A few months ago, your team published a new asset about your product. And recently, your offerings have changed—so you need to update the asset accordingly. You update the asset, and now, you’re ready to share it with the world. Great. 

But you don’t know all the places the old version was published. So where do you upload the new one? To figure it out, you’re stuck scouring your website, your cloud storage, and old emails to track down the places it’s been shared. Only then can you finally start replacing the old version with your new one. 

If that scenario sounds familiar, you’re not alone. A DAM, or digital asset management system, solves this problem—and many others—by keeping all of your digital assets organized and discoverable.

Read on to learn more about digital asset management (DAM) systems, who should use them, and how they work. 

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What is a digital asset? 

A digital asset is exactly what it sounds like: an electronic file that’s valuable to your business. Your “digital assets” will include a wide range of files, from an individual image to a fully mocked up page, to training documentation, or even a P&L report. 

Most of us work with digital files every day. There may be thousands, if not millions, of different files you need to keep your business running. But not every digital file is an asset.

Think about the word “asset”—in common context, it means “a useful or valuable thing.” Your digital assets, similarly, have inherent value for your organization...which is why you’re concerned about managing them. 

As you take inventory of your organization’s digital assets, here’s a list of common asset types to start with:

  • Logos, images, and style guides that make up your visual brand 

  • Sales decks, datasheets, and case studies that enable your sales conversations 

  • Marketing content like blog posts, microsites, and white papers that contextualize your offering

  • Videos, photos, and audio files that showcase your products

What is a digital asset management system?

A digital asset management (DAM) system is a platform—and a process—for storing, organizing, securing, sharing, governing, analyzing, and collaborating on digital assets.

First of all: not every company invests in a DAM system, and not every company needs one. If your organization produces very few assets, you might get away with organizing them in cloud-based content storage platforms like Dropbox and Google Drive.

But as companies and their content management needs grow, it’s common for each individual and team to solve their asset management problems on their own. Before you know it, you’re using multiple platforms and systems to store and share assets, and content creation is happening willy nilly. 

If you’ve been in that situation, you’re probably familiar with the aggravating process of locating a file when you can’t remember the name...or the folder, or the content management system they sent it through. It’s frustrating for you, and it has a tangible impact on your work—files are constantly lost, forgotten, and duplicated. 

At this point, many teams reach for a DAM system: something that will help establish universal guidelines for accessing, sharing, and collaborating on digital assets.

Why is digital asset management (DAM) important?

Bringing on a DAM can be a tough sell internally—sure, it would make life easier, but it is critical? What is the most important business need a DAM will solve for you, and what are the outcomes you can expect to see?

With those questions in mind, here are some of the most common reasons most organizations invest in digital asset management. 

Keeps assets organized in a central, easy location

If your primary motivation for setting up a DAM system is to make it easy for internal teams to find digital assets, then you’ll want to use a platform that has an intuitive interface (so everyone can use it). If a DAM will help improve the customer experience, it should be even more simple and intuitive.

In either case, the platform you use to organize this DAM should have the functionality to hold all assets in one place and have customizable workflows. For example, your DAM shouldn’t be siloed from your input gathering process, your backlog, or your creative briefs—if you want these processes to work together, they should.

Helps you find assets quickly

You should be able to easily view the assets you need, based on the criteria that makes the most sense for your team’s workflow. If you organize your output by quarters, by contributors, by themes, or by products, all of that meta-data should be captured and filterable. 

Lets you access assets from anywhere

A cloud-based digital asset management software system makes your assets accessible from anywhere, at any time. If you’re currently juggling multiple logins to access campaign assets, you know this pain all too well. This is especially critical for organizations that work remotely, or for those scattered across multiple offices.

Eliminates asset duplication and manages version control

In a DAM platform, digital content lives in one centralized source of truth. Pulling assets from a DAM system—instead of your own files—ensures that you’re always working with the most up-to-date version. It also keeps you from accidentally sharing an outdated asset.

Who uses digital asset management systems? 

DAMs are often associated with the media and entertainment industry, where keeping high volumes of large files organized is especially key. 

But any organization that adheres to brand guidelines or needs to manage and distribute digital assets can reap the benefits of digital asset management. Here are just a few examples of teams commonly implementing DAMs.

  • Marketing teams — Marketing materials can include everything from logos to videos and all sorts of media files in between. For marketing teams, the ability to quickly take inventory, understand relationships between assets, and make updates is key to brand consistency. DAM systems like this Brand Asset Template, alleviate those issues by surfacing only up-to-date material from an asset library. 

  • Media teams — Media and entertainment teams manage tons of rich media assets, plus production and promotion processes for each one. A DAM system allows them to create centrally organized files, simple discoverability, and granular version control. 

  • Product development teams — Product development teams need to gather research, conduct in-depth analyses, and create countless wireframe and prototype iterations throughout a product’s lifecycle. To keep version control tight, a DAM system comes in handy.

  • Inventory management — In retail and manufacturing, a DAM helps teams log and manage inventory. Using a DAM connected to an inventory tracker, teams can sort, filter, and view assets through the lens they care about most. And when product details get updated, they can give different teams the permissions they need to see them. 

  • Event planning — An event planning team might track venue information, vendor lists, social media promotions, and countless contracts and agreements. When changes happen—like a contract update to add more capacity to a venue—it’s important that new assets replace the old. A DAM system helps them stay current.

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How does digital asset management work?

If you think a digital asset management system can simplify your work, the next step is to structure it. Your DAM structure should be built around the way you plan to use it—so before you commit to a system, you’ll need to deeply understand your team’s workflow, or bring on an internal partner who can help. When you’re ready, start here:

Step 1: Record your digital assets

Not every step of asset creation will happen in your DAM system. You may create assets in a variety of file formats using different programs. A strong DAM solution will allow you to sync in data from other sources, and become a source of truth for your entire workflow.

Start by creating “records” for each of your assets, including the most important metadata for your team (like asset name, production status, attached files, and format). If a status changes—like if an asset moves from production to publication—you can update the record accordingly. Instantly, all of the stakeholders on your team will know it’s ready to share. 

Step 2: Manage your digital assets 

Managing your assets is—surprise, surprise!—where a digital asset management system really shines. 

It’s also why you want to choose a DAM that has a highly user-friendly interface. You need to be able to see everything you have in your library as an overview, but also home in on particular types of assets with filters and a robust search feature. You also need to be able to see at a glance where assets are in the production process, and how they are being used in your company’s larger content ecosystem.

Step 3: Collaborate on digital assets 

A digital asset management system fosters collaboration—even if your teammates are distributed. Most good DAMs let you communicate about assets within the platform, which creates a history of revisions, and open-sources stakeholder conversations to the whole team. 

You can use integrations to connect your DAM to your workflow or build simple automations. Prefer getting chat notifications? Integrate your chat service and your DAM to get chat notifications for asset updates. Want the latest iteration of each asset in your project tracker? Link the two for seamless updates. 

Step 4: Share digital assets with others 

Sharing assets is a key part of managing digital assets—it may even be the primary reason to start using a DAM. Because a DAM includes version control, it creates a single source of truth for every asset.

By sharing the link to the corresponding asset record in your DAM—as opposed to a static version of the asset, like a PDF—you’re always sending the most current iteration. In that sense, a link to the asset in your DAM becomes an evergreen point of reference, no matter what the file types. Your team can consistently reference one link for each asset, knowing it’ll always show the most current version.

Step 5: Store your digital assets 

A digital asset management system helps to keep your assets “on ice.” You can use your DAM to store or archive digital media, in a way that makes them easily searchable later. And if you tend to work in local files, a cloud-based DAM system ensures your assets are safe if your hard drive breaks or your network goes down.

Digital asset management use cases

To really grasp a DAM’s full power, you need to see it in action. For inspiration, check out these examples of how organizations have built their own custom DAM systems. 

AVO Realty’s Listings DAM

Austin-based AVO Realty created a DAM for all of their open real estate projects. The DAM helps keep basic information organized: the name and address of the property, the details about the property, the realtor representing the property, and the MLS #. It also contains links to photos and videos of the property so that they can share the same photos with every prospective buyer. 

Diamond Candles’ visual asset DAM

The candle makers at Diamond Candles have a rich library of visual assets to help create their candle labels. Their DAM system lists each type of candle and its corresponding scent, color, accent color, and label imagery.

With this digital asset management system, the team at Diamond Candles handles brand management with ease using an always-up-to-date library of visual assets. 

See Diamond Candles’ Base   

Finding the right digital asset management system

For most organizations, a collection of assets isn’t a static stack of files. Instead, it’s a living, dynamic library that’s constantly changing in real-time—and being tweaked by multiple people. 

That’s why effective digital asset management generally requires more than a spreadsheet, or a system of cloud storage folders. You need smooth sharing, easy collaboration, and always-up-to-date information in order to source as your company’s source of truth.

Airtable is a flexible, customizable platform to build a DAM on—one that blends into your existing workflow through the power of integrations. To create your digital asset management system with Airtable, use the template below. Or if you're looking for more inspiration, view our get-started library of other marketing templates

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About the author

Bob Willsonis a creative project manager with over a decade of experience in complex production.

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