What is DAM?
Digital asset management (DAM) is the practice of administering, organizing, and distributing media files. DAM software enables brands to develop a library of photos, videos, graphics, PDFs, templates, and other digital content that is searchable and ready to deploy.
DAM 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 offering 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, DAM pioneers studied the information management techniques used by librarians and applied them to media files. Widen was at the forefront of this initiative. Our answer to these challenges was the Widen Collective®, an enterprise content management platform built with DAM at its foundation. Today, more than 800 of the world’s most respected brands use our enterprise DAM tools to:
Centralize media files in a single, searchable platform
Automate time-consuming processes like metadata tagging and content distribution
Collaborate on content creation, reviews, and approvals
Share assets through self-service portals
Analyze content performance and usage
Repurpose assets to maximize return on investment (ROI)
Protect brands from inconsistencies and image rights violations
Integrate marketing technology (martech) tools into one, content-centric stack
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 that provides value to the company that owns or has the right to use it.
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.
How does DAM work?
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. A DAM system 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 DAM 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 DAM 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 re-creating 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 DAM software to manage the media files creators produce for their campaigns, product launches, and content marketing initiatives.
In a DAM solution, 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.
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 DAM solution to other systems, including platforms for content management, sales enablement, marketing automation, social media, customer relationship management, and more.
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 creatives across channels and prevents branding missteps and inconsistencies.
E-commerce product content must be informative, accurate, channel-specific, and timely. Miss even one of these and you could be losing out to competitors.
A DAM system houses all of a product’s packaging imagery, lifestyle photography, short-form videos, and sales collateral – for all online and offline channels. Combining this data with other product information in a central catalog gives e-commerce teams a 360-degree view of their products which helps them go to market faster with accurate and consistent product information.
How your industry uses DAM
DAM 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 DAM to increase the productivity of their marketing, advertising, creative, and design efforts and deliver better and faster results to their clients. Some agencies purchase a DAM solution and use it as their own in-house 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 then still, other agencies 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 a DAM solution 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, a DAM solution 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 flawless 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 San Francisco, the University of Georgia, Ventura Colleges, and many others are benefiting from a DAM solution that eliminates the financial drain of lost assets and helps departments find or discover content on their own.
Manufacturing brands use DAM software to centralize their many thousands (if not millions) of assets, improve the consistency of their product imagery and branding online, and to 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’s story upon story about 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, 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, electronics, 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. Travel and tourism is a trillion-dollar industry. The right DAM system 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 DAM
DAM emerged out of the widespread need for a better, more organized, and productive way for marketers to manage their valuable digital content. Fast forward to today and the organizations that adopt DAM — and the software that supports it — are most definitely feeling the benefits. Here are a few of those DAM benefits (no pun intended):
- Saves 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.
- Protects a brand by controlling access to content. Only approved, up-to-date, on-brand assets will reach social marketers, salespeople, partners, and other collaborators.
- Eliminates 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 master file in the DAM platform is altered, every linked instance of that asset on the web will automatically update, too. How cool is that?
- Improves 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.
- Minimizes 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.
Differentiating between various solutions
When talking about DAM solutions, 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 DAM solutions, but what about other tools? How do enterprise content management (ECM) technologies, content management systems (CMS), and web content management (WCM) platforms differ from a DAM solution...or each other for that matter.
A DAM system is a type of ECM solution. But unlike an ECM solution (which we’ll discuss below), a DAM platform 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 does not 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.
As mentioned above, a CMS is also an example of an ECM technology. However, unlike ECM tools, a CMS is one specific system type, as opposed to a general category that represents a variety of solutions. A CMS is also different from a DAM solution in many ways, most notably in the type of content it handles. Unlike a DAM solution, a CMS is 100% focused on digital experiences and therefore hosts content and digital assets that are used for web properties (e.g., a brand’s website).
At its most basic level, a CMS manages web content. With that said, CMS functionality often overlaps with WCM capabilities that support content hosting and publishing. Additionally, you’ll likely find other crossover between CMS functionality, and other solutions as well. Few martech platforms offer just one solution these days — but if you remember that at its core, a CMS is intended to manage website content, you’ll be set!
WCM and CMS tools are often talked about interchangeably, which leads to a lot of confusion around their key differences. But essentially, a WCM system manages a website, whereas a CMS manages content. Typically, you’ll find the two coupled together to give teams the ability to manage and publish web content from a single software. However, web and content management can be decoupled into two separate systems making a WCM platform the single system for website management, using APIs and integrations to pull content from other sources, including a CMS.
Like a CMS (but unlike a DAM system), a WCM platform focuses entirely on digital experiences to support a brand’s web properties. It doesn’t house content that’s used for a wider variety of channels and purposes, as seen with a DAM system. In short, a CMS and a WCM system are different from a DAM platform in much the same way and selecting which to use typically hinges on budget and internal technical capabilities.
Digital asset management FAQs
Why is DAM 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. DAM processes and technology work behind the scenes to streamline workflows, prevent missteps, automate error-prone tasks, promote consistency, and ultimately put teams in a position to deliver on those positive, high-quality experiences customers demand. Establishing valuable connections with customers doesn’t just happen one time and on one channel. Marketing today is an omnichannel endeavor, and 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.
How do I choose the best DAM 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.