What Is Digital Asset Management (DAM)?
Businesses need a lot (and we mean a lot) of digital content. Product images, sell sheets, videos, branded graphics, and more — there’s no shortage of content types organizations rely on to power their online and offline efforts. There’s a problem though. Managing all of these files, plus the workflows to support them, is tough without the help of digital asset management (DAM) software.
Today we’ll discuss what DAM entails and how it’s helping a wide range of organizations, industries, and roles harness the true power of their content to build stronger brands and deliver superior customer experiences.
What is DAM?
Digital asset management (DAM) is the practice of administering, organizing, and distributing media files. To help facilitate this practice, teams commonly implement digital asset management software.
Digital asset management (DAM) software is a powerful technology solution that enables brands to develop a library of photos, videos, graphics, PDFs, templates, and other digital content that is searchable and ready to deploy. It revolutionizes how businesses organize, distribute, collaborate on, and securely store their digital files.
Digital asset management software originated in the 1990s alongside the birth of the internet and the rise of digital marketing. As marketers embraced digital as a viable and lucrative channel, it wasn’t long before they needed more and more digital content to communicate with their audiences, represent their brand, and competitively position their offerings online.
Content volumes grew. And soon organizations struggled to contain their large libraries of images, videos, and graphics. Personal devices, messy shared drive folders, random hard drives, CDs, you name it — content lived everywhere. As a result, marketing teams struggled to find and distribute their content for product launches, campaigns, and other important business initiatives.
Something had to change. So, digital asset management pioneers studied the information management techniques used by librarians and applied them to media files. Widen, an Acquia company, was at the forefront of this initiative, launching as a web interface for an image database in 1996. Today, Widen is part of Acquia and is still one of the best digital asset management platforms in the space, offering an enterprise content management platform built with digital asset management software at its foundation. More than 850 of the world’s most respected brands use our enterprise solution, Acquia DAM (Widen) to:
- Centralize assets in one system. Everything from audio files to brand guidelines and product images can live at a single location. See and interact with previews for logos, documents, videos, work-in-progress files, 360° photography, and more.
- Provide self-serve access. Empower teams — no matter their region or time zone — to find what they need, when they need it. Provide secure, permissioned site access; curate asset selections via portals; or share content individually.
- Publish up-to-date, approved assets. Keep track of assets and stay on top of digital rights management (DRM) efforts. Version control allows you to update once and your asset is automatically published across all share and embed links.
- Automate content workflows. Use metadata to fuel your content marketing workflows. Set up no-code, rule-based automation to notify users when new content is available. Use artificial intelligence (AI) to power auto-tagging and apply metadata.
- Transform and reuse content. Convert images, videos, and audio files to other formats on the fly. Set up common conversions for social media, slide decks, and web pages or crop and resize them as needed.
- Monitor content effectiveness with analytics. Leverage site- and asset-level analytics to inform decisions, as well as review version history for audits.
- Automate marketing workflows. Connect your tools and data to extend your assets from one central source to gain more productivity, security, and control over brand consistency.
An enterprise DAM may have even more capabilities. Learn about other possibilities.
What are digital assets?
A digital asset is content that is stored in a digital file format. Digital assets include photos, videos, images, graphics, fonts, audio clips, presentations, documents, and other content.
Organizations use digital assets to support their branding efforts, as well as their online and offline sales and marketing initiatives. Digital assets are critical in helping brands define and support their identity, communicate their offering, and shape customer experiences.
It's common for brands to rely on scattered hard drives, thumb drives, and basic cloud-based storage tools to manage their digital assets initially. But many find they quickly outgrow these systems and need something more.
What are examples of digital assets?
An enterprise DAM platform will have the capability to manage a robust selection of digital assets — and should have an eye toward the future on how to be able to handle emerging content too. Common digital assets include:
- Audio files
- Packaging files
Types of digital asset management
Different systems offer a range of DAM capabilities that support various marketing practices and project management workflows. Understanding the challenges that marketing teams need to solve will help brands find the right solution.
Here’s a look at common digital asset management challenges marketers face and where DAM software can help.
- Brand management. Marketers use brand management software to ensure that colleagues and external partners represent the brand with consistent messaging and imagery. There are a wide range of brand resources that can be stored and managed in a DAM system.
- Marketing resource management. Marketing resource management, or MRM, is software that unifies marketing teams, processes, and technology in one system. An MRM solution helps businesses track, manage, and report on marketing operations to optimize resources and make processes more deliberate.
- Video management. Video asset management software supports the storage and organization of video files across their lifecycle from creation to archive. Because video files are often very large, VAM software needs to simplify how teams access, share, and publish such content.
- Product information management. Product information management, or PIM, software assembles and distributes specs, descriptions, and content needed to market and sell a product. It also helps brands prepare accurate, compelling product listings for their global e-commerce channels.
Ideally, enterprise DAM software supports these four digital asset management challenges. While different roles in an organization will have different needs, a DAM system should empower everyone.
How does digital asset management software work?
The practice of DAM works by providing organizations with the processes, safeguards, and tools needed to administer, organize, and distribute their digital assets with greater control, intention, and speed. DAM software is designed to support these efforts and is often a critical element in a successful DAM strategy.
A DAM system works as a central repository and control center that allows for various inputs and outputs. Approved users or a system admin can upload media files like logos, images, and videos into the DAM platform. The system ingests the files and then humans (or in the case of some DAM platforms, image recognition software) tag each file with metadata. Metadata is information that describes an asset and enables system users to search and find content in the system. Security features within the digital asset management platform control which user groups can access which assets and how they can use them. Users can then download approved assets for their own use or share them with collaborators and partners via portals, share links, embed codes, and system integrations.
Who needs DAM?
Organizations of all shapes and sizes benefit from adopting digital asset management to help them organize, manage, and protect their content investment. As mentioned, DAM is a practice. It’s the processes, guidelines, strategies, and tools that any organization with digital assets can (and should) adopt. For many, these practices involve the use of a DAM system.
DAM systems help a wide variety of user types and roles save time, collaborate more smoothly, and ultimately drive more revenue for their organization. A DAM platform benefits many people inside and outside of an organization, but there are certain roles and user types that need it most to support their day-to-day work.
Graphic designers, photographers, videographers, and other creators use a DAM system as a central repository for their files and to streamline their workflows.
With a DAM platform, creators know exactly where to find existing assets — no more hunting for or recreating content that already exists. They can share proofs, which are then reviewed and approved via automated workflows. And when final creative files are ready, they can be distributed to managers, marketers, salespeople, and e-commerce teams through self-service portals and share links. There’s no more emailing back and forth, and there’s much more time for actual creative work.
Marketers use digital asset management software to manage the media assets and files creators produce for their campaigns, product launches, and content marketing initiatives.
Within digital asset management software, marketers can search for content by keyword, convert file formats on their own, publish content to channels, and share assets with agencies, distributors, retailers, and other collaborators. Platform analytics reveal which assets perform best, how they’re used, and where they’ve appeared around the web. That feedback helps marketers prioritize their efforts and make smarter content investments.
Agencies rely on DAM tools to safeguard client assets, increase productivity, and gain on-demand access to the up-to-date, approved content needed to power their clients’ marketing and creative campaigns.
Agency creators, account managers, and other contributors can log in and search for content in the DAM system or access curated subsets of assets via a portal. If a brand or agency administrator updates a file in the DAM system, that change is reflected anywhere that asset is embedded online. This saves agencies from the time-consuming task of updating creative across channels and prevents branding missteps and inconsistencies.
IT professionals are responsible for integrating marketing technologies into a cohesive stack that reduces redundancies and improves collaboration between systems and teams.
A DAM platform provides IT professionals with a central hub that can power all of the organization’s go-to marketing technologies. Using prebuilt integrations and APIs, IT teams can connect the digital asset management software to other systems, including platforms for content management, sales enablement, marketing automation, social media, customer relationship management, and more.
How your industry uses DAM
Digital asset management isn’t valuable for just one type of organization in one type of industry. The structure, process, control, and efficiency that come from DAM — and the systems that support it — benefit a diverse range of industry types.
Agencies use digital asset management software to increase the productivity of their marketing, advertising, creative, and design efforts and deliver better and faster results to their clients. Some agencies purchase digital asset management softwware and use it as their own in-house project management tool to manage assets, workflows, and deadlines for their many clients. Other agencies perform the same activities of asset management, but in collaboration with the client and in the client’s DAM platform. And there are also other agencies that solely provide a service where they maintain and administer a client’s DAM system for them.
Food and beverage
Food and beverage companies use DAM to maintain brand consistency and create more efficient content workflows. DAM tools allow these companies to bring their content together in one searchable, shareable library that’s accessible to teams and partners around the globe. The result is fast, on-demand access to quality, approved assets that meet brand standards.
But that’s not all. The food and beverage industry approaches DAM in a variety of unique ways. Here’s how two industry players — Johnsonville and Sargento — use digital asset management software to move their business forward.
Whether healthcare organizations are promoting their services or educating the public, DAM helps them control the accuracy of the information they share. With its permission-based access and password-protected portals, digital asset management software ensures that only the right content is used by the right people, regions, and departments. If information changes, system admins simply update the revised assets in the DAM system, and the changes are automatically reflected anywhere those assets live online. This helps the healthcare industry manage compliance and prevent mistakes that could impact their standing as a trusted and reliable brand.
Colleges and universities need a tremendous amount of content to support all of their audiences, departments, and programs. These institutions turn to DAM to help them wrangle their digital assets into one central, searchable content library. Time is money, and higher education institutions like the University of Georgia, University of Kansas, and many others are benefitting from a DAM solution that eliminates the financial drain of lost assets and helps departments find or discover content on their own.
Manufacturing brands like Simpson Strong-Tie use DAM software to centralize their many thousands (if not millions) of assets, improve the consistency of their product imagery and branding online, and distribute content to global teams more efficiently. Many manufacturers also benefit from using a combined DAM and product information management (PIM) solution to ensure their product data, marketing content, and assets are 100% aligned and accurate. Manufacturing is a big industry for DAM, and there are many use cases that demonstrate how it benefits the companies that embrace it.
Media and entertainment
Media and entertainment companies use DAM to simplify workflows so they can keep up with the demands of their fast-paced, high-stakes industry. DAM systems support this need in many ways. They facilitate bulk importing and editing of images, videos, and audio files captured at live events, so assets are ready for immediate use. They utilize permissions to ensure that only authorized user groups can access certain content. And they mitigate risk by automatically enforcing licensing terms and use restrictions, giving those with an already stressful workload one less thing to worry about.
The nonprofit industry uses DAM to maximize marketing resources on a limited budget. Many nonprofit organizations invest in a DAM system because it drives a greater return on their content investments — and ultimately pays for itself in time savings and asset reuse. With limited creative resources, nonprofits also utilize DAM tools, such as our Templates app, that empower volunteers and employees (with and without design skills) to create their own on-brand marketing materials.
There are nonprofits everywhere getting their money’s worth with DAM technology. Here’s how the YMCAs across England and Wales are doing it.
Print and publishing
The print and publishing industry uses DAM tools to streamline production operations from a single content hub. With the help of a DAM system, publishers and printers can easily share files with collaborators, agencies, and vendors for proofing or printing. If edits are needed, they can retouch catalog or publication pages or quickly revert to an earlier creative version in the DAM system. When revisions are ready, content sent via share links and portals automatically updates with the most recent files — no more uploading and downloading to shared folders or unnecessary printing delays.
The retail industry uses DAM to deliver omnichannel e-commerce experiences to customers. Using a DAM system — often combined with a PIM solution — retailers can bring their product photos, videos, and other assets together in a central source of truth. With no question of which asset is the right asset, retailers achieve greater consistency across their many online and offline channels.
Retail brands come in all shapes and sizes. To learn how brands within a specific retail vertical use DAM software, check out our case studies featuring stories from companies in cosmetics, technology, luxury goods, specialty products, athletic gear, footwear, and more.
The sports industry has the monumental responsibility of capturing the excitement of game day through photos and videos — and then using those assets to connect with fans, press, and revenue opportunities. A DAM platform gives professional sports teams and organizations a central, searchable repository for these assets so designers, coaches, players, partners, marketers, and press can access them in the mere hours and days following a game. Time is of the essence, and it’s teams like the Houston Texans that are truly changing the game with DAM.
Travel and tourism
“A picture is worth a thousand words” — just ask any transportation, recreation, dining, or hospitality business in the travel and tourism industry. DAM helps these organizations control the quality of their assets and streamline their workflows, so they can get their best content in front of potential travelers, faster. Look at The Mariners’ Museum and Park for example. They use their DAM system to help museum staff streamline internal access to digital assets and share their collection with a global audience.
Travel and tourism is a trillion-dollar industry. The right DAM software gives businesses in this vertical the tools, brand control, and insights needed to put their most impactful, must-travel-here-now imagery forward.
Benefits of digital asset management
DAM emerged out of the widespread need for a better, more organized, and productive way for marketers to manage their valuable digital content. With a DAM system, brands have a tool that makes it easier to publish the right content across all their channels at the right time with the right message. This level of omnichannel customer experience grows lifetime value, brand loyalty, and customer satisfaction.
A digital asset management system gives brands a central source to store and organize their digital assets. That centralization leads to other valuable benefits like simplifying the creative process, ensuring brand consistency, and integrating the martech stack, which can lead to lower total cost of ownership (TCO) for martech.
Brands that invest in DAM technology report that it helps them:
- Save time at every step of the content lifecycle. DAM users can import, find, tag, clip, embed, convert, share, or publish assets in a few quick clicks.
- Protect their brand by controlling access to content. Only approved, up-to-date, on-brand assets will reach social marketers, salespeople, partners, and other collaborators.
- Eliminate bottlenecks by enabling collaborators to search and browse brand assets on their own. Nobody on the marketing team should have to spend all day emailing files.
- Create once, publish everywhere, or COPE, with embed codes. If a file in the DAM platform is altered, every linked instance of that asset on the web will automatically update, too. How cool is that?
- Improve ROI on content by providing analytics on searches, downloads, views, usage, and engagement. Brands now know what to repurpose, what to retire, and what to create in the future.
- Minimize busywork by plugging DAM technology into other martech systems. Social marketers, salespeople, creatives, product teams, and others can access, pull in, and search assets in the platforms where they normally work. No more downloading and re-uploading files.
See more benefits of DAM or take a look at the benefits of a core DAM solution:
Differentiating between various solutions
When talking about digital asset management software, it’s important to understand the foundational characteristics that make a DAM system what it is — and not one of the many other related platforms on the market. But there’s certainly a lot of overlap and nuanced differences to weed through. We’ve talked a lot about digital asset management software, but what about other tools? How do enterprise content management (ECM) technologies and content management systems (CMS) differ from digital asset management software ... or each other for that matter.
A DAM system is a type of ECM solution that is focused specifically on the management, organization, and distribution of digital assets that are most often used for sales and marketing purposes. A DAM system supports a wide range of user types, both inside and outside of an organization. And unlike some of the other platforms we discuss below, it doesn’t only deal with content that’s used for a brand’s website — it handles this, but also the content used by marketers, partners, e-commerce sites, offline channels, and beyond.
ECM technologies support the administration, organization, and distribution of content and information across an asset's entire lifecycle, from creation to archive and disposal. ECM is a broad umbrella term that includes a variety of processes, strategies, and technologies, including DAM software, CMS, and a number of other platforms used to manage content ranging from business documents (e.g., contracts, invoices) to company records, and product information (hello, PIM). For more on ECM (and its relationship to DAM), check our dedicated article on the topic.
Similar to digital asset management software, a content management system (CMS) is also a solution that stores and manages content across its lifecycle. So what’s the difference between a CMS and a DAM system? The difference is most notably in the type of content it handles. Unlike digital asset management software, a CMS is 100% focused on digital experiences and therefore hosts content and assets that are used for web and other digital properties (e.g., a brand’s website or digital signage).
Digital asset management FAQs
With so much terrain to cover in digital asset management, it’s normal to have questions. Here are common ones to ask before investing in DAM.
Why is digital asset management important?
Consumers today expect a lot from brands. A quality offering at a competitive price is no longer all it takes to win them over. Customers also care about the experience they receive. Digital asset management gives brands an approach and the technology to store, manage, and publish content across all digital channels. DAM tools promote collaboration, power omnichannel customer experiences, increase brand loyalty, grow customer lifetime value, and can ultimately lead to higher revenues. Brands are competing in an ever-changing digital landscape and need the ability to quickly adapt to new customer behaviors and build personalized experiences. DAM is one way brands are rising to meet the requirements of modern-day marketing and sales environments.
Why do you need a DAM system?
Digital assets are not just files. They’re valuable assets that brands invest time and money in creating or obtaining. Without a DAM system, it’s easy for organizations to lose track of the content they have. This means people have to spend precious time hunting for missing files. Creatives end up recreating images, graphics, and collateral that already exists (somewhere). Assets go unused and irreplaceable photos and videos from once-in-a-lifetime events are lost forever. These are just some of the many reasons businesses need a DAM system. For more pro-DAM rationale, check out our comprehensive investment guide to gain a better understanding of the ROI a DAM system can deliver.
Is Dropbox a digital asset management platform?
In short, no. Cloud storage tools like Dropbox, SharePoint, OneDrive, and Box are commonly a first step into asset management because they tend to offer free or paid subscriptions, which make them appealing to a wide range of budgets. However, they are not a true digital asset management platform. As teams and content grow, organizations often struggle with these options and need more robust asset management functionality to fully support brand consistency, which is why they turn to a scalable DAM solution that can grow and evolve with their content management needs.
How do I choose the best digital asset management software for my company?
Choosing the right DAM software starts with a plan. It’s important to understand your team’s requirements and how DAM technology will fit into your entire digital ecosystem. You can do this by outlining use cases, comparing features, and more. You can also dig deeper with questions like: What do we want to accomplish? How many assets do we have? How will this new software change our workflows?
The vendor evaluation process takes time, so give yourself room to explore and even test-drive different solutions via free trials or proof-of-concept (aka sandbox) sites. Different DAM solutions offer different capabilities and strengths. The key is to figure out your requirements and priorities, and then align those with what a system can deliver. For a step-by-step guide to choosing the right DAM software, head over to our DAM Evaluation Toolkit. It’s packed with all sorts of advice, tips, and activities that’ll put you on the path to finding the best DAM software for your business.
Where to go from here
Brands across all industries from consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies to professional sports organizations are investing in DAM. With streamlined product content and creative workflows, marketing teams can use DAM software to grow lifetime value, brand loyalty, and customer satisfaction.
Note: This article was originally published in September 2021 and has been updated to remain current.