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How companies deal with negative experiences is just as important as creating positive experiences.

In light of the recent pet-food poisoning cases, several companies have taken the lead in reassuring pet owners that they are being proactive in responding to concerns. Brands like Eukanuba, Iams and retailers such as PETCO and PetSmart have endeavored to be proactive in addressing the crisis by pulling product, providing notice information, and updating websites with information about the recall.

Reacting immediately and proactively is not an option: It's the right thing to do from both a humane perspective and from a brand-sustainability perspective.

While Canadian company Menu Foods may have the hardest time surviving the crisis, others may actually enhance customer loyalty based on how they reacted. By all reports, national retailers immediately pulled any questionable Menu Foods products from their shelves and reported to the public that they had done so. P&G took out full-page newspaper ads in 59 markets in order to bolster customers' confidence in its Iams and Eukanuba brands.

With the advantage of a customer database, both PetSmart and PETCO went one step further by sending out emails to all of their customers recapping the situation and reassuring customers. PETCO's email was notable in that it wasn't simply a recap but also a personal and heartfelt letter from CEO Jim Myers, reassuring pet owners about pulling the products, contacting anyone who may have purchased the products, and recommending safe products.

Comparing the first few paragraphs in each of the retailers' emails provides tremendous insight into not only how each reacts in a crisis but also how they differentiate themselves as a brand.

PetSmart email to customers

[Subject Line:] Important Pet Food Recall Information

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David Lemley is president of Lemley Design, a retail brand consultancy specializing in creating branded customer experiences. He can be reached at 206-285-6900 or via www.lemleydesign.com.