What is Digital Asset Management (DAM)?

Everything you need to know about digital assets, digital asset management, when to use digital asset management systems. and how to choose the best digital asset management system for your team.

What is Digital Asset Management (DAM)?

What is a Digital Asset?

Digital assets are any sort of digital file that comes with the right to use. These files can range from photos, videos, e-books, audiovisual media, presentations, logos to many more. These digital assets are essential to digital businesses and in many cases are the backbone of their products. As products and experiences move increasingly online, digital assets and their associated metadata are of paramount importance and the number and size of many products grow exponentially.

With the rise in the number and size of digital assets, companies are faced with the challenge of creating a system of order for these digital assets. These companies often look to Digital Asset Management (DAM) Systems to create order for digital assets.

What is a Digital Asset Management (DAM) system?

DAM systems started as an on-premises solution where companies could store images or other digital assets. The goal was to alleviate the problem of digital assets being stored without order or easy access throughout the team. These libraries were known as content silos as it became difficult to access content across teams. In the early 1990s, DAM systems came about as a way to remove content silos and make it easier to store, organize and search for digital assets. The early systems were on-premises software focusing on industries such as publishing and media houses which needed to easily share files. As the demand for digital products grew and these products became more sophisticated, DAMs adapted to storing visual media, such as photos and videos as well. By the mid-2010s, companies began to offer Cloud-based DAMs with a variety of integrations particularly for marketing tools and e-commerce software.

In the last ten years, DAMs have evolved to powerful softwares that can share files easily across teams, integrate with technologies like Content Management Systems (CMSs) and Product Information Management Tools (PIMs), protect sensitive documents through increased security measures, as well as, store, organize, transform, and optimize digital assets. As consumers’ demands for digital media and experiences have grown more sophisticated, so too have the systems which organize and distribute these assets across entire organizations. DAMs can now be hosted, on-premises, or a mixture of the two depending on security protocols.

The core features of a DAM are to store and organize digital assets using assets metadata and make them accessible throughout the team. These core features have now expanded to transforming, optimizing assets, managing a company’s brand, and distributing assets across teams. DAMs serve a wide range of companies from enterprises which require robust security protocols and guaranteed uptimes as well as intra-organizational sharing capabilities to startups which look to create structure and organization for rapidly growing companies. While DAMs can sometimes represent a large component of a company’s tech stack, they are not the only ingredient in creating the special sauce of a digital brand. It is important to have a good understanding of how a DAM will fit into the larger network of services that work together to deliver engaging content to the user.

Why should you use a Digital Asset Management (DAM) system?

Users demand engaging digital experiences that surprise and captivate them. The digital product space is competitive and brands must be agile to adapt to customers changing expectations without losing the integrity of their brand. What may be a simple photo sharing app one day could evolve into a news, e-commerce, relationship building platform in just a few years. It is important to note that each DAM has unique feature sets and product offerings but there are some features a team can expect from any sophisticated DAM. By using a DAM to manage your company’s digital assets, you are able to keep this aspect of the brand’s broader content hub performing at its highest capacity. Beyond these broad benefits, choosing the correct DAM for your team will:

Enable Collaboration

Workflow and permission features that are inherent in most DAM systems create productive collaboration distributed across the office or the globe. Teams are able to work efficiently by having access to the complete spectrum of assets from those in progress, to completed, to depreciated assets. These assets are categorized using their metadata making them easy to find and can easily be distributed to the necessary stakeholders.

Create brand consistency and institutional memory

In providing teams with a single content repository, digital content remains on-brand and of the same quality. It also creates a timeline of the progression of the brand as it matures by having access to older versions of content. While it is important to make sure it is clear which branding set is currently in use, a digital asset hub elevates teams awareness of the organization’s cohesiveness and how to avoid outdated or overdone messaging.

Safe-guard teams against lost work

DAMS ensure that digital assets are stored in a central asset hub along with any past versions of the content piece. These features ensure that information cannot be lost and that teams are not reliant on the individual but rather a robust system. Depending on the chosen DAM, teams are able to create on-premise backups to ensure security of information and avoid lost work.

Increase velocity of teams

Teams are able to work efficiently using DAMs by using excessive manual work, optimizing workflows and permission systems, avoiding miscommunication with the team, and organizing the assets. These systems make content highly reusable and easy to locate digital assets quickly. Sales teams and Web Content creators have quick access to the materials they need in one place, rather than being spread across different programs.

There are many more benefits of using a DAM system; however these highlight just some of the many reasons that using a DAM has become the industry standard. As mentioned, they are only one part of the architecture when building a successful digital content hub.

How can DAMs work together with GraphCMS

When working with GraphCMS, your project comes with a publicly accessible DAM out of the box. Teams that need more advanced permission systems may need to add another DAM on top which handles the organization’s assets that should not be publicly accessible.

Despite sounding similar on the surface, CMSs are different from DAMs in several fundamental ways. They can, however, be paired together to create a content hub for your digital content. Content Management Systems structure and organize digital content for websites and other digital projects. Content managed by CMSs has been historically text-based but this is rapidly changing with the advent of more sophisticated digital products. CMSs allow editors to modify content that is then pushed directly to the frontend.

DAMs, historically, have been a monolith product, creating a space to store, modify, and organize media assets. DAMs serve as a central repository whereas CMSs create the structure of digital products enabling them to come to fruition. While these two systems both have a role in managing content, they handle the content in different stages of its lifecycle.

CMSs and DAMs can be used in tandem to give more power to teams. When a DAM is integrated with a CMS, it gives the team an extra level of security and makes assets created or edited for a specific project, available to team members outside of the project. Changes made in the CMS are available in the DAM and content creators have access to a bigger pool of digital assets outside of their project shared to the CMS.

Teams should evaluate if and how these two systems should be integrated together depending on the project, team size, scalability. If done well, this integration will bring greater productivity to the team, but for smaller or more static projects, a CMS, like GraphCMS, may suffice.

DAM Considerations

There are some important considerations when choosing to invest time and resources in a DAM. These vary of course from project to project, team to team but these are our top considerations before you invest.

DAMs are intended to optimize teams’ collaboration so if they do not have necessary permission systems, straightforward workflows, simple integrations to Martech and Creative softwares. It is important that they support a wide range of file types that can be imported, exported, and modified easily. DAMs should also facilitate a pleasant user experience through a straightforward interface and reliable support when needed. Does the system support versioning of assets? This feature is handy when considering workflows and avoiding losing any time trying to revert changes.

A feature that is critical for companies, especially enterprises, is security. Is the system GDPR compliant and have the necessary security measures in place to protect your data? Another important consideration is if the system has advanced digital rights permission systems which prevent assets being used inappropriately, such as announcing a product prematurely or too many people having access to sensitive information.

All and all, choosing the best DAM is case specific. In some cases, they may not even be necessary due to built-in DAM functionality of SaaS services, like GraphCMS offering a publicly accessible DAM through Filestack. In other cases, it may be a good idea to use an enterprise-ready DAM such as Canto or Widen.


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