How to Choose a Digital Asset Management System
In this Article
Managing digital assets is more challenging than ever for modern brands. As the volume and types of digital content explode, businesses struggle to organize, find, and share visual assets. The result? Teams waste countless hours and lack the materials they need for critical projects. This workflow dysfunction costs time and hurts branding consistency.
If you’re not relying on a DAM system to overcome the challenge, it is time to decide. DAM software centralizes all digital assets in a searchable online database, making assets easy to find, distribute, and manage from creation through retirement.
With many DAM platforms on the market, choosing the right one is crucial yet challenging. You want a system tailored to your unique needs and integrations. This guide will help you find the ideal DAM based on must-have features, budget, support, and more. You’ll be taken through selection criteria to make an informed decision based on your specific use case and requirements. Let’s dive in and figure out the best DAM solution for your brand!
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What is Digital Asset Management?
Digital Asset Management (DAM) involves collecting, storing, and retrieving various forms of digital content, such as pictures, videos, audio files, and documents. At the very least, DAM software (a tool that organizations use to manage digital assets) ensures that the use of digital assets is consistent with organizational standards and compliant with relevant regulations.
A generic DAM tool centralizes the organization, manipulation, and enrichment of digital assets. It also allows authorized team members to access, modify, and distribute files effortlessly. Some examples of the files include:
- Spec sheets – Detailed PDFs listing product dimensions, materials, features, and specifications.
- Instruction manuals – Documents providing detailed information about how products should be operated or repaired.
- Marketing materials – Product photos, videos, and brochures used in marketing campaigns.
- Branding assets – Logos, fonts, and color palettes that maintain brand consistency.
You’ll also find specialized DAM tools that offer capabilities focused on particular use cases. One example is Catsy DAM, whose main purpose is to manage digital assets for eCommerce. Hence, you may want to call it an eCommerce DAM.
Unlike generic systems, an eCommerce DAM specifically caters to the needs and challenges that businesses in the online business context face. For example, Catsy DAM allows you to link digital assets to a product or even a collection of products and automate product-related tags. More on the key capabilities of an eCommerce DAM here.
What can you accomplish with a DAM solution?
Don’t think that organizing the digital assets is all that DAM tools do, however. Think of them as a comprehensive solution that handles all workflows, from creating assets to sharing and distributing them. In fact, DAM tools are designed to follow the natural lifecycle of digital assets: creating, enriching, distributing, archiving, reusing, and retiring the assets. Let’s see how the tools handle each stage:
- Asset creation and editing – Many DAM systems have built-in basic image and video editing functions. This allows marketing teams to create and edit digital assets directly within the platform rather than toggling between separate creative tools. However, others like Catsy have Photoshop plugins so that users can create high-quality visual content and store it in the DAM database.
- Collaborative review – DAM enables different team members to review and provide feedback on assets. Functional capabilities include version control, out-of-box workflows, and notifications sent straight to your inbox.
- Integrations – Leading DAM solutions integrate with other business tools like PIM, content management systems (CMS), and eCommerce platforms. Catsy takes the integration feature a notch higher – it is built on the same platform as Catsy PIM. This connectivity empowers greater efficiency.
- Organization and archiving – DAM platforms use metadata and tags, and some use artificial intelligence (AI) to categorize assets for simplified search and retrieval. As assets age, they can be archived while remaining findable.
- Security and permissions – Granular user permissions allow brands to specify which users can access, edit, download, or share assets. Encryption provides an additional safeguard for sensitive files. Solutions like Catsy DAM provide a highly secure self-service feature called a brand portal. The feature provides a centralized location for all brand-related materials, making it easier for teams to find and use the correct assets, helping to ensure brand consistency across all touchpoints and channels. The brand portal also often includes features for controlling user access and permissions, tracking asset usage, and managing versions of assets.
- Search and retrieval – DAM systems make finding the right assets easy. They provide intuitive AI search, filters, and custom folders that allow assets to be located in seconds.
Why You Need a DAM System
A censhare study found that 53% of marketers waste too much time trying to find content assets that may or may not exist. The resulting frustration weakens morale as nearly 9-in-10 marketers say marketing should be about the freedom to create and implement game-changing ideas instead of getting bogged down in administrative tasks. This indicates a dire need for a system that streamlines asset management.
So, any marketer wanting to take their digital asset management to the next level should be looking to incorporate DAM tools into their workflow.
For organizations with extensive and diverse teams, the tool – through the brand portal – allows members (including external partners) to access, modify, and share brand assets easily. Before proceeding further, let’s see what a brand portal is and how it makes DAM tools invaluable.
What is a brand portal?
Brand portals are a feature of DAM software that allows brand partners to self-serve digital assets. They are important because they enable brands to efficiently provide customized content to many different parties on demand.
The key features include:
- Always available so users can access content anytime
- Powerful search capabilities to easily find assets
- Reduce effort for marketing teams through a self-service model
- Allow custom access and permissions for different users
- Single source of truth connecting to internal brand workflows
- Additional functionality like spreadsheets and data sheets
Brand portals streamline product content sharing, making DAM tools invaluable for brands managing high volumes of content requests across a variety of partners and internal teams. Their self-service access and robust search simplify content distribution workflows.
Things like brand portals are the reason large and small companies lean on DAM to solve challenges spread-out teams encounter, including the inability to quickly share assets, permissions, instant asset access, version control, and file management.
In other words, the DAM solution is a critical component of the marketing stack for brands, especially enterprise brands that handle vast product catalogs. It removes the challenges of storing files in disparate locations or needing cloud storage solutions that do not provide a similar utility.
A DAM software connects dispersed teams and ensures each member can access complete product content. The tool allows brands to reap the many benefits of digital asset management, which include:
- Improved workflow efficiency – A core benefit of DAM is having assets readily accessible to all relevant team members. For example, when a social media manager at a power tool company needs product images to promote a new cordless drill on Instagram, they can quickly find the approved assets in the DAM system rather than emailing coworkers or searching shared drives. This saves time and eliminates productivity bottlenecks.
- Better brand management – DAM allows brands to maintain control over assets like logos, fonts, and imagery. Employees can easily find on-brand assets in the DAM database, preventing outdated or unapproved files from being used.
- Cost savings – DAM eliminates duplicated workflows like recreating images or documents. For example, a construction equipment company can rely on its DAM to generate spec sheets rather than paying a copywriter to rewrite them.
- Increased security – Granular user permissions enable control over who can access, share, edit, or download assets.
- Collaboration – DAM facilitates asset sharing between dispersed teams. For example, a hardware manufacturer can grant regional marketing teams access to certain assets relevant to local campaigns. Most DAM tools allow comments and annotations, fostering collaboration.
Suppose you are a marketer and work for an industrial brand with a vast product catalog. In that case, you most likely are familiar with the struggle of centralizing, organizing, and sharing digital assets with internal teams and external partners. You also know that numerous DAM solutions are in the market, and choosing the right tool is a massive challenge because most appear to be doing the same thing. And perhaps you are here because you want to make the right decision. If so, lean closer because the following section is the most helpful.
Criteria for Evaluating DAM Systems
A typical organization has a marketing stack for generating leads and increasing sales. This stack is continuously improved and optimized to adapt to changing needs. You’d need guidelines to help you decide how to select a new component of the stack and how to integrate it. In the same spirit, let’s learn a simple guiding principle to help you decide what DAM software to add to your organization’s marketing stack.
User interface and ease of use
The layout and appearance is the first thing users see when they open a new DAM platform. It is a considerable advantage if they love it and want to look around more. Why is this important?
As part of a team, you do not acquire a DAM solution for your personal use. All members (including external partners) will use the platform to access and manage your brand’s digital assets. So, the interface must be easy to use for all stakeholders.
You can assess the UI/UX by asking:
- Is the interface modern, clean, and visually appealing?
- How easy is it to search, browse, and find assets?
- What workflow automation and assistive features are available?
- Can permissions and views be customized by user or group?
- Is the interface consistent across desktop and mobile?
- How intuitive is the platform to new users?
- Does it use recognizable UI patterns?
The ideal DAM has a simple, clean layout that allows users to find assets and complete tasks in just a few clicks. Features like search, filters, and customizable folders should be prominent and easy to use.
The system should also offer role-based permissions so admins can customize interfaces and functions for different users or groups. For example, casual users may only need upload and search functions, while power users need metadata editing and reporting access. You should be able to set permissions so that users only see what they need.
The layout should also be usable. Usability refers to expediting workflows and leveraging the tool to cut through tasks that would be complex if handled manually. Automation features like AI tagging are critical for usability. For instance, consider a power tools manufacturer with thousands of images that need tagging. Rather than doing this manually, AI algorithms can scan images and pull out relevant metadata like colors, models, and other product attributes, saving time and making assets more findable for users.
Integration with other software
Why should you consider other software when planning for a DAM system? Because you must! Without realizing it, all industrial brands, no matter the size, have some form of technology stack. The stack grows naturally with the business.
For instance, a typical enterprise brand has at least ten different software solutions that help to run the business smoothly. An enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform helps manage various business processes, an inventory management system, a product information management (PIM) solution, customer relationship management (CRM), and more. This stack may grow more extensive when the business starts selling online.
The point here is that the DAM solution must integrate well with existing software. Some critical integrations include:
- Integration with PIM software to efficiently synchronize product data like specs, pricing, and imagery avoids duplicating work. It also ensures consistent product info across channels.
- Integration with eCommerce platforms like Shopify helps make product images, logos, banners, and other marketing assets accessible directly within the platform’s UI. This makes merchandising and marketing product pages easier without toggling between systems.
- Some of the best DAM tools, like Catsy, can integrate with third-party tools like Photoshop and Canva for better productivity. For instance, Catsy’s Photoshop add-in allows users to edit assets in Photoshop, and then the revised version can sync back to the DAM. It also has a Canva add-in that enables users to create designs, graphics, and layouts within Canva while sourcing assets from the DAM. The final designs can sync back to the DAM for storage and distribution.
You can assess integration capabilities by asking:
- What other systems can it integrate with (PIM, ERP, eCommerce, etc)?
- Are there pre-built connectors or APIs available?
- How easy is it to set up and manage integrations?
- Can asset metadata sync across systems?
- Does it integrate with design tools like Photoshop or Canva?
- Can assets be accessed directly within other platforms?
- How seamless are multi-system workflows?
Most crucially, evaluating how easily a DAM can integrate with existing marketing technology (Martech) stack and design tools is vital for maximizing the value it can provide across an organization. Tight integration powers more automation and eliminates silos.
Security and compliance
The best choice of DAM should help you comply with data collection, management, and sharing regulations. It should also have robust features that ensure the integrity of your brand’s assets.
One of the critical factors to consider is the granular permission feature. The settings are essential to limit access to your brand’s assets. For example, the platform should enable you to make confidential assets like product prototypes and manufacturing specs only visible to specific team members.
You can assess the security capabilities by asking:
- What types of permissions/access controls are available?
- Can access be restricted at asset, folder, and user group levels?
- Does it meet regulatory compliance needs?
- What user activity logging is available?
A security-focused DAM should allow you to version history. Logs document the user activity and interactions within the software. They are like the footprints you leave behind when walking on a surface – anyone with the proper authorization (such as an admin) can see what buttons you clicked and what assets attracted your attention. If you can audit the logs, you will have an overhead view of user activity, which is essential for compliance reporting and security monitoring.
Metadata and tagging
The best DAM system should help your team search and retrieve assets quickly. This efficiency is built on the software’s objectives: enhanced organization, version control, customization, and contextual information. At the center of it all is metadata.
Metadata provides descriptive information about digital assets, including keywords, tags, titles, descriptions, and more. This makes it easier for DAM software users to quickly search for and find specific assets. When users can locate assets efficiently, it saves time and enhances productivity.
Some DAM platforms have built-in AI algorithms that automate metadata tagging. They automatically identify attributes like objects, colors, brand names, and more in assets when uploaded. The automation removes the manual tagging work, especially for large volumes of assets.
You can evaluate metadata and tagging capabilities by asking:
- What automated tagging features are available?
- Can custom metadata fields be added?
- How are metadata used in search and filters?
- Can assets be tagged with multiple metadata values?
- Are there any limitations on metadata schema?
The best DAM tool should offer additional functionality, such as custom metadata fields for adapting the system to track information unique to your business. It should also leverage metadata to provide intelligent search and filter features, which allows users to find assets quickly without guessing filenames or folders. For example, searching “red power drills” could automatically generate relevant results.
Some DAM tools, like Catsy, are pre-integrated with a PIM system for better productivity. This system allows you to map product information to corresponding assets, preventing redundant data entry. If you care about resources, an integrated PIM and DAM platform is the right choice.
Storage and bandwidth
An ideal DAM solution should allow you the flexibility to choose preferred storage and bandwidth capabilities. Many offerings provide cloud and on-premise deployment options to suit different business needs. Some enterprise brands prefer on-premise DAM software, which provides total control and security of assets. Others benefit more from a cloud option that handles storage, bandwidth, and infrastructure needs with less setup.
Regardless of the deployment method, scalable storage is crucial as asset libraries grow. A DAM that offers you endless storage scalability prevents having to manually migrate assets to new servers whenever limits are reached.
Also, evaluate the vendor’s content delivery network (CDN). A CDN helps optimize the DAM’s performance – you should ensure that your preferred DAM has a well-optimized CDN. This means the CDN is accessible globally, can scale to accommodate increased traffic and data demands, offers redundancy and failover capabilities, and is equipped to handle spikes in traffic.
You can reduce this step in the evaluation process into several key questions, including:
- What storage options are available (cloud, on-premise, hybrid)?
- How easy is it to scale storage up as needed?
- Does the system optimize assets for delivery over web and mobile (image compression, video encoding)?
- Is a CDN integrated or available as an add-on?
- What network redundancy is in place to prevent downtime if servers fail?
Carefully evaluating the DAM’s storage, delivery, and bandwidth capabilities will ensure it can handle your digital asset volumes and throughput needs now and in the future. Ample storage capacity and bandwidth provisioning prevent bottlenecks as your usage scales.
Support and training
As you approach the end of the vetting process, set aside enough time to consider what after-purchase support options are available. The most critical is training and customer support quality. Consider the following:
- Quality of customer support – What support channels are available (phone, email, chat)? Are support reps knowledgeable and able to resolve issues quickly? Is there an online knowledge base, forums, or documentation for self-help?
- Implementation training – Does the vendor provide onboarding training for admins and users during implementation? Is it live, recorded, or written? Training is crucial so teams understand how to use the system properly from the onset.
- Ongoing support options – Is ongoing phone/email support included? Are there live or online training courses available for refreshers or new hires? Can the vendor provide an account manager for guidance?
- Training resources – Are instructional videos, user guides, cheat sheets, or quick-start tutorials available for reference? Providing resources helps users learn on their own time.
- Customization – Can the vendor customize training or provide coaching tailored to your specific use cases and workflows?
You can assess support and training by asking:
- What are the support channels (phone, chat, email, forums)?
- Is customer support timely and knowledgeable?
- What onboarding training is included? Is it live, recorded, or written?
- Are there ongoing training options available?
- What self-help resources are provided (documentation, videos, guides)?
- Can training be customized to our workflows?
- Is there an online knowledge base or community for assistance?
- Are product updates and new feature training included?
Finally, the budget. It is the ultimate decider of the DAM solution your brand will settle with. As you think about this, it helps to know that most vendors offer unique pricing options, but they all fall into two main categories:
- Some DAM vendors charge a one-time perpetual license fee. This allows unlimited use of the software in perpetuity but generally comes with an annual maintenance fee for upgrades and support.
- Others use a subscription model, charging an annual recurring fee to access the software. Subscriptions are generally cheaper upfront but require ongoing payments.
Ideally, the pricing model should align with your budget – do you prefer one-time or recurring fees? It should also scale incrementally based on usage factors like storage volume, monthly asset downloads, number of users, etc. Scaling costs allow you to pay only for the required capacity as your needs grow.
However, be sure to factor in implementation costs like integration, migration, training, and change management. While this increases initial outlay, it sets the system up for success.
You can assess the budget fit by asking:
- What pricing models are available (perpetual license, subscription, etc)?
- How are costs structured (per user, asset volume, bandwidth, etc)?
- Is pricing scalable based on usage and capacity?
- What is included (storage, bandwidth, users, support)?
- What additional costs are there (onboarding, migration, training)?
- Are there discount tiers based on volume?
- Can costs be optimized by adjusting capacity needs?
Choosing DAM Features Based on Your Needs
As a marketer, you know that brands only seek solutions to issues that need fixing to increase efficiency and productivity. In other words, you will not want to acquire a DAM solution if that wasn’t required in the first place.
That is why you’ll most certainly have a list of features you’d prefer the best choice of DAM to offer. You should draw a list of must-have features against nice-to-have to prioritize your pain points better. Ask the following questions to establish the correct order of priorities when evaluating DAM systems:
- What types of digital assets need managing? Images, videos, documents?
- What kind of products do you sell? Do you have a lot of product variants?
- Who are your customers? If you’re a manufacturer, you’ll need a brand portal to share assets with distributors seamlessly.
- What is the volume – how many assets and storage are needed?
- Who will use the system – how many and what roles?
- What functionality is most important? Brand control? Workflows?
- What systems need integration? CMS, marketing automation?
- What level of support and training is needed?
- What budget is available?
You’ve made it to the end – great job! Hopefully, this breakdown of the critical factors to evaluate has given you the knowledge to find the ideal solution.
Picking the right DAM platform is crucial, so take time to align stakeholders on must-have capabilities. Focus on user experience, integration needs, security requirements, metadata and search functionality, storage and bandwidth needs, and don’t forget about ongoing support and training options.
Most importantly, ensure the feature set maps to your specific use cases and workflows. For example, if sharing assets securely with external partners is a priority, ensure the DAM offers robust security controls and a customizable brand portal.
By carefully weighing these elements against budget, you can select a DAM that supercharges your digital asset management. Just envision the efficiency gains from implementing a centralized system for creating, storing, organizing, sharing, and distributing product images, videos, documents, and more.
The right DAM will save teams time, provide better visibility into digital assets, maintain brand consistency, and deliver peace of mind around security. So take action and get ready to transform how you manage your digital content!
DAM provides additional benefits like maintaining brand consistency, enhancing collaboration between dispersed teams, reducing duplicated work, securing sensitive assets, and integrating with other systems for greater efficiency.
DAM complements cloud storage by adding organization, search, collaboration, and other digital asset management features on top of storage capacity. Many DAMs also provide scalable storage so that you can move assets from scattered locations to a central repository.
Yes. Many DAM vendors offer APIs and other tools to enable custom integrations with proprietary software, CRMs, ERPs, and specialized systems. This allows DAM to connect with your existing tech stack.
DAM delivers value for organizations of all sizes by centralizing digital assets and improving workflows. Scalable solutions are available to suit the needs and budgets of small or large companies.
Reputable DAM vendors provide onboarding training and ongoing support to ensure your team can easily transition and adopt new digital asset management workflows.