If you've worked as a designer for a any length of time, you probably have run into this problem. The client wants a brochure, logo, or whatever. And they think that the goal is getting their name "out there." In doing so, they believe people will be more aware of them, thus generating goodwill and customers. To them this is marketing.
We've all known clients who do this, or we've done this ourselves. It can come from in-house or from another business. It doesn't matter if the client is a for-profit enterprise or is a non-profit organization. The client may want more customers, or they may want more members. The client may be aware that they are not well-known, or perceived negatively. It doesn't matter. They want "visibility."
Of course the problem with this is that getting the client or ourselves "out there" is never the goal or the means to a goal. It may contribute to the means, but it is not a complete strategy.
Let's say I want to get more visibility for myself. I can achieve this by walking naked into a crowded mass-transit station, holding a sign with my name on it. There, I achieved my goal. I got visibility. Now what?
Of course this is silly. But why do we know this is silly? Because deep down we know that getting our name "out there" is really not what we are looking for.
However, it is true that marketing tactics like logos, brochures, and sales letters all serve a function. Press releases, media exposure, and publications also serve a function. And together, they can help promote us. But the question is why are we promoting ourselves? What do we hope to achieve?
Think about it. Is it all about us and what we want, or is it about those who would benefit from us? Perhaps this is really what marketing is all about. We perceive a need. We are suited to meet that need. And we want to reach those who will value us as the solution. We call this attracting our market, or marketing. It just makes sense that when we are clear why we exist, our marketing goals become clear.
We as designers may not be able to help our clients appreciate all this, but we must ask the questions that would help our clients have the correct expectations. Otherwise, we are designing in a vacuum and not benefiting our clients.