MarTech Landscape: What are those DAM systems?
They’re not being cursed; they’re being used to manage zillions of photos, videos, graphics and other files.
Instead of shoe boxes of photos, many businesses employ specialized software to manage their images.
These Digital Asset Management (DAM) systems can make life a bit easier than flipping through prints spread out on a table — especially since many businesses have thousands, if not millions, of media assets stored somewhere as digital files.
In this installment of MarTech Today’s MarTech Landscape Series, we explain what those DAM systems are and why marketers often need them.
What are DAM systems?
Besides photo files, digital assets can include audio/music files, video clips, graphic files or presentation files. Each one of those files requires identification, tagging so it can be searched, licensing info, some way to track its usage and ways to have it approved for use in, say, a marketing campaign.
There are some specialized kinds of DAM systems that are oriented toward specific media types or use cases that extend beyond, say, making sure you have the latest product photo for a new marketing brochure.
Media asset management (MAM) systems, for instance, are focused on video and audio files, which tend to be much larger and have different management requirements than photos. Brand Asset Management (BAM) systems are oriented toward using digital assets to manage a brand’s presentation according to branding guidelines. A Product Information Management (PIM) system includes image management, as well as updated product info. Content Management Systems sometimes provide a degree of asset management, although users with extensive collections and needs may want to integrate a DAM system with their CMS.
DAM systems can be cloud-based, allowing various project members to access and manage the assets from anywhere, or they can be on-premises, which can provide greater assurances about security.
What do they do?
Whatever the particular DAM system is called, it generally has several core functions. It needs to store the assets in a central location — either an actual central location or a virtual one that appears central. Users need to have access according to their role so that, for instance, a copywriter gets view-only permission, but a graphic designer can download and adapt photos as needed.
There needs to be an ability to manage licensing rights, to share the selected files and to obtain approvals from remote clients or managers. And, increasingly, users want assets to automatically swap in and out of dynamic templates for specific markets, time periods or use cases, so that the production team has one less thing to worry about.
The DAM Foundation has established 10 core characteristics of a DAM system, distinguishing them from the kinds of custom systems that many organizations have built around their in-house database. In summary, the 10 characteristics of a DAM are the ability to:
- ingest and manipulate assets individually or in large groups
- secure assets, such as through defining user access
- storing assets as binaries and as metadata
- transform assets into other file formats or versions, while maintaining the originals
- add metadata
- control versions
- provide workflow tools for asset management and approval
- retrieve assets via searching by keywords or metadata
- preview assets
- share and publish the assets outside of the system
Other often-mentioned functions include policy tracking, archiving and the ability to track usage.
Some DAM vendors
Leading DAM vendors include WebDAM, Widen Collective, ADAM, Canto’s Cumulus, WoodWing’s Elvis, MerlinOne, North Plains’ Telescope, Picturepark and Razuna. DAMs also exist in some large marketing platforms, such as Adobe’s Experience Manager Assets.
Some homegrown systems work fine for tracking and managing digital assets, but, when you outgrow them, it’s best to assess your actual needs. Key considerations: your typical uses and your regular workflows for creation, approval and deployment, and, in particular, the other marketing, branding, PR or ad tools with which the DAM system needs to integrate.