Slowing It Down! A Different Perspective on DAM ROI

May 03, 2019

Article ImageEarlier this year, Econtent Magazine contributor Ruksana Hussain wrote that “The digital asset management (DAM) market is hot.” As a Marketing VP at a DAM vendor, I’m inclined to agree. But I don’t take that statement for granted.

More than ever, I think marketers ought to question their assumptions and the appeal of their products. If we don’t do it, who will?

So, I’d like to explore an unusual perspective on DAM investments—one that digs into the purpose of DAM, the evolutions of brands, and the pace of change in digital marketing. DAM, I will argue, is a technology that guards against erratic, unintended change.

A Dichotomy

Whether you read Hussain’s article or visit DAM vendor websites, you’ll get a similar picture about DAM. The space is innovating and introducing new tools. Agreed. DAM is expanding from marketing to other departments. Yes. DAM analytics are advancing. Yup. AI is automating administrative and creative processes. Indeed. DAM can make marketing teams more efficient by streamlining workflows. Heck yeah!

There’s a dichotomy though. DAM is growing in popularity because the space is barreling forward, yet in practice, DAM is a force of moderation. It resists haphazard changes. It protects marketers from using old, outdated, or expired assets. It governs who can use which assets for what. It favors lean marketing tactics that repurpose content.

The ROI of DAM investments isn’t from creating rapid, fierce changes. Rather, the ROI is in creating continuity, increasing efficiency, and maximizing utility.

The Same Thing…Only Different

What good is moderation in an era when companies brag about rapid, disruptive, inexorable change?

Well, a brand is nothing without continuity. It needs consistency over time, otherwise the message of the brand becomes too diffuse to make an impression. It needs consistency in voice and appearance, which is why marketers put brand guidelines in a DAM and ask creative teams to consult them. A brand changes at the pace of an old friend, who we know and love even if we spend a decade living in different states.

The Hollywood screenwriter Blake Snyder captures this idea in Save the Cat!, his book about writing a commercially successful movie. Reflecting in a blog post, Snyder says, “If I had one thing to do over again in the writing of Save the Cat! it would be to enhance the helpful advice a studio executive told me during a meeting. ‘Give me the same thing…only different’ was his mantra.”

The advice nods to what the mythologist Joseph Campbell recognized: that storytellers have told the same stories repeatedly, across time and culture. Similarly, an iconic brand gives us the same…only different (and hopefully better).

That’s why I keep going to Marvel movies and can’t wait for the next one. That’s why I keep buying New Balance shoes. Thanks to their marketing and products, I trust them to give me the same…only different.

The Slow Brand

A brand faces similar constraints to a TV show or movie. Like screenwriters who must work within the archetypal stories that speak to human nature, a brand thrives on discipline. It needs to tell the same story again and again, only different. That seems easy enough, but it’s not when you’re expected to tell that story on new channels, on more devices, to ever more distracted audiences.

A great brand cannot afford to be boring, but neither can it afford to change beyond recognition. We call DAM a “central source of truth,” which can sound grandiose. But in many ways, DAM is where the truth of a brand is guarded. The DAM controls change.

When a marketer repurposes one asset 10 to 12 times, she is forced to adhere to that truth. Slowly, she’s testing miniature yet meaningful changes in the presentation of the brand. She attempts to raise the ROI of one asset while keeping a brand on message. She forces herself to get rebelliously creative, if only to cure the boredom that comes from using one image 12 times.

And by that 12th time, maybe she has discovered what rendition of that image worked best. The slow brand scrutinizes its successes and failures in a way the fast brand, changing for the sake of novelty, will not.

Riding Steady

Good brands give people the same thing...only different. This is true of their products and services, and especially true of their marketing.

A DAM marketer, even on his own website, doesn’t command the space or attention to explore ROI the way I just did. I wanted to draw out the difference between DAM the industry – innovating and changing quickly – and DAM the platform – a technology that, among many things, guards the brand.

Perhaps weak brands are those that haven’t landed on messages and images worth replicating. They’ve haven’t slowed down. They haven’t committed to an identity.

Established brands ride steady and change methodically. For them, DAM is a way to protect and carry on the stories that work. It is technology that promotes disciplined creativity and prevents tasteless change. If you figure out how to measure that ROI, please share your secret.

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