By Russell Pierpoint, Managing Director at Evolved Media Solutions.
The number of digital assets a retailer has to manage today is breathtaking, often running into many millions of items. As consumers engage with retailers at more touch points, retailers don't just need digital content for websites and catalogues, but for multiple channels including direct mail, email, in-store promotions, vouchers, CRM, advertising, customer magazines, and social media. Even apps and 'dark social' messaging platforms such as WhatsApp need them too.
And yet, according to research last year by Woodwing, retail staff waste a significant chunk of time as they search and store these digital assets manually: 38% of retail employees spend 5-10 hours a week searching for assets and a further 17% spend over 10 hours on this task.
The trouble is, many of the systems and processes that retailers employ have grown organically with digital platforms and outputs being bolted on and adapted to work with existing ones. This worked for a while, but many retailers are now finding it hard to cope with the flood of digital assets and their systems are reaching breaking point. Their challenge is to unpick the old processes and re-engineer them so that everything is done in the right order.
While there is no 'one size fits all' solution to the problem, implementation of a Digital Asset Management (DAM) system, developed to address a retailer's own specific issues, can provide a clear way through this problem. So what steps do retailers need to take in order to implement a DAM system and free up those countless hours wasted on inefficiently storing, managing, finding and sharing digital assets?
Identify what assets you have, who's making them and how, and what they are doing with them. Digital assets can be created by many departments depending on the organisation - merchandising, marketing, sales, ecommerce, promotions etc - each keeping them on their own servers, desktops or even on memory sticks. Also check what copyright and licence agreements are in place for using assets, such as restrictions on how and where you can use shots from photo shoots. Workflows need to be audited as well. Processes have often built up over years based on tools and technologies available at the time. These need to be reviewed in light of tools and technologies now available.
Define users & business needs
Scope out, with both internal and external stakeholders, what assets they need access to and how they want to use them to build a picture of business requirements. Asset management is about better and simpler asset control, so it's also important to understand business structures to ascertain who should control assets and any necessary restrictions on sharing them. E.g. the marketing department, as brand custodians, may want to give approvals on what assets can be shared to ensure they are 'on brand'. Product, merchandising and creative teams may need access to review and approve products imagery for e-commerce platforms and more traditional materials such as catalogues.
Look ahead to what might have an impact in the future to ensure that your system is suitably flexible and adaptable for even quite radical changes – e.g. can you set up new asset creation streams as your business diversifies? Or in the future might you want to use assets in new ways, such as to create apps? As the speed of asset creation increases , be careful about ensuring that the system you use is scalable too in terms of storage and the number of users and processes.
Select the right system
You can then map out the business processes and needs to create a brief for your IT department, or an external multi-channel publisher, to identify the best DAM system for you. This may be an off-the-shelf solution or it may be a solution that's open and easily adapted to different requirements. It's important to ensure the solution you choose is open with APIs that can be integrated with your other creative and business systems, such as PIM, CRM, accounting, social media, websites etc to make sharing and use of assets a simple, quick process.
Bring it all together
Next, all assets need to be imported into the central DAM system. They need to be organised appropriately, tagged with metadata tags and product information that answer the W-questions: who, what, where, when, why, so that they can be searched for and easily found. They must be delivered to other systems in automated processes to reduce time to market and increase productivity. Where there are no permissions in place for use of existing assets, recontact the content creator and create permissions/ rules and tag assets so that their use is restricted accordingly. Also apply rules regarding how you want people to use assets that you created internally, and the point when different staff should get access to these assets as they move through production and approval workflows. Maybe create a naming convention for your files and agree how will capture metadata going forward so that all assets uploaded subsequently are tagged and stored correctly.
Once you have set up your DAM system, don't rest on your laurels. Create and resource clear lines of responsibility to ensure that the system is providing users with what they need, and keep an eye on requirements as they evolve and change, or you will find that the whole thing can fall apart in weeks.