Did this recession make value branding the only option?

Marketing in a recession often requires marketers to change tactics and do more with less, but does it require a change in brand strategy? There are conflicting opinions around investment in branding before, during or after a recession or for that matter around any significant market shift. Optimists suggest there is an opportunity to increase share of voice, capture new markets, and defend against private labels for those marketers willing and able to increase brand investment. But is this back and forth confusing for consumers and damaging for the brand in the long term?

A recent article by Patrick Seitz, of the Investors Business Daily “Best Buy’s Own Brands Gaining Steam” highlights how Best Buy’s private-label product sales rose more than 40% in its fiscal year ended Feb. 28. What does this mean for Sony and Panasonic? Has the recession changed consumer sentiment enough to require a new brand strategy?

Home Depot apparently thinks so, as they recently made a significant shift from “You Can Do It. We Can Help” to “More Saving. More Doing.” While I agree with changing tactics to reflect market conditions, for example shifting budgets from client acquisition to client retention, I am cautious to assume consumer sentiment has been so affected by this recession that value is now and will be the only viable positioning.