How Cloud-Based DAM Helps Brands Adapt Faster to the New, Visual Economy — By Russ Barr, Director of DAM, Cloudinary

2020 will be remembered as a year of unrelenting change and disruption. In the business world, however, many have observed the global crisis has mostly accelerated changes already underway. One glaring example is digital transformation. Brands, which had already started moving more parts of their businesses to online or omnichannel models, have doubled down on these initiatives.

With more parts of the customer journey moving online, brands increasingly rely on rich media experiences to promote their services and products across channels. Technically, this is only possible if all digital content is in one place. Syndicating the huge volume of media assets that companies need to deliver to all their channels is challenging.

Brands need to transform and optimize media assets to display correctly across all channels, devices, browsers — using as little bandwidth as possible. The only possible way to do this is by using a Digital Asset Management (DAM) system.

How cloud changed the DAM game

DAMs first came on the scene about 30 years ago to help media, publishing, and print companies store and organize videos and photos. Early DAM systems were on-premise, and used to archive assets. Later DAMs added capabilities to streamline creative workflows and promote collaboration. They allowed digital assets to move efficiently through every stage, from creation through to distribution. The advent of cloud was a DAM game-changer.

Cloud-based DAMs let companies offload hosting and maintenance to a third-party vendor that manages all upgrades, maintenance, and system backups. What’s more, through metadata, taxonomy, and digital rights management capabilities, a cloud-based DAM drives asset management and storage efficiencies. This is a huge benefit as digital content not only increases in volume but becomes increasingly business critical for all organizations.

Cloud systems also allow unprecedented scalability – upwards and downwards. An on-premise solution would quickly reach its storage and processing limits. Upgrading hardware can be costly. This is true of high-growth companies and those whose digital assets escalate, for example, by hosting lots of user-generated visual content. Cloud solution DAMs scale well by offering flexible storage and processing power.

Smart, flexible DAM innovations

Today, most cloud-based DAM systems offer integrated libraries that can deliver content to a variety of devices, channels, and repositories. Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) enable assets to plug into apps and efficiently perform routine tasks.

The latest developments in AI and deep learning have also made their way into DAMs, helping brands to manage assets by automatically identifying the contents and adding tags and metadata on the fly and at scale. This removes a huge amount of time and effort from DAM librarians and leads to assets that are easier to find and reuse.

Here are four areas of DAM innovation worth watching:

  • Artificial intelligence – A popular use case for AI in DAMs is automated asset tagging. However, that process can incur overheads and hinder workflow. Recent integrations with Amazon’s and Google’s huge information repositories have been a tremendous boon, resulting in major time and effort savings.

Another major application of AI in DAMs is to support predictive content marketing, which analyzes user interactions with digital assets. This makes it easier to make predictions about user preferences and promises to help brands manage the entire content-creation process.

Finally, AI is handling dynamic image and video transformation and optimization. This ensures that visual assets are automatically optimized and cropped for different devices, operating systems, and browsing environments so that consumers have the best possible experiences. This is particularly important for global brands who need to ensure consistency across the wide spectrum of environments that dominate in different countries.

  • Insight and analytics – Most DAM systems report on information like number of downloads and uploads, files viewed, and viewer identities. Some also report on data such as likes, comments, shares, and outcome-based information, like which assets resulted in products being added to a cart and ultimately purchased. These could also report on the assets that might have misled consumers and caused returns.
    These more advanced insights bridge the gap between ‘real world’ events and the online assets that trigger them.
  • Headless DAM – DAMs are inherently ‘headless’ – with architectures whose ‘back-office’ content management systems are decoupled from distribution on the front end. Modern DAM systems now have built-in capabilities for search, version control, and access control, reducing or eliminating extra development and integration and ensuring a consistent user experience. Headless DAMs are easy to integrate with other systems.
  • Video – Though increasingly prevalent, video is relatively expensive to create. It can also be difficult to reuse, especially if videos contain context-specific text or themes. New DAM tools are emerging for automatically manipulating and customizing video, for example, changing languages to suit different markets; reformatting for different channels; and cropping and resizing without losing the main subject.

Why integration with the enterprise software stack matters

New cloud-based DAMs also integrate better across various organizational areas to provide greater time and resource efficiency and support revenue growth. DAM system integration can be inbound or outbound. Inbound information comes from Product Information Management (PIM) systems, financial networks, and image libraries like Getty. The workflow becomes simpler and more transparent because DAM assets are the master source of all these different systems. Examples of outbound integrations are web CMSs or ecommerce platforms that promote and automate marketing campaigns through actions such as pushing content to social media.

Working with distributed teams

More brands today have distributed creative teams spread over various geographies and time zones. Despite the many advantages of this model, for some teams, collaboration has become very difficult.

Let’s say you need that perfect infographic from your designer today so you can push your email campaign live tomorrow at 6 am GMT. However, your designer was busy making lunch for his home-schooled kids when you sent him the request and didn’t check his email until much later. When he sent that infographic to you at 9 pm, you were on a video call with your extended family and didn’t check your email until bedtime at 11 pm. Yes, he put the asset in a folder on a shared drive but no, you don’t have the right permissions to see it. Oh well, maybe it won’t hurt if the campaign is pushed back by a day.

With a cloud-based DAM this situation would have been much different. If multiple designers, marketers, and even executives need to provide feedback on something, it’s far easier to all work from a single work-in-progress asset. Sharing folders and collections in the DAM eliminates the bottlenecks that occur in a ‘chain’ process, where it only takes one busy person to hold up production.

Properly administered, role-based access control also prevents ‘rookie errors’ like forgetting to set the right access permissions. Comments and notifications ensure that everyone in the team always knows the status of any work-in-progress. DAMs can also auto-tag assets, to help team members easily find what they’re looking for.

Here’s another example: a new campaign creative consisting of images and videos is coming from your outside agency. You plan to launch the campaign on Instagram tomorrow at midday but must first give the agency your brand assets and logos to add to the creative. Problem is—the agency people cannot access your systems. So, you send them an email with the assets attached. However, their email system automatically blocks anything over 20 MB. You try again with a personal Dropbox (IT won’t like it, but time is of the essence). Next, you find out with just hours to go that the external agency formatted the campaign assets incorrectly for Instagram and Facebook; you need a vertical and a square crop in addition to what they gave you. You eventually decide to postpone the campaign by a few days.

Contrast that scenario with a team that has a modern DAM with built-in media-editing capabilities, so you don’t always have to go back to your creative team for straightforward edits. DAMs with AI-based content-aware dynamic crops can take things a step further. In fact, DAMs with preconfigured transformation presets can completely automate the process of generating the optimal transformations for social media, banner ads, logo overlays, and other marketing channels.

What’s next for Digital Asset Management

Eventually many of us will return to more familiar working environments and processes. However, all the necessary innovations and pivots that 2020 ‘mothered’ will continue to evolve. While many organizations might resist the siren call to more fully transform digitally, it’s those that jump in with both feet and adopt technologies like cloud-based DAMs that will be best positioned for bright futures in the visual economy.