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An Intro to the Five Foundations of Digital Asset Management

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blog graphic Five Foundations of DAM 2

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.

You’ve likely heard that DAM provides benefits like increased brand control, improved productivity when finding and sharing content, and an accelerated time to market. But is that just marketing speak? If not, how do you make that a reality for your organization?

In an earlier article, we walked through the key abilities of a successful DAM admin. In this article, we’ll explore five core concepts that build out the value of DAM. These foundations lay the groundwork for businesses to realize its benefits.

The five foundations of digital asset management

Governance. Control access to your digital assets.

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

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

Create Once, Publish Everywhere (COPE). 
Share links and embed files all from the DAM system.

Analyze the performance of assets and your DAM system.

Before we jump in, a quick definition of DAM. 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.


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.

But what if your governance rules are only in one person’s head? What happens when they change roles? Or win the lottery and leave? If they move on, so does all the planning and strategy around how to keep the DAM system functioning. 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. As an admin, it’s your guardrails on how to manage the system. For users, it sets expectations around how to interact with the site and what belongs 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’s going to 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. 

A governance document is a living entity

The rules in a DAM governance document can flex as your organization’s needs change. If you are already using a DAM system, 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 the needs of your users. 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.  Consider things like:

    • Categories. Does 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 a dumping ground full of outdated content, and a system that provides access to what people need — not more or less.

To effectively and efficiently maintain all of the moving parts, we highly recommend having a dedicated digital librarian to set and maintain the system strategy. Implementing a DAM system is a significant and valuable investment, and a digital librarian 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 it 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. It’s important to always be able to use it when, where, and how you need to.

Metadata and taxonomy

Metadata and taxonomy are arguably the most important foundations of DAM. 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:

digital asset management software and taxonomy

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 pieces of 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 some 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.

Processing (conversions)

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 that makes the assets usable across channels.

Automatic processing enables 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 it. When you or others need a different file format or size, the system converts the file for you.

Each downloaded file conversion is time saved

By setting up conversions based on common use cases, you’re able to free up your 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 crashed PowerPoint presentation 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 JPG, PNG, TIFF, or GIFF. An audio file may be converted to MP3, AAC, or WMA. Or a video may be converted to MP4 or WMV.

Set up file conversion options based on common use cases

Here are some steps to setting up file conversion options.

  1. Research how your teams are using digital assets. Talk to your users about what assets they use from the DAM system and where they are using them. Write down 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? Do they have access to view the format for download as an option? Should it require approval from the DAM admin?

  5. Update the conversions in your DAM system.


COPE (embed codes)

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 the value of your content.

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 for example, 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, for example, the asset on the website will be updated as well. No work to be done, just automatic.

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. Say for example 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. For example, you can integrate the Widen Collective® with different content management system (CMS) software — which allows 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, one of our customers built a custom integration with a mapping app called Seek, that showcases inventory by area. This customer is a media company that owns and leases billboards across the country. They photograph these billboards, upload the files into the Collective, and assign metadata that organizes them into different markets. This data is then synced with the Seek app, where it can be searched and displayed so users can easily see the inventory in specific markets

There are many different ways you can repurpose digital assets with a DAM system — these are just a few. Once you maintain a central source of truth for your assets, you’ll begin to understand their potential. 


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

As you work towards an organized and easy-to-use site, you’ll need feedback on the effectiveness of your efforts. Is your time spent training users, reviewing metadata, and creating collections paying off? The only way to find out is with data.

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 determine is what you want to accomplish. Begin by asking yourself, do I need to understand my content or system performance? Or, how is the information I collect going to guide my next steps? This will get you thinking about what data to start with.

Questions to answer with DAM analytics

Some data to consider analyzing in order to understand your content, system, and/or users might be:

    • 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 where your assets are being viewed, shared, and downloaded can help guide additional metadata needs, as well as potential training opportunities.

    • Which digital assets are embedded? This is important to clarify 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 are returning the expected results.

    • What’s NOT being used? Knowing what’s being used is helpful, but so is what’s not being used. If digital assets aren't being used, they should be removed from your site to keep your active inventory tidy. Before deleting them, check for reasons 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.

The Collective includes a built-in analytics app called Insights, which tracks how assets in your DAM are being used. Insights allows you to build custom charts and dashboards using a variety of view options to best represent your data.

digital asset management analytics dashboard

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

When it comes to content analytics, its reach goes beyond understanding your assets. The data in your system 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 as they relate to your 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 dedicating time to pull 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 faster. Having insight into your content, system engagement, and usage is critical to your 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

Master these concepts, and with the right DAM tool, you’ll transform how your organization works. And don’t just take our word for it. Read these case studies about Widen customers who use the Collective to streamline their workflows, strengthen their brand, and achieve their content and business goals. And when you’re ready for a demo, get in touch

Note: This article was originally published in November 2017 and has been updated to include new content.

Topics: DAM

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