7/14/2014 | Dorie Clark

In the bygone era of mass communication and big-budget TV ads, "marketing" was often synonymous with "advertising," explains Mitch Joel, author of Ctrl Alt Delete: Reboot Your Business. Reboot Your Life. Your Future Depends on It. All of that has changed in today's Internet-dominated world. Customers are "sharing information, tweeting, and everyone starts to talk about brands in public. . . . Brands are trying to figure out: Is this marketing? Advertising? Customer service? Sales?" Operations and marketing are merging, but there's no established playbook for how to go about it.

In the near future, technology will play a major role in customer service

"It's a kind of purgatory as [companies] move through this moment of uncertainty," says Joel, who is also president of Twist Image, a Canadian middle market company. "We see foibles and fumbles online, like [bad customer relations that result from] when baggage handlers mishandle luggage. . . . As we adjust to this new world, there are bumps in the road, and sometimes the road opens into a massive sinkhole."

This newfound ambiguity creates opportunity for middle market companies, which often don't have the lavish advertising budgets of larger organizations. These days, it's very difficult to buy your way to prominence; instead, it's about creatively leveraging the power of operations and marketing together to create amazing and memorable customer experiences. The biggest challenge, however, is how to manage this integration in a multidisciplinary future.

"How do we evolve into something that makes the experience better for all of us?" asks Joel. He believes that the new landscape of the two merging fields will require more employees whose responsibilities cross departmental lines. Systems (such as internal social networks) that help companies identify which employees have expertise in different areas can help to fully tap into available skills and capabilities.

Moving forward, "technology is going to provide better customer service than humans," says Joel. He envisions a scenario in which, when your flight is delayed, you aren't waiting for a response to your angry tweet. By today's standards, if a company responds to your complaint in a few minutes, you're likely to be impressed, but with the impending Internet of Things, you won't have to wait at all. Instead, thanks to location-based smartphones, when your flight is delayed or canceled, the system will automatically put you onto the next flight. "A lot of systems don't talk and aren't connected," says Joel, "but they will."

A dishwasher in the future may, for instance, automatically notify its manufacturer when its washers are about to break so that you can replace them before a service call is necessary. "The future of great customer service is brands and businesses connecting through these technologies," he says. "You preemptively provide customer service, rather than [having a customer think] 'I can't believe this broke and no one understands or is helping me.' " That inspires the kind of customer loyalty that marketers dream of.

Of course, fully integrating marketing with operations requires real leadership. "It has to come from the top," says Joel. "It needs to be a C-level vision: we're moving in this path because we believe this is where the future is." With the right focus, marketing and operations can merge to become a powerful driver of your company's success.

Which department will be forced to make more adjustments during this merging? Marketing or operations? Let us know what you think by commenting below.

Dorie Clark is a strategy consultant and professional speaker who teaches at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. Learn more about her book Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press) and subscribe to her monthly e-newsletter.