On Tuesday, Netflix announced the appointment of Bozoma Saint John as their next Chief Marketing Operator, replacing Jackie Lee-Joe and becoming the company’s 3rd CMO in less than 1 year. Saint John is leaving the entertainment agency Endeavor to take the role.
It’s clear why a company like Netflix would try to poach Saint John. Leading companies are working diligently to build more diversity across all levels, especially the C-Suite. Saint John has been a champion of diversity in business. In her role at Endeavor she worked with their client Papa John’s after the CEO was fired for using racist language. In an interview on NPR, Saint John said, “When companies face that kind of situation, they have to do everything in their power to essentially rehabilitate. Rehabilitation is not just surface. It can’t just be the brand. It’s not a new commercial you put on air. There’s something wrong with your culture.” She worked with Papa John’s to increase opportunities for economic advancement through franchising for people of color and to increase female representation at the executive level.
But saying that Saint John was chosen for the role because of her race and gender would be the understatement of the century. Saint John is the best person for the job. Her experience at the intersection of marketing and culture is unparalleled. Her first full-time job was working as an assistant to Spike Lee. It was on her suggestion that Beyonce headlined the half-time show at Superbowl XLVII in 2013. Prior to Endeavor, she was the Head of Global Consumer Marketing at Apple Music & iTunes and the Chief Brand Officer at Uber. Netflix is at an inflection point that requires the best of the the best. Of course they would want her to lead marketing.
The streaming wars are giving consumers more choice. Netflix’s growth slowed in 2019, adding fewer new customers than they did in 2018. The United States was the company’s slowest growing market. Asia Pacific was the fastest growing, although it only accounted for 9% of the company’s subscribers. As Netflix seeks growth outside of the United States, it will be critical to have someone with a global worldview at the top of the company’s marketing organization.
Saint John was born to Ghanaian parents in the United States, moved back to Ghana while still an infant and then back to the United States at age 12. Speaking about her childhood in Colorado Springs, Saint John said of immersing herself in pop culture, “Part of it was also the need to fit in, and so trying to find the points of connection…it doesn’t really matter if somebody doesn’t hold the same belief systems as you or doesn’t come from the same place that you do. There is going to be some connection. You just have to find it.” That skill has clearly served her well as a marketer.
For Netflix, Tier-3 markets such as Egypt and South Africa (or even Saint John’s Ghana) could be an interesting source of growth for the company. In these markets there is less real competition for premium streaming TV services. The EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) region is both the second-largest and second-fastest growing market for Netflix. In 2018, Netflix released Lionheart, the company’s first original film from Nigeria’s massive film industry, Nollywood. The film was also nearly a contender for an Academy Award. It was Nigeria’s first film submitted for consideration in the International Feature Film category before being disqualified for falling short of the non-English Dialogue quota.
One could say that Saint John is the right marketer for the moment. She is a Black woman at a time when the world is (finally) waking up to the fact that diversity at the executive level is not just good, it’s also critical for business success. She is one of the most talented people in marketing, joining a company up against a bevy of new competitors from Disney+ to Quibi. And she is a woman raised in two cultures whose voice may be just the one to secure Netflix’s leadership in the company’s and the world’s growth markets. The stock market agrees. Netflix was up more than 5% on Wednesday, hitting a new high for the company. Forbes