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DAM vs. ECM, and Which is Right for You?

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Blog header image: DAM vs. ECM, and Which is Right for You? article.

In this day and age, we seem to have more of everything. As consumers, we have more gadgets, products, and services than we know what to do with. As businesses, we rely on more and more content than ever before to communicate with our audiences. And the data, ohh the data! Keeping digital experiences updated with on-brand materials, relevant content, and accurate information is enough to drive anyone in circles. 

With all this “more” piling up, how do you keep your content and information organized and accessible for the people, teams, and partners that need it most?

Luckily, technology can help. Today we’ll talk about two tech-related terms — enterprise content management, or ECM, and digital asset management, or DAM. These two terms are often confused because both assist with content management, but they actually have distinct roles in your workflows. Let’s dig into each to learn more about what they are, where they overlap, and how both can help with your content efforts.


What is ECM?

Enterprise content management (ECM) is the management, organization, and distribution of content — typically business content — and information across the entire asset lifecycle, from content and data creation to archive and disposal.

While ECM is often described as supporting the management of business-related content including documents, contracts, invoices, receipts, and PDFs, it’s also common for ECM to refer to various disciplines surrounding the general management of content and information. This is why multiple technologies are used to support ECM including a content management system (CMS), workflow management system (WMS or WfMS), information management system (IMS), product information management (PIM) system, digital asset management (DAM) system, and a whole slew of other acronym-loving platforms.


What is DAM?

Digital asset management (DAM) is the practice of administering, organizing, and distributing media files (also known as visual content). DAM software supports these efforts by centralizing content in a secure, searchable location.

The focus of DAM is a little narrower than ECM, as this software is typically used to make it easier for organizations to manage and access marketing and creative content, such as promotional videos, brand images, design files, and sales collateral. A business may use a DAM system as part of their ECM efforts to store, organize, and share business content — rather than using a file-sharing tool like Google Drive, local servers, or external drives, and disks.

The difference (and relationship) between ECM and DAM

The difference between ECM and DAM can feel a little convoluted since they both help manage, store, and distribute files. So it’s helpful to think about them in terms of the content they store and what’s needed to effectively manage each content type. At their core, both ECM and DAM technology should include: 

  • Content lifecycle management 
  • Workflow management
  • Collaboration tools
  • Digital asset management
  • Information governance

But if these elements are found in multiple technologies then which one(s) do you really need? That’s a good question. 

When considering what each system needs to be able to do, it’s easiest to think about the types of content you have and what’s needed to manage it. Marketing and creative content typically includes visual and video elements, and these types of files require specific functionality to manage them effectively. The same can be said for business documents. So when comparing systems, take a look at the functionality needed to best support these content types, including: 

  • Robust search capabilities
  • Flexible metadata
  • Workflow visibility
  • Version control
  • On-the-fly conversions
  • Share links and embed codes
  • Asset-level analytics
  • Archival options

Depending on your content needs, you’ll look for specific capabilities to be present within these features. For example, if you’re managing visual and video files, you’ll likely want robust automatic conversion options. But if you’re primarily managing text-based files, then multiple conversion types likely won’t be at the top of your list. 

Advantages of ECM

To truly understand the advantages of ECM, you need to know what it can help you achieve. Creating an ECM strategy that looks at your whole content and data lifecycle will allow you to consider the people, workflows, processes, and systems involved from creation to archive. Knowing that will help you determine what technology, or combination of technologies, are needed to support your ECM efforts. 

Teams rely on ECM for:

  • Document management
  • Records management
  • Workflow optimization
  • Process automation
  • Secure collaboration
  • Risk management
  • Increased productivity

Advantages of DAM

Many of the advantages that apply to ECM also apply to DAM — which is why DAM is often an important part of an ECM strategy. However, there are additional ways a DAM system can benefit your organization and ECM efforts.

Teams rely on DAM for:

  • Centralized content
  • Secure and configurable permissioning structures
  • Easy content publishing
  • Reuse and repurposing efforts
  • Visibility into content effectiveness
  • Brand consistency
  • Consolidation of redundant tools

Which technology do you need?

Determining which solution is best to manage your content and data lifecycle starts with understanding your unique circumstances and needs. This includes the type(s) of content you have to manage, your current teams and processes, any challenges you face, and your vision for the future. 

With its robust and flexible capabilities, DAM is often a foundational element in any ECM strategy. If you want to learn more about how DAM can support your ECM efforts, get in touch


Note: This article was originally published in September 2008 and has been regularly updated to remain current.

Topics: MarTech

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