I thought I was going to be a journalist.
I wrote for my high school and college newspapers and interned for several newspapers, covering everything from school board meetings in Sunrise Florida to murders in Miami to Capitol Hill and the Delaware poultry industry.
But life happened. And I became an entrepreneur and marketer. Not a professional marketer. Rather a card-carrying Seth Godin accidental marketer. But a marketer nonetheless.
Marketing has long been a place that lost souls like me from every industry could find a home. A warm home. A fun home that valued new and big ideas -- never-been-done-before ideas -- over measurable, proven results.
Marketing is the only industry without a definition. A game without rules where anyone could jump in and define their channels and personal paths of choice.
But that game has ended thanks to the tremendous mobility strides of the last five years. Everything is connected to the internet. Not an internet of things, as we have been lead to believe. But an internet of people, an internet of customers who connect with everything.
People we labeled "consumers," "viewers," "users" now expect us to know not only who they are but what they want, the devices they carry, the apps they use and the products they buy. Instant isn't soon enough. Free isn't free enough. Is it fair? Who cares? It's expected. And meeting customer expectations is all that matters.
The good news is that these customer expectations have shattered our collective industry identity crisis!
The future of marketing is, quite simply, the process of mapping and operationalizing journeys for customers. Not theoretical journeys but specific, personalized journeys for each and every customer.
Marketing IS the journey. The journey IS marketing. With so much at stake here, it's clear that there is a growing need for a steward, a guardian for the customers' journeys looking after them to ensure an awesome -- hopefully never-ending -- journey for each customer.
Fragmented campaigns must now be seamless experiences. One-to-many efforts must now map to destinations with personalized, one-to-one experiences. Personalization is no longer a feature. It's an expectation. It's table stakes. Our trafficking in anonymized consumer data must give way to communicating with people based on their true identity. Our reliance on cookies crumbles in a world with people and connected products at the center.
The smartest marketers at the most promising innovative companies have stopped focusing on the destination (a purchase, an upgrade, a download) and invested heavily in the journey. They have realized what all marketers and executives will realize -- it's the journey that's the reward, not any one destination along the way.
Companies that focus on just sales can have a great quarter. But they can't have a great company. That takes mapping and operationalizing all the journeys a customer will take with your company.
It's the marketers -- the journey masters -- who are taking the lead here. More than 50 percent of the largest marketers in the world told us this Spring that they have greater ownership of all teams that touch customers and have been given greater revenue growth responsibility.
Marketers are no longer responsible for the distribution of messaging. They are responsible for the entire journey, from the initial touch to the win-back process and everything in between.
As with all pivots, this is easier said than done. Companies are organized based on function. They need to be organized around the customer. And that's why it's marketers' jobs not only to map journeys but also to operationalize them.
That's hard. And it will take time. But is that a reason not to start today? Is there anything more important than increasing the chances that each of your current and future customers have a wonderful experience with you, regardless of which channel and when they choose to interact with you?
In the end, marketers need to help companies answer four fundamental questions. Answering each of these questions is the essence, the truth, the most pure and specific definition of marketing. Most importantly, answering these questions is the future of the modern, customer-centric business.
First, and most importantly, do you know your customers?
Customers expect you to understand who they are, and connect with them on a highly personal level. This means that you need to unify your customer data. Without a unified view of each customer, it is extremely difficult, I'd argue impossible, to reinvent how you do business.
Second, do you know where they are in their journey?
It's not enough to just know your customers. You need to know where a customer is in their journey with your business.
Are they a customer? Are they a former customer? Have they downloaded your app? A highly relevant and timely personalized customer journey is what every marketer wants to accomplish. This is impossible without mapping out all various customer journeys and knowing where you customers are in that journey.
Third, do you have a strategy to move customers along in their journey?
Once you have the first two questions answered, focus on a plan to map out highly personalized customer journeys. You need to have the org structure, content and strategy to execute optimized and personalized content across every channel and every device.
And, last, but not least important, are you able to measure the business impact?
How you measure business impact should be directly tied to customer journeys. You should be able to see at every given moment where any one customer is in their journey and, in aggregate, how many customers are in various places in the journey. Look at what's working (and what's not working) to move customers forward.
The CMO is the new Customer Journey Officer. Marketers who embrace this new concept will thrive and be rewarded. All others will be left behind.
This post is part of series produced by The Huffington Post for Advertising Week 2014, in conjunction with the Advertising Week conference (New York, Sept. 29-Oct. 3, 2014). To see all the posts in this series, read here. To learn more about Advertising Week 2014, read here.