The rise of the Chief Brand Officer

Perhaps the highest profile Chief Brand Officer right now is Uber’s Bozoma Saint John. Uber, after a slew of bad decisions, is looking to Bozoma as its first Chief Brand Officer to rehabilitate the brand. Like all branding, her work starts from within – she must change the culture of Uber from a college frat party to a world class business. To authentically create change, they brought someone else to the table: an empowered and educated woman. Personally, I could not think of anyone better to lead the change. Not only is she incredibly qualified, but she is not a typical Silicon Valley stereotype: a white man in a hoodie. Bozoma is posed to right the ship. This being said, Uber (and other companies) should have had a ‘Bozoma’ from the get-go.

A Chief Brand Officer’s job is not all about righting a ship, sometimes it is about finding or creating a higher purpose. For example, Julie Rice, a co-founder of SoulCycle, instilled a higher purpose into SoulCycle from the company’s founding. Creating a higher purpose was one of the main reasons for SoulCycle’s acquisition by Equinox. SoulCycle’s success is built on making ‘Cyclers’ feel a sense of belonging, “that bordered on commitment, if not obligation. It was this sense, she explains, that ‘If I don’t show up, somebody will be disappointed. If I don’t show up, the energy of this community will be disrupted. What I am contributing to this community is actually propelling it.’” Building that purpose into the brand was the reason for SoulCycle’s existence. Now, as the Chief Brand Officer for WeWork, a shared-workspace company, Julie’s job is to elevate the WeWork brand from a shared office space, real-estate company to a connection center of business creativity.

At Northbound we have firsthand experience instilling purpose into all aspects of a company. Our own, Tina Patterson was responsible for helping brand come to life at Amazon. Amazon, the customer-centric company, thinks everything through its customers’ experience. For example, Tina helped to spearhead the frustration free packaging program. This program provides the same product just with more efficient, easy-to-open packaging. Amazon understood that customers were frustrated by the notoriously difficult-to-open packaging and this drove a negative customer experience. Working with the suppliers of the products, Amazon asked them to innovate easy-to-open packaging that wouldn’t frustrate their customers. Creating moments of customer delight and mitigating negative customer experiences, is what Amazon does: it puts the customer experience (it’s brand) at the center of every decision.

A Chief Brand Officer can ensure the brand trickles into every part of the company, person, and experience. Whether you’re starting out with a Chief Brand Officer, like SoulCycle, or reinventing yourself with one, like Uber, having an executive with a sole purpose of stewarding your brand is paramount. Without it, you can lose your way. Howard Schultz describes this in his book, “Onward” about Starbucks losing its brand. He returned as CEO because (for one of many reasons) when you walked into a Starbucks it smelled like cheese from melted sandwiches being heated, not ground coffee. Starbucks lost focus of its brand and instead focused on profit. To Starbuck’s credit, it righted the ship. At Northbound, we steward our client’s brands. We do this by helping brands ignite on the inside, and execute on the outside, all while being based in strategy. If you’re looking for a brand partner or have opinions on Chief Brand Officers, we would love to hear from you. Email Win at

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