Marketers need to organize, manage, and repurpose marketing assets in order to control costs, maximize brand impact, and minimize cycle times. With multiple channels requiring consistent messaging across various devices, all with different resolutions and formats, managing digital assets has become more complex and costly. This article discusses how to control those costs using technologies that enable reuse and make it possible to bring expensive agency functions in-house.
Digital Assets And Applications
Though everything online is technically “digital,” “digital assets” typically refer to non-text assets. Digital assets can be divided between assets that are sold to the consumer and those that are used to sell other items to the consumer (not the asset itself). Examples of the former include music from iTunes, TV shows and movies from Netflix, and games sold for various mobile devices. Examples of the latter are photographs of shoes or patio furniture in an e-commerce catalog, advertising illustrations for production in a magazine, and video instructions for assembling a bicycle.
Asset-management applications come in multiple flavors. Frequently, digital assets are managed as part of another process–for example, fulfillment tracking or e-commerce. There are purpose-built applications that have very focused functionality–for example, systems created to handle file transfers and basic workflow between a creative agency and a customer. Most e-commerce systems handle a range of media types. Digital-asset management and marketing-resource management systems provide additional functionality that can help lower costs.
>> Digital-asset management (DAM): In applications that handle text documents, assets contain information that a search system can parse and index. For instance, product descriptions and articles are mostly text. A search engine can usually find text information with a few keywords. We’re not so lucky with rich-media assets. Photos and illustrations do not contain text, and image-recognition systems are not advanced enough to handle keyword descriptors. We’re left with the need to tag the image with terms (as metadata) that the system can then use to retrieve the asset. DAM systems provide the necessary tagging and workflow-management capabilities. They also handle video files that are very large and can “transcode” these files into various formats. A Web site could be optimized for one resolution and file size, whereas a mobile device could require another. Photos also can be managed at various resolutions–for example, thumbnails for quick retrieval and higher resolution images for production.
>> Market-resource management (MRM): MRM applications also provide for digital-asset management. One of the biggest costs to marketing organizations beyond the cost of media placement is the cost of the media itself. In many cases, organizations lack a simple way to catalog, manage, and retrieve the photos and images they commission. Instead, production managers will use the standard asset-management system that everyone has–the telephone. They’ll call the creative agency to get a copy of the asset at a different resolution or for a different purpose (or, in many cases, the same resolution for the same purpose because they cannot locate the in-house copy). The agency is happy to oblige–for a fee. These fees for asset management and retrieval or, worse, fees for re-creation of assets can add up to hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. MRM systems also handle more complex workflows and even campaign tracking and management. MRM allows for the storage, management, and retrieval of component and composite assets.
12 questions to address to get started with DAM and MRM.
Real Cost Savings From Asset Reuse
One large pharmaceutical organization I worked with saved $14 million in the first year of operation of its DAM system. These savings were from two sources: asset reuse and low-cost sourcing. In most circumstances, creative agencies are commissioned to provide a finished product–let’s say a full-page ad for a magazine. That full-page ad contains a picture of a smiling patient and a smiling doctor talking about a problem that the pharma company’s product addresses. The photo could also be used in other contexts, such as on a Web page or by another group running another campaign. However, the ad was sent as a composite with text and image. The image cannot be easily reused in this format. On the other hand, if the asset is also commissioned as a separate component asset, and uploaded and tagged as such, then it can be reused in multiple contexts and applications. If another group within the organization needs a picture of a smiling doctor with a smiling patient, and the asset is tagged with appropriately descriptive metadata, then production designers can retrieve that asset rather than commissioning another.
The same goes for all sorts of resources. Organizations waste a great deal of time and money either searching for assets for use in new campaigns and applications, or by paying for creation of assets that, in fact, they already own. MRM systems have the capability to manage assets across campaigns and to manage rights for usage of assets.
Rights management, in fact, is a critical success factor and often requires careful attention. Rights management is a tricky issue because there are many factors in play–time frames, medium, audience, geographies, usage context, and others. For instance, a model for a pharma advertisement might not wish to be associated with specific types of treatments or illnesses, or there could be a geographical limitation. Rights issues can become very complex very quickly because it is difficult to abstract contractual issues to a few metadata fields that can be tracked through a system. However, MRM can track approval workflows to make sure that rights processes are compiled with them (such as clearing rights and securing permissions) and that ads receive the correct review from stakeholders and managers.
Recipe For Success
In order to make DAM and MRM work for the organization, we need to address a few basic requirements:
1. What process is being supported? Are assets being managed to make production more efficient? To facilitate reuse? To improve collaboration with agencies?
2. What is the nature of the asset? Video assets need a different set of management functions than do images.
3. Who are the users and what are their requirements? Production designers have different needs than creative directors.
4. How can assets be organized and tagged with descriptive metadata? The meaning of an image is subjective. People uploading the image need to understand something about the taxonomies that are created for asset management, and about how users will search for and locate the images.
5. How will the system be managed long-term? Who will own it? How will assets be cleansed? Who will be responsible for keeping functionality up-to-date? How will new requirements be addressed?
Answers to these questions will begin the process of implementing DAM and MRM systems. Like any other significant initiative that impacts how people do their jobs, these efforts require executive sponsorship and change management. Though the investment can be significant, the benefits, when done correctly, are well worth the costs. With increasing costs and complexity of acquiring, using, and managing digital assets, DAM and MRM are becoming a need to have, not a nice to have, for marketing organizations.