What is digital asset management (DAM)?

Digital asset management software, often called DAMs, are marketing platforms that store, organize and make useful an organization’s entire library of digital assets. A DAM is the “single source of truth” where marketers can find every relevant version of the media assets (aka marketing asset management) that have been created for the brand — images, PDFs, photographs, audio, video and even virtual reality or other cutting-edge formats. The further benefit of a DAM is that these assets are appended with metadata that can provide information on anything the marketer might want to know before using the asset, such as whether the company owns the perpetual rights to use a photograph (and in what markets), whether the legal team has approved a video, and that an infographic or whitepaper has been checked to ensure it complies with the brand’s design standards.

Today, enterprises are using DAMs in a variety of ways. Marketing agencies might leverage DAM technology to help their customers maintain consistency across in-house content and creative developed by partners. B2B businesses might use DAMs differently, drawing on the benefits of a centralized hub for sales collateral and event marketing materials. DAMs are also being integrated with other technologies, especially content management systems (CMSs) and digital experience platforms (DXPs), to unify this marketing asset management with the ability to distribute digital content directly to the channels where they’re consumed.

Before the blossoming of software-as-a-service (SaaS), DAMs were installed software that resided on a company’s servers. But their utility has grown exponentially — especially for global and distributed organizations — now that most DAMs are cloud-based offerings.



This guide is for marketers who are looking to enhance their campaigns with digital assessment management technologies. Here’s what’s inside:

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

Capabilities of digital asset management platforms

What should a DAM platform do and what are the ways that vendors differ from one another? The answer is fairly wide-reaching. Digital asset management platforms offer a wide range of capabilities ranging from legacy features like file management to emerging capabilities due to the advent of artificial intelligence and machine learning. Let’s look at those capabilities in more detail.

Workflow management

DAM systems differ in the extent of their workflow management capabilities. Some DAMs allow collaboration through @ tagging, while others have more full-fledged project management offerings. This functionality can help marketing teams, along with outside creative resources, communicate about changes while an asset is in the development phase or being updated.

Later in the process, they can allow for approvals to be obtained from brand managers, execs and the legal team, while some systems also facilitate asset distribution. These capabilities may be built into the core platform or be offered as an add-on or integration. Most DAMs are offered as SaaS and can be accessed from modern browsers on a variety of platforms, but some have developed native apps for mobile or other platforms.

File formats and handling

One area of differentiation involves the varying abilities of DAMs to manage a variety of file formats. Though most players say they support the most popular video, image and audio formats, if your workflow requires the use of a specialized format you will want to ensure the vendors you’re considering can fully support that format.

Asset conversion, editing and customization

Once an asset has been uploaded in a particular format, some DAM platforms allow downloading or distribution in other formats — with conversions happening on the fly. Some offer lightweight editing capabilities within the platform, though connections with common image editing sofware (Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, etc.) are typically more useful.

Distribution and user permissions management

The content production supply chain can be long and complicated, involving many departments, agencies, freelancers and more. The ability to provide flexible permissions so that the right people have access to the right assets –– and only the right assets –– can be very valuable.

Within agencies, in particular, these capabilities can allow for offering clients/customers convenient self-service capabilities. The same dynamic can play out in large enterprises seeking to maintain a consistent brand message across geographies and verticals, where marketers and salespeople can help themselves to carefully-crafted materials like line sheets, production logs, catalogs, retail snapshots, etc.

Search and metadata

A DAM provider’s capabilities with regard to metadata and search are key to one of the most important benefits of a digital asset management system –– the ability to find assets after they’ve been created and filed away. Most providers now use artificial intelligence, either proprietary or through a partnership, for image and video recognition and tagging. A few years ago, the AI-tagging capabilities in many DAMs were nothing more than a gimmick, often creating more work than efficiencies. Now, however, these systems have grown in sophistication, in part because machine learning, by its very nature, improves as it’s fed more data. In addition, vendors are exploring ways to use these technologies to surface insights and automate content transformations based on usage patterns.


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Customer data platforms: A snapshot

What they are. Customer data platforms, or CDPs, have become more prevalent than ever. These help marketers identify key data points from customers across a variety of platforms, which can help craft cohesive experiences. They are especially hot right now as marketers face increasing pressure to provide a unified experience to customers across many channels. 

Understanding the need. Cisco’s Annual Internet Report found that internet-connected devices are growing at a 10% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2018 to 2023. COVID-19 has only sped up this marketing transformation. Technologies are evolving at a faster rate to connect with customers in an ever-changing world.

Each of these interactions has something important in common: they’re data-rich. Customers are telling brands a little bit about themselves at every touchpoint, which is invaluable data. What’s more, consumers expect companies to use this information to meet their needs.

Why we care. Meeting customer expectations, breaking up these segments, and bringing them together can be demanding for marketers. That’s where CDPs come in. By extracting data from all customer touchpoints — web analytics, CRMs, call analytics, email marketing platforms, and more — brands can overcome the challenges posed by multiple data platforms and use the information to improve customer experiences. 

Read next: What is a CDP and how does it give marketers the coveted ‘single view’ of their customers? 

Digital rights and corporate governance management

Most marketers license content — especially photos and videos — either from individual creators or from stock libraries. DAMs allow users to keep track of the specific license terms governing each piece of content, ensuring they’re not used in the wrong market, in an unapproved context or after the expiration of the license term.

Corporate governance of brand guidelines, as well as timelines associated with particular marketing campaigns, can also typically be managed with DAM functionality.

Reports and analytics

Analytics capabilities are what allow marketing leaders to trace the return on the investment made in the development of digital media. These functions also let marketers determine which assets are being used most often, and in what ways, so they can use those insights when planning for future content creation.

Data storage and security

The majority of DAM providers have partnered with Amazon Web Services or Google to host their software and their clients’ assets, and so depend on their partners’ geographical distribution, regular backups and adherence to security protocols. However, some players offer clients a variety of options for data hosting, something that’s likely to be appreciated by enterprises that operate in markets with strict data governance regulations.

Integrations

Since a DAM system is meant to be the central “single source of truth” repository for all of a brand’s assets, a key factor for a successful deployment will be whether or not it integrates well with the other tools in your martech stack. Vendors differ greatly in terms of the number and types of integrations they offer. Some are also beginning to specialize in serving a specific sector with unique integration needs, such as online retailers using product information management (PIM) systems.


Explore DAM solutions from vendors like Acquia, Widen, Cloudinary, MediaValet and more in the full MarTech Intelligence Report on digital asset management platforms.

Click here to download!


What are the benefits of using a digital asset management (DAM) system?

Digital asset management systems can play a vital role in your marketing organization, unifying online and offline marketing channels and leading to more efficient marketing resource allocation.

The specific benefits of using a digital asset management platform include – but are not limited to – the following:

  • Improved communication between in-house and freelance /contract workers. Some DAM vendors offer specially designed interfaces for external creatives to submit their content and collaborate on needed changes and required versioning. Content in the creation/approval process remains accessible only to those
    involved at this stage, rather than being made available for deployment before it’s ready.
  • Improved distribution of assets to clients, partners or other outsiders. Some DAM vendors allow users to create “portals” customized for viewing and downloading by outside entities.
  • More efficient utilization of existing resources. Appended metadata and search capabilities of DAMs enable marketers to more easily find the right image or another asset for a campaign, without spending tedious hours flipping from image to image or watching video after video. This also saves time and resources that are often spent recreating something similar to an existing asset, because it couldn’t be found or the user wasn’t aware of its
    existence.
  • Increased efficiency in the workflow for internal approvals. Many DAM providers offer — either as part of core functionality or as an add-on — workflow or project management tools, which allow for smoother collaboration and transparent movement of an asset through an approval process.
  • Speed the conversion of assets into different sizes, aspect ratios and file types for different marketing applications. Though a file is uploaded to the DAM system in a particular format, many systems allow for automatic or manual cropping or editing within the system, as well as the conversion of the asset to different sizes or file formats as they’re downloaded or distributed for use.
  • Improved efficiency on the front end, in the creation of brand assets, and on the back end, in the distribution of those assets to various martech and ad tech systems. Many DAMs integrate with content creation software, like Adobe’s Creative Cloud, and also connect (either through native connectors or APIs) to systems that distribute content directly to the customer, such as ad servers, marketing automation platforms or website content management systems.
  • Easier compliance with changing brand standards and licensing terms. DAMs allow for an expiration date to be set on assets, so they are no longer used after the licensing term for a particular asset expires. For example, if a contract with a particular celebrity spokesperson is not renewed, a DAM can take those assets out of circulation so they’re not used beyond the expiry date.
  • Ease of presenting a more consistent brand face to the customer with an eye toward loyalty and retention. DAMs make it easier to enforce brand standards and distribute digital content so every customer interaction reinforces the brand values marketers intend to convey. This is one of the key advantages of a DAM at a time where the number of devices and media outlets is larger than ever, making it more difficult to maintain consistency among the assets designed for consumption in various places.
  • Ability to quantify the usage of each individual digital asset, and therefore track ROI on the cost of creation and distribution. DAMs enable marketers to track the distribution and efficacy of marketing assets, which allows them to invest more in the most cost-effective content creation and distribution methods. Some systems are able to automatically track this data, while oth

About The Author

Pamela Parker is Research Director at Third Door Media’s Content Studio, where she produces MarTech Intelligence Reports and other in-depth content for digital marketers in conjunction with Search Engine Land and MarTech. Prior to taking on this role at TDM, she served as Content Manager, Senior Editor and Executive Features Editor. Parker is a well-respected authority on digital marketing, having reported and written on the subject since its beginning. She’s a former managing editor of ClickZ and has also worked on the business side helping independent publishers monetize their sites at Federated Media Publishing. Parker earned a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

What is digital asset management, and how are marketers using these platforms for file and workflow management?

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