Understanding the Basics of Digital Marketing: A Guide to the LUMAscape

In my first, formal digital marketing course, the instructor dived immediately into how advertisers must understand a DMP, and how SSPs relate to exchanges and to DSPs.

Completely unaware of my immediate shell shock, the professor went on to describe programmatic and data management platforms. Then the professor handed out the Display LUMAscape (see below) with an assignment to make sense of the graphic.

While I expected revolutionary insight on search engine optimization and segmentation (this was to come), what I got was a blitzkrieg of digital marketing acronyms and jargon. I was screwed (or so I thought).


Thankfully, after a couple hours of article reading (and some added help from my professor), I made sense of the digital marketing landscape. Very quickly I identified my own role within the landscape and performed well in class. I also documented a few great takeaways for my business.

Understanding the basics of digital marketing is primarily knowing the key players and how to work with their tools.

That said, the acronyms don’t have to be confusing. We’ll dismantle the LUMAscape mess above and make some sense out of it together.

Using Google to Help Us Organize Each Role in Digital Marketing

Digital marketing is simply marketing and advertising gone digital.

Before personal computers, smart phones, and tablets, businesses only advertised on the radio, TV, billboards, mail, and other non-digital platforms. But everything changed with explosion of the Internet. Almost immediately, hundreds of key players began collecting and sorting user data.

As a result, our world of digital marketing is more complex and powerful than it has ever been. While it doesn’t require an expert to use digital marketing effectively, understanding the digital marketing landscape is increasingly falling to the desks of experts.

How does digital marketing get so potent that businesses are basically able to stalk their target audience? As you’ve probably already surmised, we can’t answer this question easily. But we can focus our attention on Google to help simplify our understanding of the relationships between software services (SaaS stands for software as a service, typically delivered online).

Advertisers and Publishers

At that risk of stating the obvious, advertisers are the businesses wanting to reach their target audience.

And on the other side, publishers are any digital sites with readership and ad space. Because publishers want to focus on growing their readership, they typically use ad space as revenue streams to sustain their business.

In an open-source world, it becomes more challenging for publishers to justify charging subscription fees. And only the best publishers today can and should do so. Instead, it makes more sense to demonstrate to businesses (prospective advertisers) who their readers are, the dedication of their readers to the publication, and then to package that audience data into a product: ad space.

In the past, marketing was as simple as selling yearbook ads. A publisher walks into a business and says, “My readers are your customers. Would you like to buy an ad? We have three ad sizes, and here is our price sheet.”

Today, there are millions of publishers online: sites generating readership with specific interests and demographics. Bloggers of all walks of life can publish content for free. Newspapers, social media groups, online stores – all of these online presences offer ad space to reach nuanced people groups. As a result, the digital marketing landscape is a melting pot of servers, data collecting, data analyzing, privacy-protecting regulators, and more.

And that is why properly connecting advertisers to publishers requires the help of a data management platform.

Data Management Platform

Google is an example of a data management platform (DMP). In the LUMAscape above, you will notice hundreds of names providing parts of the DMP.

But Google is perhaps the most user-friendly, get-most-of-it-in-one place DMP available to digital marketers.

More than simply a DMP, Google is the number 1 search engine and website database. That means that they know what they’re doing when it comes to giving users what they want and need.

If you are an online publisher, you sell your ad space via Google’s AdSense. On the other side, advertisers buy ad space on Google Ad Manager. Some websites are both advertisers and publishers depending upon their readership and product offering.

And in the middle, Ad Exchange (also called ADX) brings advertisers and publishers together in a sort of ad management stock exchange. But instead of advertisers and publishers maniacally engaging in trade shouting matches, artificial intelligence helps advertisers decide their budget while simultaneously helping publishers fill ad space.

By the way, if you are interested in learning more about the artificial intelligence behind digital marketing, you can dive deeper into the world of programmatic.

Google Analytics allows website owners to see how these moving parts work together.

DSPs and SSPs

In order to integrate the needs of both advertisers and publishers, Ad Exchange interacts with a demand-side platform (DSP) and a supply-side platform (SSP). For advertisers, Google Ad Manager is the DSP that informs advertisers on targeting and budget. Advertisers use the DSP to set their budget (bid) and advertising plan (targeted keyword searches).

On the other end, Google Display Network is the supply-side platform (SSP). Publishers use the Google Display Network through Google AdSense. In order to help publishers refine where and how they want to offer ad space, Google AdSense tells the Google Display Network what is available for advertisers.

Instantly, Ad Exchange collects the budgets and data from both the DSP (Google Ad Manager) and the SSP (Google Display Network). The exchange matches advertisers and publishers and finalizes the ad buying/selling process.

And just to clarify, an advertiser uses Google Ad Manager without ever having to interact with ADX or publishers. Similarly, a publisher uses AdSense without ever having to interact with ADX or advertisers. The digital advertising experience is seamless.

Marketing Agencies

Even after breakdowns and definitions, digital marketing still feels complicated to most businesses, both advertisers and publishers. Therefore, agencies exist to service the businesses and manage their advertising effectively.

As you might imagine, agencies manage individuals certified in both Google Analytics, Adwords, and AdSense. Agencies understand enough about the digital marketing landscape to deliver the right ad content to the right audience based on publisher readership.

Other marketing agencies may prefer to work with individual DSPs, SSPs, and exchanges outside the Google network. And you can see many other brands in the LUMAscape above. What this means is that DSPs, SSPs, and exchanges can work autonomously and/or in cooperation with Google.

What Really Matters

Even though it pays to understand the technical details of digital marketing, what matters more is a clear understanding of one’s ideal customer.

And all the practical knowledge about digital marketing cannot help the business that fails to understand its mission, values, and the problems of their customers.

The Growth of Artificial Intelligence

Properly utilizing the digital marketing landscape can help advertisers refine their message to individuals. In marketing, this is known as personalization. Generally speaking, personalization is a good thing.

In today’s digital world, software and all its artificial intelligence components greatly empower personalization. The research and tedious tasks behind personalization that used to take hours, days, and weeks are now done in an instant. Computer intelligence can batch millions of tedious tasks, as well as handle more and more complex problems.

But if advertisers personalize too much without building trust with their ideal customers, customers just feel that they are being stalked.

The Need for Emotional Intelligence

No one needs to feel threatened by the fast-growing world of artificial intelligence. Instead of removing the need for human-filled roles in society, technology is actually increasing the need for emotional intelligence in every aspect of human society.

Simply put, emotional intelligence is understanding what it means to be human.

While understanding humanity can come in part by understanding others, it must always begin with self-discovery. Most human beings walk through life ignoring much of what goes on inside. We are afraid of being exposed, being vulnerable.

But we can learn to notice even the slightest changes in our mood or how our biases affect our behavior. We can ask ourselves the hard questions without reacting in fear. This process of mindfulness, picking up on the subtle movements inside, expedites our growth in emotional intelligence.

Once we understand ourselves, we can understand others. As a result, we find a greater capacity for compassion and innovation. Our customers have problems, and we can fix them at the root. Emotional intelligence helps us do this more effectively.

In Conclusion

That being said, the world of personalization is the “cart after the horse,” if you will. And building trust and earning respect with your ideal customer is the “horse before the cart.” Emotional intelligence helps us build trust and merit the personalization that digital marketing of the 21st Century can bring.

As we acknowledged in the beginning, the LUMAscape and world of digital marketing is complicated. But it can be easily understood by relating advertisers to publishers and vice versa. I hope that the infographic helps you sort out the tiny details into a more simplified understanding.

Of course, you don’t need to sort out every detail, but sometimes we need just enough clarity to function. The technical details notwithstanding, effective marketing always comes down to our knowledge of customers and how we are poised to help them.