The Essential Guide to Digital Asset Management

By Joe Weller | March 29, 2017 (updated November 16, 2023)

Digital asset management (DAM) is one of the fastest-growing markets in the technology industry. The rise of mobile computing and multi-channel marketing has led to an increase in the number of digital files an organization must manage - this can be overwhelming for the marketers, publishers, and advertisers that use them. According to a recent report by Grand View Research, the digital asset management market will reach $5.60 billion by 2025.

Whether you’re already using a system, evaluating a purchase, or completely new to DAM, this article will give you a comprehensive overview of the category, and help you understand the business value that a DAM system can bring to your organization. We’ll also share insight from industry experts on digital asset management best practices, and what you need to know to get the most out of your system.

What Is Digital Asset Management?

Digital asset management (DAM) represents an effort to more efficiently implement content across an organization. While to some it’s a simple spreadsheet or cloud storage tool, to others it’s a more complete platform. 

For a growing number of businesses, a true DAM tool is allowing teams to store, share, manipulate and analyze all branded content from a single source of truth. But, what are the direct impacts? Across a business, from creative to marketing and for internal and external teams, there are a host of solutions that come with implementing a full-scale digital asset management system. 

Among the most common problems a DAM system addresses are:

  • Time wasted searching for assets.
  • Misplacement of assets.
  • Duplicate assets created.
  • Misuse or unintended sharing of unapproved assets.
  • Maintaining version control and brand consistency.
  • Reducing creative file requests.
  • Lack of insight into asset use and performance.
  • Asset waste and under utilization.

Jim Hanifen, Head of Product at Brandfolder, says that “Increasing the velocity of campaign launches while also maintaining brand consistency requires a DAM that all stakeholders are empowered to use. Because of this, usability of the solution you choose is essential to ensuring the high adoption most organizations fail to achieve.”

The Basics of Digital Asset Management

A digital asset is a binary file such as video footage, photography, audio files, graphics, animation, or other media. Stored in server systems and used in print, broadcast, and digital production, these assets move through an established digital asset lifecycle, from creation through archiving:


Digital asset management has many related categories. Media asset management (MAM) is a branch of DAM that focuses on managing media file types like audio, video, and images. Video asset management (VAM) and video digital asset management (VDAM) are concerned with managing film or video assets in both analog and digital formats. Additionally, many organizations need to store rich media, which is any kind of streaming or interactive media, including streaming video, downloadable apps, or dynamic online ads.

Many organizations use content management systems (CMS) when developing digital content; in fact, a DAM system is a type of CMS. A CMS is most often used in scenarios where there are multiple users with varying levels of permissions managing content for websites or intranets.

Metadata describes and defines digital assets. Metadata can describe the content of the asset, the file type, access rights, ownership, date of creation, and other key characteristics. Whereas metadata is all about granular details associated with a particular asset, big data provides a big-picture analysis of data trends. Big data consists of data sets that are extremely large, complex, and difficult to analyze using traditional means.

Other marketing functions related to DAM include marketing operations management (MOM), which is concerned with the optimization of marketing activities, from strategic planning and content management through execution and analysis. In brand management, an organization analyzes, plans, and manages how customers and the market perceive their brand - teams can use digital asset management to help ensure brand consistency.

When speaking about the intersection of IT and marketing, you may hear industry pros refer to marketing technology, or martech. This practice brings together IT and marketing to streamline and automate traditional marketing processes with solutions for collaboration, editing, proofing, and approvals, workflows, content management, and cross-media publishing.

The Benefits of Digital Asset Management

Many who adopt DAM often wonder how they ever managed before deploying their system. Having an automated way to manage digital assets can dramatically change the way a creative team gets things done. For example, a DAM system can:

  • Streamline File Creation and Repurposing: This provides the ability to create an asset once, or edit an existing asset, and distribute it quickly via multiple channels.
  • Provide More Efficient Workflows: Automated workflows keep projects moving forward, and alert stakeholders so they remain on target to meet deadlines for reviews and approvals.
  • Ensure Brand Consistency: This improves the quality of published assets by preventing accidental use of assets that are off-brand or outdated.
  • Reduce File Search Time: Using metatags enables users to find what they need faster, and eliminates the need to re-create unfound assets.  

Who Uses Digital Asset Management and How?

Digital asset management offers use cases across a wide range of industries, from marketing and advertising to retail and government.

  • Marketing and Advertising: By automating production tasks with DAM, agencies can create and securely share creative assets with their clients.
  • Education: Institutions can use digital asset management to easily create targeted, customized communications to use in student and alumni/donor outreach.
  • Publishing: Publishers take advantage of DAM’s capabilities to accelerate proofing and approval, and quickly convert assets into multiple formats.
  • Sports, Entertainment and Media: By using digital asset management, these industries can maintain brand control and ensure global brand consistency.
  • Government: By offering easier ways to repurpose assets, DAM enables government agencies to quickly distribute creative materials to constituents in their native languages.
  • Retail: Retailers under pressure to improve customer engagement use digital asset management to create more targeted, personalized communications that build relationships and loyalty.

Do You Need Digital Asset Management or Should You Avoid It?


Do I Need a DAM System Template

Although it may seem like an invaluable tool for any creative organization, digital asset management isn’t for every company — regardless of what many software vendors might tell you. Launching a DAM procurement initiative without really understanding how it would impact your business model is risky. Therefore, the best place to start is by determining whether your organization could benefit from a digital asset management system. Download this template to help determine if it’s the right strategy for you.

Download "Do I Need a DAM System" Worksheet Template

Excel   |   Word   |   PDF


Digital Asset Management Systems: What Are the Options?

Digital asset management systems fall into three primary configurations: Cloud, on-premises, and hybrid solutions that combine cloud and on-premises. There are also options to consider regarding the use of paid vs. open-source solutions. So, be sure to weigh your business requirements against the are pros and cons of each option when considering solutions.

Cloud DAM

Cloud-based systems are at the forefront of advances in DAM technology. Many organizations choose cloud systems because they are cost-effective, easily scalable, and require no dedicated IT maintenance:

  • The system is web-hosted, so deployment is both fast and easy
  • The system vendor manages all upgrades, maintenance, and system backups
  • The web-based interface makes it easy for staff to learn and use the system
  • Adding (or removing) users is simple and requires no intervention by in-house IT staff, and providing partners and vendors access is straightforward
  • Since there is no hardware requirement, cloud systems are generally the most cost-effective option for digital asset management, and operate under a subscription model

On-premises DAM

For organizations needing extensive features from a DAM system, an on-premises option is often the best path. However, there are some trade-offs:

  • On-premises systems are not fully dependent on Internet access, which removes the risk of downtime in the event of an outage
  • In-house IT management and maintenance is required, including system backup and security updates
  • On-premises systems offer support for custom functionality, but at a price

Hybrid DAM

For companies seeking the cost-effectiveness of the cloud, combined with the uptime of an on-premises solution, there are hybrid systems:

  • The system vendor manages all upgrades, maintenance, and system backups
  • With one foot in the cloud, hybrid systems have a lower budget requirement
  • Enabling access for partners and vendors is simple
  • Not fully dependent on Internet access, removing the risk of downtime in the event of an outage

Open-source vs. Paid: Pros and Cons

When initially considering DAM, many organizations think about whether a free or open-source solution might be a good first step. While these systems are without a doubt easy on the budget, there are caveats to consider when evaluating whether a free platform will meet your business needs, or cause needless business pain:

  • A free solution can rarely cover all the bases when it comes to functionality, which then necessitates a cobbled-together solution made up of disparate systems
  • Services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, or Box can’t offer the kind of efficient search many organizations need, and they end up duplicating efforts by re-creating assets that cannot be located
  •  When using a free service, version control is only as good as the users who name and save the files, leaving a large margin for human error

DAM Features and Functionality

There’s a digital asset management solution available to meet just about any need within a creative organization. Each comes with a wide variety of features and functionality - the more robust systems offer extensive customization options for enterprise users. Often, system cost can be an indicator of the level of functionality and customization offered. In this section, we’ll  look at some of the most common aspects of DAM systems.

File management enables users to store, share, distribute, and edit digital assets from a single centralized location. One of the most valuable components of DAM file management is the search feature. By enabling users to quickly search and locate assets, organizations realize significant savings by not having to recreate missing assets.

Workflow automation replaces manual processes and streamlines the creation and production of assets, while providing project tracking to ensure that all production steps are completed, and that no proofing or approval cycles are missed.

Remote proofing and approvals help collaborators get assets and creative edited, reviewed, and approved easily, regardless of their location. This eliminates the need to share and approve drafts manually, which saves valuable time.

Security and user access and authentication provide a layer of protection against breaches within the DAM system. Administrators can set up access permissions for users based on role, location (cloud-based systems), department, or other criteria.

Collaboration enables groups of users or organizational teams to work together on asset development or creative projects — often in real time.

Brand management is a byproduct of DAM that helps organizations maintain control over their brand integrity. By ensuring that the voice, message, and tone of brand assets remain consistent across languages and delivery platforms, companies get the most value for their marketing and communications investments.

Digital publishing is facilitated by DAM, which enables creative teams to utilize assets to create and produce content in multiple formats, and deliver it across a variety of platforms and devices.

Metadata editing in DAM makes searches more efficient, and makes it easier to work with legacy metadata schemas. Being able to edit and customize asset metadata enables organizations to “fine tune” searches and ensure that users get the most targeted results.

Digital Asset Management User Stories

Digital asset management systems are currently being employed to introduce efficiencies for creative organizations in diverse settings all over the world. Here are some examples of DAM in action:

The Cleveland Museum of Art: Digital Strategy Drives Stunning Displays

Jane Alexander, the Chief Information Officer of The Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA), wanted to develop a digital strategy that put the art — not the technology — at center stage for museum-goers. Most important, she needed to ensure that content was seamlessly updated across all delivery platforms as curators and educators made changes.

Powered by a DAM system, The CMA’s Gallery One opened to the public in January 2013 with interactive touch-screen video walls displaying digital images from the museum’s collection, among other things. “A digital asset management system pulled metadata from our collection management system, thus making the data live, current, and based on the workings of the museum,” says Alexander. “We were going to equip visitors with the tools that let you look closer at artworks throughout the entire museum. We needed to use innovative experiences, to get younger audiences into the museum.” Learn more.

BBDO New York: Eliminating “Indiana Jones” File Searches

Jd Michaels, SVP Director of Creative Engineering and Production at BBDO New York, needed a visual way to organize and manage assets. “The way we used to search for a file was akin to an ‘X-Files/Indiana Jones’ scene,” he says. “Remember that room at the end of ‘Raiders’? That was our DAM system.”

Organizing the results of a multi-country photo shoot of over 5,000 digital images became dramatically easier by installing a new DAM system. “When our creatives came in to review [their photos], we said, Click here. These are all your pictures,” explains Michaels. “When the client came in, they were expecting reams of paper photos taped up on the wall ... then we gave them a web address so they could review it at home if they wanted.” Learn more.

Cornell University: Eliminating Email Asset Distribution

Before they implemented a DAM system, Cornell University’s large numbers of digital assets were dispersed across multiple locations, with no easy way to tag, share, or track them. When a client requested an image, they had to submit the request and then wait for the image to be emailed to them manually.

Today, with a DAM in place, Cornell’s photo department can quickly locate and distribute images to clients. “The news and marketing departments locate images for the Cornell website, on-campus publications, and the Cornell Chronicle,” says Corey Chimko, Digital Resources Coordinator. “We also use the DAM system to deliver photos to our clients.” Learn more.

DAM Best Practices From a Digital Asset Management Expert


Jillian Talvensaari, Chief Marketing Technologist at Moxie Marketing, is an expert in digital asset management best practices. She recommends that organizations beginning the process of deploying DAM first gain an internal advocate from senior management.

 “This type of project absolutely has to be championed from the top down,” she says. “Having your CIO or CTO on board from the beginning not only helps in getting budget allocated for a DAM system, it also makes user adoption much easier.”

Your choice of partner, explains Talvensaari, is also key. “Choose a partner that is bringing you today’s best-of-breed technology. The DAM category has made great strides in innovation over the last few years, so make sure you’re getting the most advanced bang for your buck!”

In the discovery process with your IT partner, Talvensaari recommends identifying tasks that are repetitive in nature. “Processes like manual proofing workflows, client approvals, and video campaign management can often realize the most dramatic improvement with DAM,” she states.

When rolling out a DAM system across an organization, Talvensaari suggests that sharing small successes can pave the way. “Start small with a pilot group that needs digital asset management the most,” she says. “Bring it to them, get them involved, and when they see benefits, share that success, and spread the seeds across the organization.”

Talvensaari notes that it’s important to understand that DAM is about increasing business value, not shrinking the workforce. “DAM isn’t about reducing headcount” she says. “It’s about using advanced technology to free up creative teams to do more of what they love and are best at!”


Which System Is Right for You?

Deciding on a DAM software and system can be a challenging process. Here are some guidelines for what you can do upfront to help you make an informed choice:

  1. Perform a Content Audit: Get a clear picture of the content you have, find ways to reuse valuable content, and eliminate underperforming or irrelevant assets.

  2. Gather System Requirements: Determine which type of digital asset management system fits your business model, your infrastructure, and your users.

  3. Assemble business requirements: Identify the challenges you want to resolve with DAM.

  4. Decide on Cloud, Hybrid, or On-premises: Determine scalability and budget needs, and choose the solution delivery model accordingly.

For a more detailed look at the process of choosing a DAM system, read our article, Expert Advice on Choosing the Digital Asset Management System That’s Right for Your Company.

Calculating Digital Asset Management ROI

Determining the return on investment (ROI) for a DAM system helps with strategic planning, and in providing purchase validation to C-level executives. First, determine what asset management is currently costing without DAM by evaluating:

  • Costs for asset re-creation
  • Costs for asset searches
  • Costs for asset distribution

Then, identify revenue gains that you can achieve with DAM:

  • More revenue through resource availability
  • New revenue streams

Finally, find out how long it will take for your digital asset management solution of choice to pay for itself.

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