talked to such shit about Africa, they owe me one. Because I would go to school and kids would talk about the picture of the kid on their fridge, the one that we’re sending a cent to or two cents to every month. And I would roll my eyes because while that is partly the truth, right? You can’t pretend as if there’s not poverty in Africa or anywhere else in the world, but their entire experience of what Africa was, was on their fridge.
With the kid with flies on their eyes and a distended belly, whereas I understood the culture, the fashion, the music, the food, gosh the language, the beauty of a continent that had been stolen from, not just from its people, but its entire reputation. No one so walking into those situations and asking or being asked naïve questions meant that very early on I learned to fight with my tongue. I learned what it meant to stand up for for myself and learn how to stand up for a whole host of people who who didn’t ask me to. And so now these days when I’m in rooms and I’m one of one or one of few, I’m also often asked if it makes me feel resentful to have to represent a whole bunch of people.
It’s like if you’re the Black person in the room, it’s like, let’s see, what is the Black person think about everything Black. And no I don’t resent it. I’ve been doing it a long time. I’ve been having to bring the presence. That deserves respect and deserves its value into rooms for a long time. So I’m used to it and I can figure out in a room how to change the mood so that you understand the respect that the subject deserves.
Jessica Lawson: All right, that’s really powerful and now, as you said, a lot of your professional career has been about helping others, also feel seen and you learned a lot about those skills through your childhood. And one example of that was during your time at Uber, where you were chief brand officer and led a project on how to help drivers appear human or feel human. Meaning the common experience in a rideshare is that you get in the car, you say hello and then you pull out your phone and entirely forget there’s another human being in the front seat with the whole life and narrative and backstory.
So at Uber, you were kind of tasked with changing that experience. I’m curious as a marketer, how you go about addressing a problem like that? How do you shine a spotlight on something and get people to care and be more empathetic about others?
Bozoma Saint John: Yeah, well, it’s interesting because that was not the beginning of the issue, right? I found it because of the larger issue which was just around safety. You know when you think about safety in an Uber or any kind of rideshare the thought at the time was in the reports, of course, so many reports was that it wasn’t safe. Right, it wasn’t safe for women to be in a rideshare late at night. It’s like there there were a lot of stories being written about the rides that would end up in terrible situations.
And again, not to pretend as if those stories weren’t true or that they didn’t happen, but the overwhelming majority of the time, the ride was safe. Being given and performed by someone who has something even greater to live for also. And so given that understanding about safety, the thought then and my insight was that perhaps we just need to humanize the other person who’s in the car.
Because you’re not gonna get in and automatically think well, am I gonna be all right? Like am I gonna get to where I’m going to? If you understood that the person who’s driving you is trying to make some extra money to pay for college or trying to make some extra money to pay for their kids, school or for meals at home. Or trying to gather enough money to start a new business or trying to buy a house or move out of the neighborhood they’re in. We all have reasons why we do the work that we do. And so if you could see that humanity, perhaps you’d have a different perspective on not just the driver as a human being, but your experience within this 20 minute ride that you have. And so that became the mission and I counted on some old friends to help me do that, including Spike Lee, who is a former boss and now a good friend. And I’ve known him for 20 years. And so I called him and I was like, please, please, please, please, please do me this favor. Please, I know you’re directing movies, but could you do just some five short films for me at Uber? Yeah, I’m still paying him back for that.
Jessica Lawson: I think that’s really interesting because as you said at the time, Uber itself was dealing with allegations and internally was dealing with its own treatment of humans in its organization and culture. I mean, Travis, the CEO, resigned a week after you started. So, you got there and you were looking at these projects and you saw an internal environment that you also wanted to change for Black people, for people of color, for women in particular. But you said that you realize people couldn’t really get out of their own way. Can you tell us more about that experience and what happened there?
Bozoma Saint John: Yeah, I mean, you know what, here’s the thing is that oftentimes like you’ll take a new job for a myriad of reasons. For me, I took the job, one because I believe Travis really did. I thought he was sincere in his need or his desire to change the culture of Uber. It’d become such a success in such a quick amount of time, that it wasn’t hard for me to understand how that happened. It’s like I can see how the things went wrong and I believe that he really had desired to change it. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the time to do it. And that was a pretty bad week. When I came in I was like, I’m sorry, what now? My office is gone. Okay, now what am I supposed to do? And also at the time very much as now, my feeling was that there was a moment in which Uber was like the golden child of everything tech.
Everybody looked at that company and said, Wow, now there’s like a startup that becomes the thing that we are all trying to achieve. And it felt like overnight then it became like the bane of existence. Was just the worst thing ever. Delete Uber was everywhere and it’s like people didn’t even wanna mention the name. They would call their Uber and have them stop like two blocks down, so nobody knew that they were getting in an Uber. It became like this pariah, but what was most fascinating to me was the fact that it was being sort of beaten down about his treatment of women and people of color.
Especially inside and at the executive ranks. And I sat at my desk and I was like, I’m sorry. Like, have we forgotten that every company in corporate America is exactly like this? How did all of a sudden we just start beating up Uber? And so I felt that like, well listen, if Uber is gonna be the poster child for having to fix all of the ills, around representation and its treatment of women and people of color inside of the company, then yeah, I’m gonna sign up for that. Because if Uber can change, then so can everybody else. There’s no excuse for anybody else to continue behaving the way they’re behaving. Now, unfortunately, we have a lot of businesses that say that they want to do something but they don’t actually enact any real change in time.
And Uber was in a place in which it needed to rectify its business. As I said, the lead Uber was a catastrophe. And so a new CEO was brought in and of course, he needed to fix the business. And I felt that the things that we needed to do to better enable the connection to consumers may not have been at the forefront. And again quite honestly, as we already know, I think I’m the best marketer around and I want to be in a place that really valued my work. And so I decided that perhaps I was not the right place for me at that time.
Jessica Lawson: And I recall on that decision to leave it in another interview you said, you don’t need to be the savior you can save yourself too.
Bozoma Saint John: Yeah.
Jessica Lawson: Can you tell us about the the decision to save yourself because I know as someone who’s a member of underrepresented groups, I often struggle with the balance of wanting to be the man in the arena and fighting the good fight and also preserving my sanity and mental health and well being. So can you tell us about saving yourself there?
Bozoma Saint John: Yeah, the operative word is yourself. This is not about anybody else’s experience. For instance, I’m not the one who’s going to say never go work at Uber. You should. Perhaps you’ll have a different experience than I did. I don’t think it’s a bad place to be, it just wasn’t the right place for me.
Jessica Lawson: Right.
Bozoma Saint John: And I think that’s the point that we have to realize, which is that all of us have different bandwidths. At the time, it wasn’t right for me. It meant that like what I wanted to do in marketing, what I wanted to create wasn’t going to happen there. And I just need to realize that. I think some of us like you said sometimes hang in. Waiting. We’re like, well, six months from now it’s gonna be better. All of a sudden I’m gonna be valued. Said who? It’s like, you just need to see the flags and recognize them for what they are. And it is painful. It’s not easy, I won’t pretend like it is. Who doesn’t want to feel valued, especially when you think you’re the best at what you do? It’s like you take an ego hit, and I certainly did, but I certainly wasn’t willing to sacrifice any more time.
I think perhaps that’s the lesson that I’ve learned in the past few years. After quite a significant personal tragedy, I just realized I didn’t wanna waste any more time. And so for me, six months seems like a lifetime, and I don’t want to waste any of it.
Jessica Lawson: I think that’s beautiful and obviously leaving Uber was the right decision for yourself. And you ended up going to Endeavor where you were CMO of the pop culture machines that are WME, and IMG, and Miss Universe, etc. And from one career move to the next, it seems like you can’t miss and that’s undoubtedly due to your talent and reputation, but I also have to think you’re a pretty good negotiator. That’s something that I struggle with, and I think many women struggle with as well. What negotiating advice do you have for someone like myself who’s entering the job market in the next few weeks and really wants to up the ante significantly with this next move?
Bozoma Saint John: I know that’s like the magic question, money, money, money. Well, I’ll tell you a couple of things, which is, again, it’s not the same for everyone, right? And that’s probably the biggest lesson to be learned in that. Which is that I realized that it’s easy to compare ourselves to other people and say, well, I should make that because that person does. Maybe that’s not so true. It’s like I’m always more interested at your personal top of market than what is the top of market anywhere. And that also requires a lot of self reflection and self awareness. It’s like, what are you actually worth? What is your value in the space?
What are the things that are unique to you and what are the things that you need to learn? I think there’s a mistake we make when we think that we have all the tools ready for whatever job or whatever space. And attribute those things to how we should be compensated. I think there’s a real lack of sometimes clarity in what we’re actually bringing. And it happens on both ways, right? Where it’s like you think you’re not worth enough and where do you think you’re worth too much. And both of those things can get in your way. And so for me, it’s really about understanding what I’m going to bring to the job.
Yes, of course you have to understand what the field is and what is being offered across. So you have a good understanding of the sort of the boundaries, right, or the pool in which you’re in entering, but really understanding what your own worth is and being honest about that, will help you to be a much better negotiator. Because what will happen is that first of all, you’ll have your number, you’ll have the place where you want to be, right? And if anyone tries to offer you less you know that that’s not what you want. And for me it’s like there’s a difference between getting into a job with a certain salary or negotiating a certain comp, and then feeling as if they got the deal.
Jessica Lawson: Right.
Bozoma Saint John: That’s terrible, that’s a terrible place to be.
Jessica Lawson: Right.
Bozoma Saint John: And so as long as you are getting what you think you deserve, don’t worry about what anybody else is doing, that’s it.
Jessica Lawson: I’ll certainly keep that in mind during these conversations. So, knowing your worth can lead to a lot of success. And now your next slide is global CMO of Netflix, and that’s super exciting. I wanna talk about the global part of your title for a second, because Netflix operates in over 190 countries, which is a massive operation. And as a former marketer I know it can be daunting for brands to kind of market across cultures because you have to find this balance between reaching the masses and making sure individuals and specific communities feel authentically heard and spoken to. And the reaction there, sometimes from a lot of companies, can be just to hold back from leading or even participating in certain conversations. As a CMO, how do you push more risk-averse organizations to speak up and advocate?
Bozoma Saint John: It’s a very layered question. There’s a lot here. Yeah, that’s a good question. Well, maybe I’ll address the global component first, right? Which is that I’m very sensitive, obviously, to the globe because as I started out talking about and I find myself to be a global citizen. And I think that there’s a lot of worthiness in other places on the planet outside of the West. That the world does not, its access is not set in the U.S. or in Europe. That there are lots of other places where there are important conversations, important cultures, and that not everyone speaks the same language, literally and figuratively, right? And so I’m very sensitive to that. But it also means that I understand the matrix, because there are ways in which we need to speak to people or engage them that are borderless. I really, even today it’s like, well, actually no, I’ll give you an example from, was it last week or maybe the week before? We announced the film called Zero, which is about the Black Italian experience. And I’m so excited about it because it’s one of the best performing tweets that we posted on Strong Black Lead. Now, you go look at Strong Black Lead and say, well, that’s about the American Black experience.
But it’s not, this is about the Black experience, wherever you are, right? And I think that just goes to prove the fact that there’s a unifying experience around the globe on being Black. And sometimes, even when you’re not familiar with that Black experience, you still want to cheer it on, you still want to know about it.
And so that community that loves everything Black is absolutely going to now watch that film, right? I see the same thing in other spaces, where we talk about Stranger Things. Is around a title and yes, there’s a certain demographic of people who love it, but guess what? They cross all kinds of borders and they cross all kinds of demos, and so you’ve got to speak to that entire audience. And then, if you have content that is in Finland it probably needs to be in Finnish at some capacity, right? Because there are a lot of English speakers there. But can we figure out a way to make sure that some of the content that is coming out of Finland is actually Finnish? And we’ll speak to that audience in particular. I don’t think it’s a lot of hard work, I just think it’s a lot of intention. Which is that we’ve got to make sure that you not only have the right people who are going to be able to understand culture, understand people, but who have a healthy curiosity for it. Healthy curiosity, because that is what we all do. Take your own experience, right, with your own group of friends. It’s like you would be the asshole friend if you’re sitting here always concentrating on yourself.
Jessica Lawson: Right.
Bozoma Saint John: You walk into a situation and you know that it was your girlfriend’s birthday three weeks ago, okay? You wish her happy birthday then, but you walk in, let’s just pretend it’s COVID time, you got your mask on, okay? And you’re like how was the birthday? We still celebrating what we doing that’s something different than when you walk in and you’re just talking about the new shoes you have on. It’s that kind of attention saying, that sounds very silly example happens in all of our lives. We know people like that. You know the people in your life who are so self centered and all they want to do is talk about you know that if they call you they’re not calling to check up on you. It’s like a ruse, hate those type of phone calls, the ones that they call you and, they just call and talk about themselves. Why do you even call me? You could’ve just called your own damn self. Yeah. That’s the way I see brands. It’s like when we engage in the world and you’re only talking about yourself, always out. There’s nobody’s friend. Nobody wants me involved in that. But brands who have a healthy dose of curiosity and healthy intention to get to know the people to understand culture to speak to them in their language, literally and figuratively, as I said, are the ones who win. And that’s the way I approach marketing everywhere and at Netflix too.
Jessica Lawson: I see intention in your approach to your personal brand as well. I mean you have an extraordinarily influential personal brand, and one piece of that is your fantastic style and strong physical presence and there’s real intent there. There’s not just like surface level things because hair and nails and clothing all these things can be important in psychological expressions especially for those felt othered. I’d love for you to tell us a little more about the choices you made about how you present yourself in the workplace and beyond.
Bozoma Saint John: Yes, my goodness. It is so pisses me off when people are, but that’s so superficial. For who? Who’s this superficial for? Do you see that the crown act just got past and not everywhere by the way? So I can wear my hair in its natural textures at work and not be afraid of being fired for it? For who is the superficial for? Yes, for those who’ve always had it, that’s who? And so yes, I do make the choice. I’m very intentional and showing up very Black, very femme all the time, because that’s who I am. And my hope is that in doing so it actually allows other people to show up in the way they are. I’m not saying everybody needs to show up in multicolored leopard print. I’m not saying that or need to have their nails done, or face beat every time. But it’s like however you feel like showing up. I hope you’re able to dothat because there’s so much freedom in it. When you haven’t had that kind of freedom, it is so difficult to be able to actually do the good work. I remember the days when I had to prescribe to a certain way of looking. You know what I mean, sometimes it’s still on me. There are folks who think I shouldn’t show up the way I show up now. The other folks who were in my DMs and messages and comments in August when I was announced at this job. Who said, well, don’t you think that the global CMO should I’m sorry, should do what? Come again? One more time? No, I don’t think so.
Jessica Lawson: Yeah.
Bozoma Saint John: Yeah, the global CMO of Netflix looks like this. And talks when she wants to, wear the baby suit when she wants to, read the ton of books when she wants to listens to RIP DMX when she wants to. You don’t like that, for me is the freedom to be able to be as I am so that all of my energy can be put into my brilliance. That’s what I want, that’s freedom. And so for me, it is extraordinarily important. That even though sometimes it does take a little bit of energy to actually show up the way I actually am.
Jessica Lawson: Right.
Bozoma Saint John: That in the long run it’s so much better. Those days when I had to be careful about my tone. Because sometimes it would be off putting to my colleagues, or would scare people, my passion would come off sounding like anger. Well, maybe your idea was just really stupid, and I needed to let you know. I’m saying sometimes that’s the energy I brought, and I was right. So for me, the ability to be able to show up exactly as I am is such a privilege. And so for those who are uncomfortable with that privilege, well listen, I’m sorry, but now it’s time for for you to step aside ’cuz I’m gonna be who I am. And that’s what I hope we all are, just be exactly who we are.
Jessica Lawson: I love that and on the topic of authenticity and bringing your full self and being who you are, your next feat is publishing a book, which is taking that a step further. It’s a story of photos of your late husband Peter, who sadly passed away from cancer in 2013. The book is coming out next year, it’s called The Urgent Life: A Story Of Love, Grief, And Survival. And in your announcement you said it was the first time you really facing the challenge of putting everything you’re holding onto the page. I wanna ask today and please share as much as you feel comfortable, was it a scary decision to open up that very vulnerable part of yourself? And what if anything, do you hope to gain by doing that?
Bozoma Saint John: It’s not scary to open up because it’s the right time. I’ve been asked to write a book for a long time. It probably first started when Peter was sick and I documented everything on social media the way I do now. And and sometimes I would write long prose about whatever happened that day. I often posted photos, followed by some description of what was happening. And I remember that a few months into that somebody suggested that I write a book of the experiences. But as you can imagine, I was, no, I’m so much more fun. I know I look like I’m writing something, but it’s really just like journaling to me. I’m writing down what I’m feeling, and you you happen to read it because it’s public. But that is not my focus right now. And even after he passed away and try to figure out how to rebuild my life and mother, my child and do all of the things. It felt like okay, well maybe there’s space to write, and there wasn’t, there hasn’t been.
It never felt right, and I think that is also part of the lesson for us, right, which is that everything in its own time. It’s like, your time is your time, not anybody else’s time. I’m not on anybody’s timetable but my own. And so, when I felt that I was ready to write it, is when I started accepting the phone calls. And really start to have a real conversation about it. And I also find that when I’m doing things in my own time, it seems to flow better, because you’re not forcing it. I just always feel like if anything feels like it’s forced, it’s probably not it’s time.
Jessica Lawson: Right.
Bozoma Saint John: It’s not the way of nature, that it’s like when fruit is not ripe, it’s so much harder to peel the skin back. It’s like we didn’t even take our lessons from nature and things all around us. When it’s not your time, it’s not your time, don’t force it. And so for me this very moment in time is it. I’m ready to share about my experiences and the questions that I get most of the time or how is it that I’ve been able to face such grief at various points in my life and still thrive, it’s like how do I put one step in front of the other? How is it that I’m able to still work? How am I able to seem like I have joy in my life? And at the very center of it is what I said a few minutes ago about urgency. You know it’s why the book is titled as it is because in Peter’s death, I found the urgency in my own life.
Which meant that I knew that life is not about the speed at which you live it. So urgency isn’t about fast moving, it’s not about can I get this done all today? No, it’s about the depth of your life. It’s about the experiences that you are having that actually matter, that there’s not one wasted moment, not one wasted day. It’s why I think six months matters. It’s why I’m not waiting until retirement to do the things that I wanna do, I’m gonna do them today. It is why, when somebody says, well, we’ll get to that at some other point. No, no, no, no, no, no, we’re gonna do it right now. And it also is probably the reason why I’ve moved around so much in my career. I’m totally impatient with mediocrity. I’m looking for the greatest part of my life today, I’m not going to wait for it tomorrow. And it’s a high bar, it really is, it will challenge you.
When you start doing it, it will feel like the impossible. But I promise you, if you keep doing it, it will become your standard and then nothing else will ever feel the same. You won’t accept anything less because your standard would have been so raised that everything else feels like it’s such a loss. And so for me, I hope that what people take away from my book is not that you need to live life fast, but you need to live it really well and very deeply.
Jessica Lawson: I’m so grateful that you would share those lessons with us. I mean, I love impatient for mediocrity. I think I’m gonna tuck that one away. But that’s a great one to have. That’s beautiful, thank you. I’m gonna flip it over to my classmates who are gonna ask two questions and then we’ll come back to wrap. So first I believe we have Lola.
Lola: Thank you so much for this talk, it was already amazing. So I’m Lola, I’m a student here in both MBA and an environmental resource student. And so my question for you is how do you see the role of the entertainment industry in building new social norms?
Bozoma Saint John: Yeah, okay. Thank you, Lola. Gosh. So, I’ll take it back to Sally Struthers because I’m telling you, I’m looking for Sally Struthers. When I see her walking around sometime in the future, I have a lot of questions for her because she was the face, right? Of the campaign around African children starving and needing the cents on the dollar every day, right? That is one of the biggest examples that I can give for how content changes perception, right? And I believe, very firmly that we can reverse a lot of those. One of the big insights that we did at Netflix at the end of last year was just that we gathered all the data and insights that we could around consuming behavior, right? And one of my favorite parts was the fact that because of the pandemic people consumed content from other places at a almost 200% increase. Meaning that if you were in Brazil you were watching content from France, or from the U.S. you were watching content from Turkey. Or if you were in Nigeria you were watching content from Colombia. It was all over the place, and Korean dramas, just boof, everybody’s watching K drama. And I think it’s such a beautiful thing to be able to expand your world or understanding or knowledge of places based on content. What a powerful tool. And so I do believe very firmly that if we are to do that more, if we’re able to share more. Let people see how people are living, the beauty of culture as we said, like the fact that you can watch a food show and not actually taste the food, but imagine that it’s good based on what the person is saying and then want to try it, I think is probably the biggest lesson there is. It’s like, I mean, all of the cooking shows that we have on Netflix I’m constantly amazed by the numbers ’cuz I’m like, these people, they can’t even smell the food. Well, they’re just watching it. And by the way, most people aren’t even trying to cook it, they’re just watching, They’re just watching somebody else cook and eat. I think that is incredible. And if we’re able to fold in experiences from other cultures, I think it expands our insight in the way that we see the world. And so absolutely, I think that entertainment has a very, very, very big role in changing societal norms. And that crosses so many things, that’s not just even about perception of a country, that’s all of our challenges that we face, you know? Whether they are gendered, or LGBTQAI, or they are, gosh. So we have so many issues, Lord help us. But I do think that if we are able to use entertainment as a way to normalize experiences across the board, then we have a much better shot at being just better human beings. Thank you, Lola.
Jessica Lawson: Next we have Ori.
Ori: Hi, thank you so much for being here, I am a second year MBA student and I think Netflix’s activations for show launches have been incredible. I myself waited in line for four hours to attend the Gilmore Girls pop-up in LA. I know, so I wanted to ask you, how do you think about experiential marketing formats for life after Coronavirus?
Bozoma Saint John: Oh yes. Ori I cannot wait for that. I can’t wait, because the thing is that you need various touch points to make marketing come to life or to connect people with the brand, right? And it doesn’t matter what brand that is. It’s not even just Netflix, any brand. That experiential marketing event marketing is one of the cornerstones of doing great marketing, right? It’s like you’ve got to be able to not just communicate with people verbally or visually, but also use all their other senses.
And it’s a great way to get people deep into an experience. And so a lot of times of course experiential event marketing is not about reach and frequency. Because you really can’t get to that many people. But it looks like you could put up a billboard and get more people in 20 minutes than you could out of creating an event for the Gilmore Girls. And getting people cycled in and out of those experiences. But it’s so important, right? Because what I love to get are evangelists, people like you who are going to go into that event experience that, have a good ass time, and then tell everybody else in the world how great it was.And even if they can’t attend it, your testimony alone is going to convince them that this is a good thing. And that’s what you want, right? At the end of the day it’s like the word of mouth testimony is the best marketing that there is. And so if I can do that by giving you a great experience close to the brand, then I’ve won. It is much better than any billboard or static image that I could ever provide. So I think it’s critical to what we do and I can’t wait to get back to it.
Ori: Thank you.
Bozoma Saint John: Thanks, Ori.
Jessica Lawson: Thank you, guys. I get so much pride hearing you talk about marketing. There’s so much power and responsibility, and I love it.
Bozoma Saint John: Yeah.
Jessica Lawson: I have one last question for you, which we’re asking all of our speakers this year, which is, what principles do you rely on during your toughest moments as a leader?
Bozoma Saint John: Gosh, that’s such a hard one.
Jessica Lawson: I know.
Bozoma Saint John: Principles, gosh, there’s so much. There’s so much that I think about, but maybe the one that I probably rely on most is integrity. You know, the integrity of intention because the thing is that you can’t be all things to all people, even as a leader. I think it’s one of the biggest lessons, perhaps, that we’ve learned in the last year, right? Because I would challenge that, prior to this year, whether it was racially motivated, or gendered, or as we said, sexual orientation. Regardless of the issue, the societal problem, we never want to say anything, right, for fear that you said something wrong. Cancel culture is so thick and deep that we would just not wanna touch it, right? The challenge is that by not having an opinion at all, meant that you actually were alienating yourself from the consumer, from your audience, from your members, from anyone who is going to interact with your brand.
And what I saw at least beginning you know, I think, especially at George Floyd’s murder, right? At the height of BLM protests was a quick change from companies who had never said anything at all. I knew that cultural change when I saw a message from Blue Cross Blue Shield, and I was like, so now they care about Black Lives Matter, too? Okay, okay, okay, it just seemed like everybody was now having a more honest conversation. And one of the reasons why and by the way, I said this publicly. I said it on MSNBC, I said it on CNN, I said it on every platform that I was asked to be on, I was like, I need leaders to show up as the human beings that they are. You’re not brick and mortar, ’cuz if you’re feeling something, I want you to say it. And even if you say it wrong, it is better than not saying anything at all. The same way that I would have an outpouring of appreciation for a friend who’s not going through the same thing that I’m going through. But recognizes it and maybe doesn’t say the exact right thing, but I know their intention. That’s the way that we as leaders need to interact with the consumers at large, our audience at large. And so for me, it’s about integrity and the integrity of intention, that I may not know everybody’s experience. I may not have lived everyone’s experience. But if I have integrity and I am doing it intentionally, then I am probably going in the right direction. And so I have to just stick with that and make decisions based on that.
Jessica Lawson: Well, I think that’s a fantastic note to end on, thank you for being here. I know I’m walking away thinking about how I can live more intentionally and urgently. And thank you as always for being so authentic, and inspiring, and energizing. It’s been a great conversation.
Bozoma Saint John: Thank you, Jessica.
Jessica Lawson: You’ve been listening to View From The Top: The Podcast, a production of Stanford Graduate School of Business. This interview was conducted by me, Jessica Lawson, of the MBA class of 2021. Lily Sloan composed our theme music and Kelsey Doyle produced this episode. You can find more episodes of this podcast at our website, www.gsb.stanford.edu. Follow us on social media at Stanford GSB.
For media inquiries, visit the Newsroom.