What do you think St. Patrick’s Day is? I bet you’re wrong.
See, many people will say it’s a commercial holiday, just another opportunity for companies to cash in on a popular trend. Others consider St. Paddy’s Day as a great excuse to drink their body weight in hard liquor.
Now, as accurate as both of those assumptions are, the underlying truth still eludes many people. The reality is that March 17th is not a day when other companies hijack the fame of this historical figure.
No, my friends, it is the other way around. St. Patrick’s Day is an annual marketing masterclass by the ultimate brand leader: St. Patrick himself.
In fact, St. Patrick is the brand, and it is he who is leveraging other companies and media with his incredible marketing genius every year.
So he can prove that even after centuries in hiding, St. Patrick is the king of brand marketing. Let’s see what men and women in modern marketing can learn from the best brand leader that ever lived.
If you’re not familiar with St. Patrick’s origins, you may hazard a guess at some mythical legend involving leprechauns and the early-day invention of Guinness.
While the Irish may be good-spirited enough to brush off such a stereotypical stab in the dark, the truth of the tale is much darker than the black stuff, unfortunately for St. Patrick.
Here are seven drops of absolute marketing gold from the Patron Saint of Ireland.
Patrick understood people’s love of storytelling, and so he learned how to spin a yarn at an early age. He knew that if he was going to hit his future sales targets, he needed a brand story that was a scarcely believable, emotional rollercoaster involving kidnapping, pirates, and duels with evil snakes.
It all began when Patrick was just 16 years old, as his life got flipped - turned upside down when he was abducted from his hometown by marauders...or pirates…or possibly Vikings.
Whatever his captors identified as, we can be sure that this was the beginning of a turbulent and trying life for the young man. However, along the way, Patrick developed the character he needed to become a beacon of light for many others.
Britain and Ireland were regularly besieged by raiding parties back in the 5th century. These foreign warriors were known as the ‘Picts’ (among other names), and their modus operandi was to land on the coast, then run inland, smashing, grabbing, and killing whatever they pleased. Not the kind of folk you would invite to your mother’s home, (but then again, the lack of an invite would hardly stop them).
Patrick was kidnapped in one of these raids and then brought to Ireland as a slave. There, he was tasked with the role of minding the sheep. Upon the hills of Antrim, he fended off foxes, wild dogs, and bears from the flock.
It wasn’t the life he had dreamt of, but Patrick wasn’t one for complaining. With wild animals on one side and murderous sea scoundrels on the other, he knew that any slacking off could have him on the wrong end of an ax or a bear claw.
And so, he adopted a professional approach to life, committing to learning the language and culture of Ireland as he set out to become the most famous (albeit reluctant) shepherd in history.
The best brand leaders will be creative people who can deal with rapid changes, and are willing to experiment with new strategies.
Six years after he was kidnapped, Patrick fled his captors after being inspired by a vision where an angel appeared and told him about the following week’s ferry schedule in Dublin. With no Google or Siri to back this claim up, Patrick wandered south with nothing more than blind faith, (and perhaps another bottle of whatever he was drinking the same night the angel appeared).
It was not an easy journey, and he almost died of starvation on the voyage back to Britain. He was then captured a second time, ending up in captivity in France. Indeed, our Paddy was great at a lot of things, but a stealthy ninja he was not.
Eventually, he escaped again and made it back home to Ireland. In spite of multiple kidnappings, cold, hunger, and delusional visions, Patrick adapted and overcame them all to reach his goal.
It should be no surprise to learn that a good brand leader must also possess some leadership qualities. Even the most inebriated of souls should be able to guess that. When Patrick returned to his friends and family, he soon acknowledged he had a calling from the Church, and it was then that we would discover just how good a leader he was.
Answering his vocation, he set about converting people to Christianity, with some sources asserting that he baptized over 100,000 people. This claim has yet to be confirmed by the Guinness Book of Records.
Numbers aside, his success came down to his great ability to build rapport with everyone. Through his tenacity and imagination, Patrick cultivated a strong sense of community and unity amongst others.
This byproduct of his mission endures to the celebrations of today, perpetuating the eye-roll-inducing belief that ‘everyone's Irish on St. Patrick’s Day.’
The ideal brand leader will have a true passion for the cause. By exuding positive energy and devotion to the vision, brand leaders can attract other like-minded people, magnifying the impact of your brand marketing.
During Patrick’s mission to convert the 5th-century Irish population, not everyone supported his desire to transform the ideals of others. Many people thought he was a big eejit who spent too much time alone talking to sheep.
An excerpt from The Confession of St. Patrick details these challenges:
“Many were trying to prevent this mission. They were talking among themselves behind my back, and saying, ‘Why is this fellow throwing himself into danger among enemies who know not God?’ Not from malice, but having no liking for it”
Only someone who is truly passionate will continue in the face of such adversity. Either that or he was just completely nuts.
Today, many brands use influencers to build social proof and establish authenticity with larger audiences. If people don’t believe you truly believe in your own product, it’s unlikely they will ever buy it.
Throughout his mission, Patrick was fiercely opposed by many people, including those he helped rescue. The insults came from all sides, and by the end, his character was called into question under accusations that he was motivated solely by greed.
Many people spoke of Patrick’s secret stash of gold that he had accrued through his savvy business ventures in church construction and reptile removal services. Strangers masquerading as loyal followers continued to follow him through the streets with empty money bags, just waiting for the opportune moment.
Despite his constant denials that he knew where the end of the rainbow was, this problem pestered Patrick for years, particularly in Ireland’s rainy season of January to December.
It was only when two letters written by St. Patrick were discovered that these disparaging rumors of his greedy intentions were dispelled. Then, at long last, people finally saw Patrick for the bonafide saint that he was.
Nowadays, companies look for brand ambassadors with a significant online following. However, their level of influence is worth more than the number of followers.
St. Patrick’s influence was powerful back in the 5th century. So much so that he did it all himself, without any need to hire influencers to take selfies in a bed of shamrocks.
Despite all the hurdles, he was successful in converting many thousands of people from paganism with little more than a heavy-duty word-of-mouth marketing campaign.
Today, his iconic imagery lives on. The shamrock, the staff, and the emerald green colors instantly conjure up thoughts of St. Patrick. His brand recognition has been ingrained in the minds of the people for almost 1500 years. He hasn’t done anything new in years and yet his audience engagement levels couldn’t be higher.
Patrick had pure motives that were built upon passion. Regardless of the challenges ahead or the naysayers that tried to bring him down, he adapted to whatever came his way, staying true to his principles.
This authentic attitude and professional approach made him a fantastic leader, and a genuine man of the people who could inspire others to believe. For every person who thinks he was a crazy, gold-smuggling sheep farmer, there are plenty of others who see St. Patrick for the absolute legend he was.
St. Patrick’s Day is a symbolic day in many ways, inspiring the world to come together as one, celebrating as a community, just as St. Patrick envisaged it. With the shamrock as his logo, his brand is unmistakable.
He was an ordinary man whose mission in life was to make connections with real people. The role of a brand leader has barely changed since, and yet, nobody has done it better.
With a man like Paddy fronting your brand, who needs the luck o’ the Irish?