Uber, the personal transportation service that seems to attract controversy in just about every country it enters, has named a new Chief Brand Officer who could possibly turn things around for the company’s battered image. Bozoma Saint John, one of the most respected names in marketing and branding, has stepped down from her incredibly successful run as the head of Apple Music’s marketing division. Saint John, a native of Ghana, has been instrumental to the success of the Apple Music streaming service, which was languishing under iTunes. Her new role at Uber will involve more than marketing the service and fixing up its troubled corporate image; Uber has tasked Saint John with helping the company reconnect with its customers and the public during extremely difficult times.
Saint John’s family moved to the United States from Ghana when she was still a teenager. Her father is a former soldier and musician who inspired her to complete her university studies and focus on her interests. Saint John graduated from the prestigious Wesleyan University, where she majored in English as well as in African American studies. Prior to joining Apple, Saint John worked as branding manager for fashion design labels as well as for Pepsi. She has worked for major advertising firms and is very close to the worlds of hip-hop and popular music. Saint John was instrumental in promoting the Beats Music streaming service that was part of Dr. Dre’s Beats line of headphones and accessories for dedicated music fans. Under Saint John, Beats Music became a service that subscribers loved not only because of the extensive catalog and technology, but also because of the way it curated content and presented it to fans.
Saint John is regarded as a branding executive with a golden touch. She has a knack for understanding pop culture and its relationship to music and entertainment. Apple CEO Tim Cook has heaped praise on Saint John because she took Beats Music and considerably improved it even as it transformed into Apple Music. More importantly, Saint John’s work has positioned Apple Music way ahead of Google Play; she has made it cool to listen to music on Apple devices whereas the same function is mostly utilitarian on Android devices. Although it is somewhat rare to see an African woman getting so much respect as high-level executive, this is not something that Saint John dwells on too much. She champions diversity and the African American experience naturally through charisma, and quite a few Apple investors believe that no one else would have been able to promote Apple Music like she did.
Uber is going to be a major challenge for this marketing powerhouse. The company has been hit with more than 200 complaints of discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment, and that is just at the corporate level. Saint John will also have to deal improving the brand image of a company that has incited riots in countries such as Mexico and Brazil, and which continues to operate in some jurisdictions where it has been deemed illegal. Saint John has stated that she considers herself to be a change agent, but she will have to be more than that at Uber; she has no choice, but to take on the role of miracle worker.