St Patrick’s Day is a bit of an enigma. It has gone from commemorating the founder of Catholicism in Ireland to the brand of all things Irish across the world. This evolution is a metaphor of how businesses need to constantly re-examine what they are doing and (hopefully) reaffirm their relevance.
But first a little background on St Patrick and his commemoration day. He was nor born Irish, yet St Patrick is now seen as quintessentially part of Irish culture. He was actually the son of Calpurnius, a Roman-British army officer. Amazingly enough he was kidnapped by pirates as a boy and sold into slavery in Ireland. Even more amazingly he escaped and went to Britain and then to France.
In France he joined a monastery and studied under St. Germain, the bishop of Auxerre.. After becoming a Bishop he returned to Ireland and converted the Gaelic Irish, who were then mostly Pagans, to Christianity. For 20 years St Patrick did many things. He established monasteries, set up schools and churches, developed a native clergy, fostered the growth of monasticism, established dioceses, and held church councils. He also banished all snakes from Ireland (though this seems a bit far fetched!)
So St Patrick’s Day started as a religious festival commemorating the saint’s death. The question that is most interesting is how this religious feast day evolved into more of a secular holiday. Further how it has become an internally celebrated day of all things Irish. Or in many respects the brand of all things Irish.
Essentially St Patrick’s Day was hijacked by the Americans (or actually Irish soldiers in the British Army in the American colonies). They started the tradition of parades in the mid 18th century. After independence, and after waves of Irish immigration, St Patrick’s Day events began to symbolize not only the Irish heritage of some US citizens but also the fact that they were more successful in America than they had been in Ireland. And for me this is where the St Patrick’s Day Brand evolved from a religious saint’s day to a symbol of Irish vibrancy. It might not have been a conscious or deliberate change, but it was without doubt the change that ensures the continued relevancy of St Patrick’s Day.
Had the change not occurred then St Patrick’s Day might have been as little remembered as St George’s Day across the Irish Sea.
This is the lesson for Brand’s and Businesses alike. Where you start is not necessarily where you need to be to survive. Blackberry is transforming to a software company; Dupont no longer makes dynamite: Marvel found more success in bringing its characters alive on film rather than paper. The list goes on.
The important aspect for your business is to continually reassess whether you are not only meeting current needs; but that you also have the potential to meet future needs. This in itself requires careful choice and management of Key Performance Indicators. You need KPIs that not only measure your current performance and also those which give indications of your preparedness for the future.
It is all too easy to focus on the short term measures of success, and miss the longer term tectonic shifts in the market. Being over- focused on the here-and-now without assessing the future can be a formula for long term failure.
And that is the business lesson from St Patrick’s Day. Now maybe it is time for a Guinness!