Why People Love the LUMAscape

or, “On our need for order & validation”

I recently attended a presentation at the Internet Summit from Oracle on the convergence of “martech” and “adtech.” It included a slide containing the marketing and advertising LUMAscapes. It ocurred to me in that moment that a LUMAscape has been shown or referenced in greater than half of the many presentations and sessions on adtech that I’ve seen. I even included it as back up source material in a presentation I myself gave on the topic recently. It has eclipsed the famed John Wanamaker quote in ubiquity.

I immediately began reflecting on why. Before I expound on why, let’s start with what.

What is this “LUMAscape” of which I speak?

The LUMAscape is a single-page document produced and updated LUMApartners that places a full(ish) scope of companies within a particular industry into categories and places the categories in sensible relation to one another. LUMApartners is an investment bank that focuses on companies “at the intersection of media, marketing, and technology.” To the best of my research, their first LUMAscape, the “Digital Advertising Technology Landscape,” was published in December 2010. Mike Nolet wrote a great piece on it back in the day. LUMApartners now maintains LUMAscapes for numerous industries at or near the industry on which they are focused.

Why is a bunch of logos in boxes on a PowerPoint slide so popular?

The LUMAscape satisfies two fundamental human needs:

  1. The need for order
  2. The need for validation

LUMAscape and the Need for Order

The LUMAscape is to adtech what the periodic table is to elements.

I think that comparison is more clever but I suppose a more useful analogy may be that of a map. I still remember the first time I encountered the Display LUMAscape. I was hopelessly lost in a foreign land filled with companies who all seemed to do more or less the same things, terms that were just adjectives used as nouns, and products that had been boiled down to overlapping acronyms. Then, like <something critical to someone who needed that critical thing>, I found what appeared to be a bird’s eye view of the labyrinth. I was finally able to understand the relationship between all the disparate parts in the digital advertising industry.

I have kept a printed copy of the most recent Display LUMAscape at arms reach on my desk ever since. I even took the trouble with a colleague to list out all of the companies on the 2015 edition and provide links to their respective sites because I got so tired of scanning and typing over and over.

The LUMAscape is not perfect, of course. There are way too many companies for it to be comprehensive, there are too many mergers & acquisitions for it to remain current long, and the distinctions between categories are increasingly blurry.

That said, I think mine experience is a common one among the uninitiated. The LUMAscape brings order, however imperfectly, to the chaos that is the digital advertising ecosystem. And for that I am very thankful.

LUMAscape and the Need for Validation

When I first started writing this post, I was thinking that need for order would be the most compelling explanation for the ubiquity of the LUMAscape. As I’ve continued to reflect, however, I think it is actually the innate human need for validation that better explains the popularity of the “periodic table of the display ad industry”.

The LUMAscape props up our fragile self-esteem. It does for us what the Wizard of Oz did for the man behind the curtain.

The complexity depicted in the LUMAscape makes us feel less insecure about our intelligence when we don’t understand how the whole system works and makes us feel more pride when explaining our work to others.

Regarding our insecurity, the LUMAscape soothes us by saying, “It’s not just you. This is confusing for everyone.” I recently chuckled at a headline that read, “Digital marketing industry now too complex for marketers.” I thought, “yeah, that sounds about right. LOL.”

Regarding our pride, the LUMAscape provides a “shock & awe” approach to explaining our line of work to others. We can smugly think, “Oh, you think you’re world is complicated? Get a load of this. How do you like them apples?”

It’s the difference between saying, “I’m trying to solve 1+1=x” and “I’m trying to solve:

Random equation not related to ad tech found on a quantitative and applied economics blog.

In Conclusion: Thank You

I do not present this theory as an indictment of the LUMAscape for exploiting weaknesses in the human psyche. Despite its flaws, I think that ultimately the world of ad tech and mar tech needs a LUMAscape. If LUMA partners didn’t do it, someone else would. There’s a good reason why I keep it handy.