Get on the DAM Train
Effectively managing your digital marketing assets is a must in the digital age — and it takes a combination of technology and people to do it right
By Chuck Kapelke
Marketers today have access to a mind-blowing array of tools to create photos, videos, and other content assets — and endless channels to beam them all around the world. But staying on top of the all-important task of organizing all those pretty pixels can quickly become overwhelming.
"Some companies are significantly more mature than others when it comes to managing their assets," says Nick Barber, an analyst at Forrester Research. "A lot of digital asset management vendors are shifting to the cloud because we know that it can scale easier, it can support more assets, and it's easier to roll out enterprise wide. But there's still a subset of users who are still on legacy systems."
A recent Forrester report, "You're a Content Publisher Now, So Get Your DAM House in Order," reported that only about 20 percent of companies plan to increase their investment in digital asset management (DAM) systems, compared with 38 percent that are investing in web content management. Those that do invest in DAMs, the survey found, often make mistakes like choosing the wrong solution or underinvesting in the change-management that's necessary for a successful transition.
If your marketing team isn't already on the DAM train, it's time to get on board. Today's cloud-based asset management systems allow distributed marketing teams to not only store and share images and videos online, but also to creatively collaborate and iterate on assets, track the usage and performance of different photos and videos, and even tag and categorize images through machine recognition. Of course, getting the most out of all those bells and whistles requires a dedicated effort, so here are some tips to get started.
Have a Clear Content Strategy in Place
The first step in managing your brand assets lies in understanding how your content is supposed to flow in the first place. Consider the example of Casper, a fast-growing seller of mattresses, pillows, and other sleep products. The company constantly generates new photos and other media to maintain an active presence on Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook — and to nourish its blog, Pillow Talk, and its journalist-produced content site, Van Winkle's. But rather than produce assets ad hoc, Casper's marketers focus on making the channels work together.
"If you are a fan of Casper on Twitter, there's a very good chance you follow us on Instagram, so we want to make sure the content is always complementary," says Lindsay Kaplan, VP of communications and brand engagement at the New York City–based company. "We have a content calendar that maps out everything we're doing so we're not duplicating our efforts. Everything fits into an ecosystem that makes sense and that feels like a cohesive narrative."
Casper proves that you do not have to have the most sophisticated content library — they primarily organize their assets through folders on Box, a cloud storage provider — as long as you have a clear sense of your strategy across channels. "We have a big database and everything is categorized," Kaplan says. "You need to make sure that you're presenting something that makes sense on each platform, and you want make sure that if your fans are enjoying your stories, they're enjoying them in different ways."
Build a Brand Central, but Hold On Loosely
Especially for larger companies, the art of digital asset management lies in maintaining enough centralized control to ensure consistency, while also empowering distributed teams with the tools to customize their messages for local audiences.
"In the past, asset management was like having a jewel box for the brand," says Kevin Groome, founder of Pica9, a New York City–based firm that helps brands to localize marketing. "It was locked down and only a few people could get to it. But then we came to realize we needed to distribute those assets in a way that would protect them from misuse or misapplication, but still allow folks in the field to tailor these assets for their needs to conquer the last mile of marketing."
Consider the example of Microsoft, which has set up a single repository, called Brand Central, that is shared by all the company's marketers, whether in Washington, Argentina, or China. "We get all our assets — and our brand guidelines and storytelling guidelines — from Brand Central," explains Miri Rodriguez, senior lead of social media and communities, who is in charge of managing the Spanish, Portuguese, and English customer care responses for Microsoft products.
Rather than force or impose messages on its regional teams, Brand Central includes a searchable library of assets, along with templates that different regions can adapt for their needs. "We're a huge, global company, but we are very careful to make sure we are tailoring our approach to our customers across the world," Rodriguez says. "The library is insane, and you can choose by different filters what kind of image or video you want to post. As long as we're abiding by the general guidelines, whatever you write is up to you."
Maintaining the right balance between central and local is crucial, agrees Groome, who says companies should produce all their assets as templates under the assumption that marketers know what their local audiences want. "You remember that old song, 'Hold on loosely, but don't let go'?" Groome says. "When you conceive your designs, leave play in them. Design and create with the local marketer's versioning in mind. You're going to let go of some of the perfectionism that has often characterized the advertising business, but you'll get more flexibility at the local level."
Once you have a DAM in place, provide training, create peer groups, and convene regular meetings to talk about basic skills.
Tackle the People Challenge
Digital asset management systems rely on technology, but how successful companies are in using them comes down to people, which in turn comes down to generating buy-in and providing sufficient training. "It should be a variety of users' jobs to interact with the system," Barber says, "but there might be a lack of buy-in from different lines of business, or maybe some offices don't have access, or they have a single person in charge of moving assets."
Managers should open conversations with their teams to listen to how people are using content assets already, with a goal to purchase or develop a solution that everyone can work with. Once you have a DAM in place, provide training, create peer groups, and convene regular meetings to talk about basic skills like logging in, converting images to appropriate file sizes, downloading and tagging assets, etc., as well as to discuss what's working and what's not. Conveniently, many DAMs allow you to manage access for different individuals or regions, so you don't have to hand the keys to the castle over to everyone at once.
"More and more users are getting involved in loading and using the assets," Barber says. "Previously you just had marketers, but now it might be media and publishing, or PR, or human resources. A lot of it is creating the culture of driving use, and not just forcing people to use it, but making the platform useful to them by creating a metadata and taxonomy structure that won't bog down users."
Indeed, getting everyone to follow the same rules of taxonomy — how images and videos are titled and tagged — is essential, so make sure this is as clear as possible. "You want to straddle the balance between not requiring enough data or requiring too much, where it becomes too much of an effort to upload an asset," Barber says. "When you require appropriate metadata, it makes the platform easier to search, find, and discover. It lets you get to the right asset faster, and speeds up that creative process."
Feed the Ecosystem, and Monitor and Share
Once in place, DAMs can connect to other applications through APIs, and so can serve as the heart of the ecosystem of modern marketing tools. For example, designers and managers can use a DAM to iterate on assets during the creation phase to get approvals from marketing managers, as well as sales, legal, etc. On the other end, content teams can access the library of assets from within their content management system (CMS). "A DAM can work between downstream delivery technologies like content marketing and production information management, and upstream creation technologies, where assets get created," Barber says. "It's a one-stop shop, rather than having disparate systems that you have to log in to, find the asset, download, and then upload to another application. That makes the DAM more than just cloud storage; it makes it the command center for asset creation, storage, and distribution."
Another key feature of DAMs is the ability to monitor the usage and effectiveness of a given asset, as well as ensure a particular photo or video is not being over- or under-used. "You have the ability to track it over any date or time range — how much it's been used, who used it — and in so doing, get a sense of your 'return on creative,'" says Groome. "You should be able to see not just the fact that the asset was used, but how it was used, whether in a print ad, a banner, or on a billboard."
Once the system is fully up and running, the brand marketer's role is to keep pumping in new assets and templates while empowering local marketers to share practices and creative ideas. "When you feed the system more frequently, you ingrain a trust that the brand will help local marketers speak in a polished and professional way," Groome says. "When you get that virtuous cycle going, they start using and complying with the brand voice more, rather than trying to invent their own."
Photo credit: In Green/shutterstock.com
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