Push your digital asset management strategy beyond metadata

Digital asset management needs to go beyond metadata to build and maintain branded digital experiences that include mobile and rich media. An expert offers tips on how to begin.

We live in a visually engaging world where the branded experiences from our favorite companies capture business...

value. But how companies deliver and maintain digital experiences across multiple channels is an ongoing challenge.

The issues, practices and solutions for a successful digital asset management strategy were a topic of discussion during the recent DAM NY 2016 conference.

"Digital assets are at the essence of stories," Anthony Marshall, senior manager for digital marketing at the Kraft Heinz Co., explained during his keynote presentation. Marketers must put "the right content in the hands of the right people at the right time and also provide them with the confidence to know that they have the [licensing] rights to use it."

Of course, this is easier said than done.

DAM as a system of record

Commercial uses of photography and other rich media assets that fuel our branded experiences pose a set of complex technical and business problems that DAM systems are designed to solve. Much more is at stake than simply maintaining collections of rich media files on networked file servers.

First, there is the creative lifecycle -- capturing assets from a photo shoot, selecting and tagging the good ones, and storing them in a shared repository. The sheer number of Rich media assets under management continues to grow exponentially.

Managed assets fuel content value chains for delightful digital experiences, but there are a number of steps involved in creating that experience. A digital asset management strategy should include innumerable editorial, management and production activities -- editing and enhancing assets, reviewing and approving final versions, storing and indexing multiple renditions, channeling the distribution to marketers across the company, identifying derivative works, and the like.

Finally, there is the significant matter of commercial rights and payments -- tracking how particular assets are being used, verifying that usage terms are met, generating data for royalty payments and detecting problems before they become costly mistakes. Business models for commercial content are complex and not easily reduced to algorithms and predefined rules.

During the past 10 years, brand-conscious firms have embarked on journeys to tame the chaos of their branded assets in the wild. Their efforts are now coming to fruition with the successful deployments of DAM systems of record for storing, organizing, protecting and distributing digital assets.

Yes, with proper management incentives, IT can align with line-of-business groups around mission-critical business initiatives.

Building brand consistency

In fact, a DAM system becomes the "single source of truth" for digital assets within an enterprise. With this system in place, a firm can maintain brand consistency across internal business units as well as support its business partners. A strong digital asset management strategy enables marketing teams to easily find approved photos, illustrations and video clips, and incorporate them into campaigns.

Thus Carter's Inc., a branded marketer and baby and children's clothing retailer, tells stories about active kids and the things they wear. Creative teams upload more than 100,000 images a year to the company's enterprise DAM system.

DAM plays an increasingly important role within an enterprise application architecture.

Then, as Carter's brand managers develop specialized marketing campaigns for Wal-Mart, Target and other big-box retailers, they can select and download exclusive photos of children romping in fields. Marketers for OshKosh B'gosh -- a Carter's brand -- rely on these managed assets to produce in-store signage, print promotions, online catalogs, e-commerce websites and additional relevant content for other digital channels.

With centralized storage and management in place, the business can track usage rights, monitor what partners are doing with the digital assets and ensure compliance with corporate branding strategies.

Metadata matters

But there's a secret to a successful digital asset management strategy. Companies must invest time and effort to operationalize the underlying information architecture. A DAM system runs on predefined metadata, and companies must get it right.

Of course, business needs for relevant content categories change in light of experiences. Firms must have plans in place to continually enhance and extend all of the metadata they need to manage their assets. IT groups working with business teams must take a long, hard look at what's needed.

General Mills Inc., for example, realized that it had initially implemented an inflexible approach to DAM that could not feed its multiple digital channels. So the company scrapped its old taxonomy and started over.

"Metadata is not once and done; it must be loved and cared for," Doris Sanocki, a senior business application analyst at General Mills who spoke at DAM NY 2016, said. "Keep the metadata up-to-date, depending on how the business changes. You have to groom metadata."

Digital asset management strategy challenges

Herein lies the challenge of DAM. In today's brand-conscious marketplace, where the sheer volume of rich media assets is growing exponentially and business needs are expanding seemingly at the speed of light, how can a company possibly come up with enough tags and metadata to meet business needs, let alone accommodate prospective changes? Is DAM likely to go the way of minicomputers and oscilloscopes?

I don't think so. DAM plays an increasingly important role within an enterprise application architecture. It delivers the capabilities for managing all kinds of rich media files. It simplifies the user experience; manages access rights and permissions; and hides from nontechnical end users most of the computational complexity for storing, transporting and rendering very large files across computer networks.

Any company concerned about the integrity of its brand needs a system of record to cost-effectively deliver consistent digital experiences across its multiple distribution channels. Enterprise DAM succeeds when IT works closely with brand marketing groups to solve these key business problems.

Nevertheless, relying on predefined metadata to manage digital assets has its limits. There can never be enough metadata stored with the digital assets to manage all possible uses.

A company needs to view digital asset management not as an end in itself, but rather as an essential resource for maintaining digital experiences across multiple target audiences. A DAM system should not rely on only explicit (predefined) metadata. It should be able to capture implicit metadata, as well -- based on environmental and contextual factors surrounding the assets. And it should then provide the computational resources for utilizing both the implicit and explicit metadata to produce engaging digital experiences.

Beyond metadata

It's time to go beyond explicit metadata, no matter how precisely and elegantly it might be defined. The future for DAM hinges on the ability to capture implicit metadata from mobile devices, as well as multiple contextual situations, and use this information to generate ever more relevant branded experiences.

Getting there is going to require time and effort. A digital asset management strategy should include next-generation capabilities that can capture and manage implicit metadata. These features will automatically recognize objects within image collections -- such as finding all the photos of girls, not boys, wearing blue jeans and then tagging the assets for subsequent management.

Brand-conscious companies need experimentation and advanced development. Promising technologies around image recognition and machine learning are coming to market monthly. IT should continue to work with line-of-business groups to introduce automatic and intuitive capabilities to manage rich media assets. Together, they should push the envelope to compete with branded digital experiences.

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