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The global digital asset management (DAM) market will reach $8.1 billion by 2024, according to Zion Market Research. The big questions for marketers, though, are how and where they should spend their brand's money with DAM vendors in a market that some see as fragmented, crowded and ripe for innovation. 

DAM, or software that helps brands manage and use digital assets in things like marketing campaigns and brand content, has become a centerpiece of the marketing technology stack. But a lack of proper vetting and falling in love with features and capabilities can be costly mistakes for organizations and marketers, according to Jarrod Gingras, managing director and analyst for Real Story Group

“To truly suss out whether or not these DAM providers are the best fit for what you're trying to do, you really have to get to the detailed use case level,” Gingras said. “You need to paint a picture of how your people interact and work with assets on a daily basis. How your people, your processes, your assets and your technical environments fit into what vendors offer.”

API-First Approach Is DAM Essential

What else is important to know about the current state of the DAM market? Recognizing that DAM vendors won’t solve everything may be a good first step. For enterprise DAM users, an API-first user interface is rapidly becoming essential, said Ralph Windsor, project director for DAM consulting firm DayDream. “Even if the core product doesn’t deliver all of the required features, if the system is API-first, there is some potential scope to resolve shortcomings with or without the vendor’s help,” Windsor added.  

More DAM vendors will likely realize they can’t deliver everything users require of them and that they need to expand their partner networks and provide tools to help them solve more of the user problems on their behalf, Windsor said. “You would expect more emphasis to be placed on building capabilities for third parties to extend core platforms with connectors, scripting, hooks, more sophisticated APIs etc.” Windsor said.

Related Article: The Uncomfortable Truth About DAM

Recognizing the Role of User-Accessible Connectors 

Michael Shattuck, consulting manager at DAM provider Widen, agreed we’ll see in the DAM market increased interoperability with other systems in a marketing team's technology stack. This won’t happen, he said, just through custom-developed APIs but through more user-accessible connectors that allow greater flexibility in configuration without involving developers. 

“Teams need the flexibility that these middleware connectors will provide as too much time and money has been spent on custom-developed applications that don't easily evolve to support the growing needs of marketing teams,” Shattuck said. “Undoubtedly, one of the goals that will continue to be in mind with these connectors will be to automate as much metadata tagging as possible.” 

Metadata Is Still a Problem

Aha, metadata. We couldn’t possibly discuss DAM challenges without the bane of most content and asset leaders’ existence: metadata and tagging. “Every team we work with is crying out for metadata automation, but artificial intelligence (AI) tagging systems haven't matured enough to provide value far beyond stock photography applications,” Shattuck said. “Teams are clamoring for plug-and-play modules that will connect their tech throughout the entire content lifecycle and we're getting a lot closer.”

Creatives will often voice concern about the extra time required to upload assets and add required metadata, especially when required fields are extensive, Shattuck added. Metadata problems, he added, can be relying on individuals to tag assets as they see fit; or it can be due to the lack of product information management (PIM) systems or data management systems which ensure consistency and quality of the data.  

“Companies that have successfully implemented such data management systems have the ability to leverage integrations with their DAM system to ease the amount of tagging their uploaders have to do — auto-populating fields where possible — as well as ensuring the integrity of their data,” Shattuck said. 

Related Article: AI-Generated Metadata Isn't Working: Here's How DAM Vendors Might Fix It 

A User Interface That Just Works

If DAM is hard to use, who will use it? Windsor said usability is a top concern among DAM users. “By ‘usability’ I mean more than the interface looking attractive,” Windsor said. “It must be efficient, functional and all the weird glitches, trade-offs and inconsistencies must be ironed out. If a DAM has great usability, it’s probably been tested by a lot of different users and/or the vendor has invested heavily into this because they understand it’s what will help them to retain their clients over the longer-term.”

4 DAM Segments for Vendor Offerings

What does all this mean for vendor offerings? Gingras and the Real Story Group see the DAM market split into four categories

  • Complex: These DAM vendors have recognized that DAMs are no longer a standalone of your marketing technology (martech) ecosystem, but are “truly integrated into your martech stack,” Gingras said. “In many cases, they're truly the engine of your martech stack. That was a big change in the way people thought about digital asset management. Back in the day, they were just a dumping ground of assets.” These DAM systems are powering your systems of engagement such as web content management systems, marketing automation systems and social publishing tools. “And we see this DAM system to be uniquely positioned as that single source of truth for assets and for some, a system of record for content,” he said. “Some vendors have even started calling themselves a 'content hub.'”
  • Legacy-Complex: These vendors have older technology not as modern as some of the vendors in the complex space. They’re still major players, Gingras said.
  • Mid-Range: These DAM vendors are deciding whether or not they can go up market and compete with the complex guys or if they just want to really specialize in point-to-point integrations or maybe a subset of the integrations.
  • Simpler: These DAM vendors target small to midsize companies and departmental rollouts within companies, according to Gingras. “They've come to recognize they're good at something, and they're trying to build on that and not be much more than that,” Gingras said. “They’re also trying to specialize in different industry verticals.”

Related Article: The Newfound Power of DAM

Targeting Leads to Fragmentation

Windsor noted it’s challenging to cover the entire DAM market because the field is large and often, but not always, “quite homogenous,” especially on the pure-play SaaS/cloud side of things. “Some DAM vendors have highly advanced capabilities within a particular functional area, or their partners and value-added resellers (VARs) have targeted specific verticals,” Windsor said. “This makes things even more complex and fragmented.” 

What’s Next for DAM?

What are some innovations we'll see in the DAM market in 2020 and beyond? Windsor has seen more outside developments, which have required DAM vendors to adapt to meet changing user priorities. “The current DAM market is mostly reactive,” he said. “It’s an ‘imagination-free zone’ where vendors either copy each other’s homework or rely on being told what to do by the users — who are justifiably reluctant to act as unpaid R&D consultants.” However, some vendors disagree with this assessment of things.

Windsor sees digital asset supply chains, and, in particular, integration, becoming ever more important. The industry may see the emergence of automated integration facilities. “But I’m not sure how effective they will be — and the workflow tool vendors will regard this as their ‘home turf,’” he added.

Some DAM vendors are beginning to understand the need for DAMs to have a greater contextual awareness for AI to begin to deliver on its promise, but this is a tough problem to solve. “In fact it might not even be fully solvable,” he said. “It’s basically more ‘pain management.’ The asset cataloging/tagging problem will remain one of the biggest issues in DAM. However, because of that I can see more time and money getting invested into it, which might yield incremental improvements.”