Blog header image: An Intro to the Five Foundations of Digital Asset Management article.


Digital Asset Management
Digital Asset Management

An Intro to the Five Foundations of Digital Asset Management

December 13, 2022 15 minute read
This guide explores how five core concepts of digital asset management serve as the foundation for businesses to realize the benefits of DAM.
Blog header image: An Intro to the Five Foundations of Digital Asset Management article.

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Digital Asset Management

First off, if you’re researching digital asset management (DAM) for the first time, welcome to the world of DAM puns. You’ll have plenty of DAM meetings, DAM calls, and DAM work to do. It’s a DAM good time, we promise.

In all seriousness, though, you’re likely here because you’ve heard that a DAM platform provides benefits like increased brand consistency, improved productivity, and  accelerated time to market. But is that just marketing speak? We guarantee it’s not. 

In an earlier article, we walked through the essential abilities required of a DAM admin and what it takes to successfully manage a DAM system. In this article, we explore five core concepts that teams and admins use to deliver on the value of DAM. These foundations lay the groundwork for businesses to realize its benefits.

Let’s dig into what to look for in a DAM solution and how you’ll leverage these five foundational elements to drive a return on investment (ROI) for your DAM investment.

The five foundations of digital asset management

1. Governance. Control access to your digital assets.

2. Metadata and taxonomy. Increase searchability and organization of your assets.

3. Automatic processing. Conversions on the fly make visual content reusable and adaptable.

4. Create once, publish everywhere (COPE). Share links and embed files all from the DAM system.

5. Analytics Analyze the performance of assets and your DAM system.

Before we jump in, a quick definition of DAM.

Digital asset management (DAM) is the management, organization, and distribution of digital assets — like videos, images, and creative files — from a central content hub. 

OK, back to the foundations.

1. Governance

DAM governance is your key to consistency. It’s the guiding information that prevents your site from becoming a dumping ground for everyone and everything. Relying on one person to be the keeper of all your DAM guidelines can be troublesome if they change roles or leave the company. 

If they move on, so does all the planning and strategy around how to keep the DAM system functioning. And even if they don’t leave, all of your DAM guidelines are a lot to keep in one person’s head. Don’t let that knowledge disappear — put it into a governance plan.

Your DAM governance plan should answer why your system exists and include its vision, value, and purpose. It should also guide, direct, and control how the system is used. For an admin, it’s the guardrails on how to manage the system. For users, it sets expectations around how to interact with the site and what they can expect to find in it.

Your governance plan will help address questions like:

  • Can this go in the DAM system?
  • Should Tom in HR have access to the same things as Sue in global marketing?
  • What should I name this asset?
  • Who will help me apply metadata?
  • Should this file be uploaded as a new version of an existing asset or as a new digital asset?

A governance plan demonstrates how your digital content supports your company and outlines the security, mission, and policies for your system. And it evolves as your company and DAM system evolve.  

What is a DAM governance document?

The rules in a DAM governance document can flex as your organization’s needs change. We consider it a “living document” that’s always evolving and changing. If you’re already using a DAM system and don’t have a governance document — or it hasn’t been updated in a while — a site audit is a great way to take its pulse. An audit allows you to understand how your system is currently functioning and supporting users’ needs. It also helps identify opportunities for optimization and ensures you have a good handle on what’s happening within your site.

As you work through your site audit, you’ll be able to refine your governance plan. And if you’re just building your site, you’ll want to think through similar scenarios as well. Consider things like:

  • Categories. Do they help users initiate a high-level search?
  • Workflow. How are digital assets uploaded?
  • Users. Are there any approvals required for accessing certain assets?
  • Rights management. Do you have licensing requirements?
  • Security. What qualifies an asset to be released?
  • Brand guideline expectations. Who’s monitoring digital assets added to the DAM system to ensure they’re on brand?


As you can see, there’s a lot to think about when it comes to DAM system governance. But it’s this level of structure that creates the difference between being a dumping ground full of outdated content and a system that provides access to the content people need to do their jobs.

To effectively and efficiently maintain all of the moving parts, we highly recommend having a dedicated DAM admin (even better if this person is a digital librarian) to set and maintain the system strategy. Implementing a DAM system is a significant and valuable investment, and an admin should be considered part of the package.

Thinking about your own governance plan and system needs? A governance planning document offers a good place to start this process. Once you’ve identified your needs and put rules in place, revisit them regularly to ensure you’re staying on track and achieving your desired DAM goals, both current and future. You spend a lot of time and energy creating valuable content, so it’s important to always be able to use it when, where, and how you need to.

2. Metadata and taxonomy

Metadata and taxonomy are arguably the most important foundations of a DAM system. Without taxonomy and metadata, you won’t be able to find, use, or analyze your assets.

So, what is DAM taxonomy? It’s the way in which objects are classified or, for our purposes, the way digital assets are categorized in a DAM system.

DAM admins usually choose to categorize assets according to type or function. This decision is driven by what’s best for the company, but no matter which classification type is chosen, it should be consistent across the entire site. For example, you could choose to categorize your assets by type, product, department, or another classification that’s important to your business needs. While categories are a great way to group similar assets, they’re most effective when kept between one to three levels deep.

Here’s a real DAM taxonomy example:

Examples of categories (parent) and subcategories (children) in a DAM system.
Examples of categories (parent) and subcategories (children) in a DAM system.

In these examples, there are parent-child relationships occurring, with subcategories (children) of the main category (parent). Keep this strategy in mind when creating your DAM taxonomy. It’s often best to have a broad parent bucket and then use child categories to narrow the results. This makes it easy for users to drill down to what they need by following an organic, logical, and easy-to-understand framework.

As you’re defining your taxonomy structure, you’ll likely find that you need more information about your assets than just whether or not they’re a logo or a slide deck to effectively hone your search results. There are dates, creators, keywords, descriptions, and other information that will describe your digital assets and make them findable — that’s called metadata. This asset-specific data creates taxonomy sublevels that describe your assets in greater detail than your parent-child categories. 

In fact, metadata is often referred to as “data about data.” Here are examples of metadata that are typically found in a DAM system:

  • Keywords
  • Description (what the asset is about)
  • Type (photo, video, document, etc.)
  • Content source (photographer, creator, etc.)
  • Rights management details (internal use only, stock-licensing agreements, etc.)

To effectively tailor metadata for each desired input, a DAM system should offer options for setting up metadata fields and values. Understanding these options and selecting the right one for each field also makes the tagging process more appealing to users and improves efficiency

As you can see, metadata and taxonomy are critical aspects of a DAM system. They’re the backbone of search, and without them, you won’t find a DAM thing. For help with generating metadata and taxonomy, try this metadata brainstorm exercise

3. Automatic processing

With proper governance, taxonomy, and metadata, your teams will be able to access and retrieve the digital assets they need. From there, it’s automatic processing and conversion options that make assets usable across channels.

Automatic processing and conversions enable you to upload just the original master file to the DAM system. There’s no need to store multiple variations of sizes and formats; the system takes care of that for you. When you or others need a different file format or size, the system settings offer ways to crop and convert the file for you.

Time savings

By setting up conversion formats based on common use cases, you can free up design resources. Designers will no longer act as a vending machine for the rest of the organization, taking in requests for different use cases and manually creating and sharing the new files.

It also removes a bottleneck for marketing, HR, sales, and other departments that are dependent on the design team to create specific formats. Further, having the right file formats readily available can prevent mistakes, like a PowerPoint presentation crashing due to massive image files.

And, if there’s a new version of a file, just update the master file. No more wondering if you’ve updated all the different formats with the latest version.

File conversion options

File conversion options are typically available for image, audio, video, and document formats. For example, a PSD file may be converted to JPEG, PNG, TIFF, or GIF. An audio file may be converted to MP3, AAC, or WMA, while a video may be converted to MP4 or WMV.

File conversions for common use cases

Here are considerations to keep in mind when setting up file conversion options.

  1. Research how your teams use digital assets. Talk to your users about what assets they access in the DAM system and where they’re using them. Write or record how they refer to the different uses. You can also send out a survey.
  2. Gather your data into one spreadsheet. Look for common needs and use cases.
  3. Create names, descriptions, and file formats for the use cases identified.
  4. Determine permissions. Which roles have access? Should downloading require approval from the DAM admin?
  5. Update the conversion options in your DAM system.

4. COPE 

Another foundation of DAM is the ability to create once, publish everywhere or, as it’s more commonly known, COPE. This concept focuses on repurposing assets by sharing, linking, and embedding them across multiple systems, channels, and websites to extend your content’s value.

To benefit from the COPE approach, your assets need to maintain a connection with the master file in the DAM system.

COPE in action

Say your designer creates an infographic to share with team members. Without a DAM system, they would likely email everyone with the file attached. But emails can get lost, the file might need to be resized, and different versions might ultimately be saved in different locations. 

With a DAM system, your designer can upload the infographic, and that becomes the central source of truth for that digital asset. When any updates are made, a new version of the asset is available for everyone to use. And if embed codes were used to place the infographic on a website, the asset on the website will be updated as well. No work to be done; it’s all automated.

That brings us to embed codes. Embed codes are great because of the scenario described above. If not all team members are notified that an asset has been updated, there could be different versions of the same content out on the web. This can compromise brand consistency and accuracy. Imagine you rebranded your corporate logo. Your web designers — who could be spending time making new content — have to find every instance of your logo across digital channels and update it. With embed codes, the designer would just have to upload a new version to the DAM system and the embedded logos would update automatically.

There are additional opportunities for repurposing digital assets with integrations, too. You can integrate Acquia DAM (Widen) with different content management system (CMS) software, allowing you to directly access assets stored in your DAM system right inside your CMS. No more downloading files from one system and uploading them into another. There are also custom APIs that can be built for apps you may use in tandem with your DAM site.

For example, our customer Article integrates Acquia DAM with other key software solutions to optimize workflows and improve efficiency. And Energizer uses Acquia DAM as the central source of truth for content across all of its brands. Then they integrate their system with other tools in their marketing technology (martech) stack to create a more coordinated and automated content supply chain. 

In addition to versions, embed codes, and integrations, you can also get more from the assets you create by reusing and repurposing them. Once you maintain a central source of truth for your assets, you’ll begin to understand their potential and how to get the most out of them.  

5. Analytics

What’s a marketing tool without analytics? But really, analytics play a key role in the success of your organization’s DAM system. DAM analytics give you insight into how to improve the system and how to evaluate your content.

As you create an organized and easy-to-use site, you need feedback on how effective your efforts have been. Is the time you’ve spent training users, reviewing metadata, and building collections paying off? The only way to find out is with data — including asking your users.

As you develop processes to gather and analyze data, the possibilities can be a little overwhelming, so start small and build from there. The most important thing to decide is what you want to accomplish. Begin by asking yourself: Do I need to understand my content or system performance? How will the information I collect guide my next steps? This will get you thinking about what data to start with.

Questions to answer with DAM analytics

Data you could analyze to better understand your content, system, and/or users include:

  • What are your top/least downloaded assets? Understanding your most/least popular assets can help you identify new content opportunities.
  • Who are your top downloaders? These are your power users. They can provide great feedback on your site and can be powerful advocates for the tool.
  • Where are your assets being accessed? Knowing how your assets are being viewed, shared, and downloaded (including by geographic location, asset group, and file type) can help guide additional metadata needs, as well as potential training opportunities.
  • Which digital assets are embedded? It’s important to clarify this before you delete or expire assets because doing so will break the embedded link.
  • What are your top search terms? Identifying your top search terms is a great way to understand new metadata and asset opportunities. You should also make sure that the top search terms return the expected results.
  • What’s NOT being used?  Knowing which digital assets are being used is helpful, but so is what’s not being used. Those that are unused should be removed to keep your active inventory tidy. Before deleting them, find out why they’re not being used and update your asset-creation strategy to reflect your findings. This can help avoid creating unused content in the future.


Acquia DAM includes a built-in analytics app called Insights, which tracks how assets in your DAM site are used. Insights allows you to review your data and put it into action

A view of the site metrics dashboard in Insights.
A view of the site metrics dashboard in Insights. 


You can also use other tools like Google Analytics and Adobe Omniture to gather high-level data.

Content analytics can also help justify the purchase of your DAM system and the time spent maintaining it. Calculating your DAM ROI is important and should be based on your system goals and their relationship to company initiatives.

Once the data is gathered, it’s important to share it. Make time to regularly report on a set of key metrics. This helps keep your system in check and top of mind, which is important for engagement and adoption.

If you’re pulling data to answer specific questions, make sure you’re also reserving time to take action and revisit the changes you’ve made. Did they accomplish your goals? If not, try again. Your DAM system is a living tool that should be in a constant state of optimization.

At the end of the day, data helps you fail — and learn — faster. Having insight into your content, system engagement, and usage is critical to DAM success. But it’s only as good as the actions you take, so be sure to make time to understand and act on all of the powerful data you have at your fingertips.

Build your DAM foundation

Are you convinced that the benefits of DAM are more than just marketing speak? We hope so. Companies around the world rely on a DAM solution to get their content safely and quickly out into the world, and they use these five foundations of DAM to help them do it.

But don’t just take our word for it. Take a look at case studies from Acquia DAM customers who use their DAM system to streamline workflows, strengthen their brand, and achieve content and business goals. 

Master these concepts with the right DAM tool for your organization and you’ll transform how your organization works. 

Curious about Acquia DAM? We’ve got you covered. Request, watch, or click through a demo. We’re excited to help you build your DAM foundation. 

Note: This article was originally published on

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