Getting a Grip on DAM

Why is Digital Asset Management (DAM) so hard to explain?

We all grasp content. We spend significant portions of our days consuming content – at work, on our mobile devices, at home. Content speaks to us. Digital assets are misunderstood. They are the pieces which, when combined to create content, become a story. Alone, they are someone else’s concern.

Digital assets sit on a file system or a web drive with very limited search capabilities and weak taxonomy. Housing and managing digital assets isn’t really the end use of those assets. The assets appear as content in presentations, articles, websites, catalogs and social media. This is where they are accessed and consumed. The fact that they are shared and accessed easier from a DAM is not relevant to many consumers. It is relevant to the creators.

Challenging Value Proposition

I attended The State of DAM webinar recently, hosted by Frank DeCarlo. Panel member Carin Forman, Director, Digital Photo Services for HBO said others assumed HBO would have a huge budget for a DAM system. After all, their business is content and managing the digital assets for that content should be paramount. Yet, she found the only way she was able to justify the purchase of a DAM was the cost reduction in storage media and couriers involved in sharing her assets without a DAM.

Revenue generation draws more investment than cost reduction. The typical ROI for DAM is based on cost reduction with the added justification of brand security – a fancy way to say you don’t want old or inappropriate assets representing your brand. There are exemplary uses such as museums and archives where thoughtful metadata schemas are deployed and the DAM can actually present to the consumer. The prevalent use is by marketing departments with brand libraries accessed directly by general corporate users for presentations. These are the straightforward cases.


DAM really has a visibility problem. It isn’t required to bill clients or produce sales – though they improve this. They sit in between other higher profile systems. There are few organizations which would consider a DAM before ERP, ECM or PIM. However, once they have those, DAM systems become much more compelling. DAM answers these questions:

  • How do I get decent images in my PIM?
  • How do I get images and video to my website?
  • How do I get approved brand collateral to marketing and sales?
  • How do I manage approval of my brand collateral?
  • How do I reduce the time for associates to find files?


Do DAM systems lack innovation? In the same The State of DAM webinar, Dave Diamond, author of the DAM Survival Guide, voiced his frustration over the lack of innovation, pointing out that it pre-existed Google and does many of the same things. I take a bit of a different view, pointing back to the centrality of DAM, that there is only so much room for improvement in DAM simply because DAM isn’t really used so much as consumed because it sits in the middle of the other systems which use its assets.

DAM should be invisible. It should have been built into the OS decades ago. It has partially arrived in the form of web widgets which could be included in Google Docs, Sharepoint, Office 365, Basecamp and Slack etc. functioning much like the ubiquitous File-Open but with much better search. These exist but more in customization than part of DAM. Most DAM systems already have integration with Adobe Creative Cloud. AI is another area of innovation. So far the main one in use is AI-based metadata tagging and it yields pretty good results.  This example uses Clarifai:

This provides a painless way to enrich metadata with almost no effort. This doesn’t replace a proper taxonomy but you don’t have to start with a blank slate. Another feature is facial recognition, which also helps enhance metadata.

Who Buys?

Typically, those wanting a DAM system are those hurt the most by not having one.This tends to be people in marketing who are handling media files and distributing them for public consumption.

They need efficiency in the collaboration process and they also need to ensure the wrong files don’t make it to the public. E-mail is unreliable because there are size limits which depend on the organization, as well as security issues. File sharing like Dropbox works but it requires manual work – sending a share, managing permissions and it intrinsically has 2 transfers, is duplicated and has no versioning. DAM implements business process automation and enforcement by managing approvals, DRM, workflows and automation.

The most motivated adopters are usually those who have had a DAM system before and find themselves in a situation without one. A large retailer hired a leader at one of our clients and they knew they had to get a DAM system before they started in-sourcing any of their content production. A large ad agency found themselves without a DAM system after a division spin-off and asked us to implement a DAM system on a very short timeline. Those who’ve had one can’t live without one.