SXSW Recap: Bozoma Saint John

The marketing trailblazer's keynote on authenticity in branding

It’s no secret that the cultural landscape of America and beyond is shifting at the speed of light. It’s becoming all too common for businesses, organization, and brands to publicly flounder in the current of change, either by not changing fast enough with the times, or through misappropriating cultural movements in lame attempts to appear relevant.

Bozoma Saint John speaks at her keynote during South By Southwest on March 13, 2019 (Photo by John Anderson)

So what kind of crystal ball does it take to stay ahead of the curve in 2019?

According to Bozoma Saint John, Chief Marketing Officer of the Endeavor Talent Network with a track record that includes high-ranking stents at Apple Music and Uber, clairvoyance is nowhere near as valuable as staying brave and authentic at a personal and organization-wide level. Both Saint John and panel moderator Ashley Graham (plus-sized model and advocate for body positivity) agreed that a belief in self-worth is a key to authenticity, and that worthiness can be communicated immediately by not “toning down” your hair or dress style to assimilate to the rest of your office (Saint John took the opportunity to show off her sparkly, sequined Converse sneakers). But more important than dressing as yourself is to bring all of your personality and experiences into your work. Saint John recounted her childhood moving from Ghana to Colorado Springs and being encouraged by her parents to stay true to her cultural roots in her new environment. Saint John believes this strong sense of self developed early in life paved the way to her professional success, and is the key to authenticity in the workplace.

“Everyone of us went through something to get to where we are today,” Saint John said. “Your experience is worthy! Worth creates culture. So when you come into a space, bring all of that with you.”

By engendering true authenticity, not hiding behind a mask at work, and by not shying away from uncomfortable political conversations, individuals can turn their organizations into participants of culture rather than imitators. And once an organization isn’t faking it, meeting the future head on becomes a lot easier.

“The real key is just to pay attention to the present,” Saint John said. “Get quiet. Start paying attention to what people are talking about. What are they emotionally reacting to?...My whole career has been carefully and systematically paying attention.”


Bozoma Saint John: How Marketing Can Spur Social Change

Convergence Keynote
Wednesday, March 13, 2pm, Hilton Salon H

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SXSW Conference 2019, Bozoma Saint John, Keynote Speech

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