If you oversell yourself you will walk alone, says Milorad Ajder, managing director of Ipsos MORI Reputation Centre

So it’s all over and, as usual, the World Cup has produced a few twists and turns. We all congratulate Spain on its victory and commiserate with those other teams that failed to match up to the expectations that were placed upon them.

In reputation research we often say that your reputation is a direct result of your ability to live up to the promises you make. In many cases, the stronger and clearer the promise you make, the more emphatic the response when you over, or indeed under, deliver. That’s why companies should think twice before embarking on corporate campaigns extolling their values and vision if the reality experienced by stakeholders doesn’t match the message.

So what was the promise of England in the World Cup? What was the narrative we all had in our minds when the players first came out of the tunnel against the USA? Well I would wager that ideas like ‘renewal‘, ‘new-found confidence’ and a ‘sense of purpose’ would spring into most people’s minds. This promise had been crafted and delivered throughout the qualifying matches – not to be dispelled by a couple of below-par performances against Mexico and Japan. It had become entrenched in our thinking and, even more importantly, gained an emotional resonance – we didn’t just think it, we passionately believed it.

Unlike previous World Cups where backing England to win was a case of being ever the optimist, this time we had a promise that was crystal clear and credible. England manager Fabio Capello and the players were living the new England brand and our expectations grew alongside them.

This is the stuff that companies and brands can, in the main, only dream of. There are a few exceptions – stand next to an Apple aficionado for too long and you will recognise some of the passion and belief apparent in a pre-tournament England supporter. Or walk into a John Lewis store and you can almost taste the tribalism in the air.

However, there is one fundamental difference between the football fan and the loyal customer and it is of course this: break your promise to the fan and you will be hated for a while, but eventually forgiveness will come. Let your customers down over time, and regardless of your brand status, they will walk away and you will ultimately walk alone.

Milorad Ajder is MD at Ipsos MORI, a leading market research company in the UK.

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