To develop a strong brand, you have to get customers to know your value proposition. They should know what makes you different from your competitors. But it’s not enough for them to just know what you say makes you different; they should know from seeing you fulfill your promises.

The fastest way for a business to lose customers is to fail to live up to its promises. If your value proposition is built on winning with the best price, then you better have the best price, or close to it. If your value proposition is about speed and convenience, then you shouldn’t have hordes of customers complaining about how slow things are and how difficult it is to deal with your business.

No—if you promise something, if you draw customers in by telling them that you are going to do something, and especially that you’re going to do it better than your competitors, then you absolutely must follow through. Customers don’t care about what you say so much as what you do. You can promise the moon and get people to come in to your business once, but if you want them to come back again and build a sustainable foundation for your business, then you have to live up to those expectations.

Of course, it’s easy to understand this with some of our promises to customers—the ones that we say outright and communicate in our marketing and advertising. But don’t forget about implicit promises. These are expectations that your customers develop based on all the times they do business with you. When your business meets a standard for a long time, then customers expect you will continue to meet that same standard, regardless of whether you explicitly promise it or not.

Never promise something you can’t deliver. In fact, it’s far better to under-promise and then over-deliver. If you know that you can get something done by Thursday, promise to have it done by Friday—and then wow them by beating your promise.

The potential harm from failing to uphold a promise is far greater than the gain from making extravagant promises in the first place. All you’ll end up with are lost customers, horrible reviews, and a damaged brand. A brand relationship is built on trust, and you can only earn trust by always following through.

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Matt Tarkenton
Prior to joining the Tarkenton Companies in 2004, Matt worked in investment banking and wealth management for companies including Wilmington Trust, JPMorgan, The Robinson-Humphrey Company and Alex Brown & Sons. In 2009, Matt was part of a group that started Renova Partners, a boutique investment bank based in Atlanta. Matt graduated from Princeton University, where he was a member of the 1989 Ivy League Championship Football Team, and received an MBA from Harvard Business School. Matt is very involved in the community, currently serving on the Board of Directors of Youth Villages, on the Education Committee of the National Association of Fixed Annuities (NAFA) and in leadership positions in various organizations.

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