The Jab as a Crisis Management (CM) Tool

Marketing has sometimes been compared to pugilism, a sport more commonly known as "boxing" in the United States. Like boxing, marketing is capable of periods of manic-intensity, or crisis.

The time period for the maturation of a marketing trend was once weeks or months, but now this period may be only a few hours. For marketing professionals, Crisis Management (CM), in the age of Facebook and Twitter, is a challenge with terrifying new dimensions.

A reactive CM strategy is like a counter-puncher in boxing. The fighter waits for an attack, and responds. In a rapidly evolving environment, this strategy may be doomed to failure.

Hewlett-Packard's response to the Mark Hurd scandal was performed with the classic counter-puncher strategy. The failure of this approach was measured by a decline of HP market value of more than twenty percent. In the space of a few months, for what was by all accounts, a mere juvenile flirtation story, HP was decimated. The counter-puncher protocol was once again discredited.

A few pioneering businesses now supplement the counter-puncher approach to CM with a more assertive strategy. In boxing, they call it the "jab". With a jab strategy, the boxer seeks to keep the opponent off balance with frequent low-force punches.

In the business world, a jab scheme uses a pro-active campaign to defend against the future crisis. Instead of waiting for a problem, the jab approach uses a variety of media to positively feed a message to the audience.

There are layers to this blueprint. Successful public relations (PR) professionals have long fed cream-puff stories to the news media, and this maneuver is still relevant. However, the audience has become more jaded and resistant to this tactic.

For a retail business, a highly effective layer can be added at the public interface, in the store showroom. Regardless of whether the message is presented visually or aurally, jab-marketing is most effective if the message is presented at least twice using the same media. The degree of conversion is proportionate to the number of repetitions. 2

An example of one of the most complex CM challenges is PetSmart (PETM), a company specializing in products for dogs, cats, and other small domestic animals. Servicing this market, PetSmart must deal with the occasional accident, most often in the grooming or boarding operations.

These events can result in a tremendous PR challenge. On occasion, a media circus has put the event on the local TV news, with children crying on camera, and pet owners emotionally blaming PetSmart for their tragedy. After all, 81% of Americans identify their pets as "full members of the family", and family members are defended.

After years of mixed results using only reactive response techniques, PetSmart chose to proactively deal with this challenge. PetSmart hired the respected Public Relations (PR) firm, Markowitz Communications, to build a positive shield of marketing buzz. The Markowitz PR effort was an "opportunity to reinforce PetSmart and its experts as sources for safety tips, trends and products, as well as position PetSmart stores as places for pet and pet parent (sic) events." Markowitz offers "a proactive, integrated approach to marketing and public relations." 1

When a customer visits a PetSmart, a fifteen second audio message is repeated every two minutes, and this voice follows the customer as they pass through the store. Each cycle is like a boxer's jab, repeated low-force punches.

With each repetition of the message, PetSmart reinforces the thought that they are a trusted friend. In the typical twelve minute "customer experience", the soundtrack (jab) will have been repeated six times. Subconscious to the customer, their perception of PetSmart has been immunized against future negative events. 2

An important Jab-Marketing enhancement can be the use of a recognizable voice, especially a celebrity whose voice is linked to a prior positive memory. Even if the listener cannot specifically identify the personality, a connection is much more likely if the subject hears a familiar voice.

Jab-marketing has rewarded PetSmart with a more than nine percent annual growth rate in its pet services, fueled largely by the grooming and boarding services.

1 Case Studies, Marcowitz Communications

2 Do You Need To Change Your Store Atmospherics?, Andrew G. Parsons, Helene Wilkinson, Auckland University of Technology