Asset management tools have constrained marketers’ thinking, creativity, and ability to orchestrate customer experiences.  Instead, pioneering marketing teams are finding success with more visual, collaborative alternatives. There’s a misalignment between traditional asset management solutions and the reality of how marketers today need and want to work and show how cutting-edge brands are overcoming these challenges. This is the first in a three-part series on asset management in global marketing organizations.

Digital is forcing brands to re-think omnichannel approaches or risk disruption

As digital continues to transform how customers and brands interact, marketing leaders face increasing audience expectations for frequent, relevant and consistent multichannel experiences.   Most realize their current practices can’t scale to keep pace – and that failure to satisfy these expectations will have real, significant and measurable competitive consequences.

Worse, many are coming to understand that the challenge goes beyond simply producing more content. Rather, marketing teams struggle with the complexity of orchestrating content and experiences into relevant omnichannel journeys at scale.

Pioneering brands looking for competitive advantage are rethinking how they plan, create, align, and sequence content into journeys and experiences – to find approaches which align to how marketers want to work, and which enable relevance, speed, and scale. The most compelling of these have re-examined the marketing supply chain to find opportunities to leverage existing work – and the insights to guide its reassembly into new, highly relevant content and experiences.  

For example, MasterCard integrates asset management into campaign planning and workspaces – allowing teams to quickly discover, share, and repurpose assets and content in real-time, with the benefit of campaign insights and context.  For its 2015 “Hats Off to Tom”  Open Championship campaign, Mastercard shared hundreds of assets to regional teams, along with important context and guidance for their proper use – enabling rapid, effective localization and use in the moment.

Assets are the (repurposable) atomic unit of marketing

As they do so, these leading brands are refocusing on the “asset” as the atomic unit of content – and key source of operating leverage. “Assets,” they believe, are simply building blocks of content we may want to use again and re-assembling these quickly and intelligently could provide the scale and relevance audiences demand.

But doing so requires insights as to how assets are likely to perform in sequence for a particular audience.  And it’s these contextual insights which offer to key to relevance.

Reassembling assets into new and relevant content and journeys at speed and scale requires that both assets and insights are available to marketers at their moment of need.

And it’s at this point where many efforts to innovate encounter a fierce headwind from an unlikely source:  the very tools used to curate and manage assets — and the way they condition us to think.

Constrained by someone else’s tools – and thinking

By the time the first digital channels evolved in the 1990s, businesses had been curating other digital assets for years – as files, organized in hierarchical folders, in siloed storage drives.  

These spreadsheets, documents and database files stored had only one intended use and, needing no contextualization, a filename and folder could reveal all a user would need to properly discover them.  More to the point, the “performance” of such assets is a binary question: is the asset used or not?

As marketing became digital, inertia led marketers to curate digital images, video, copy and media using the same siloed, file-based means and methods – and to evaluate their performance in the same, binary terms.

Yet such approaches aren’t actually suited to Marketing.  Unlike the “low-variance” disciplines for whom file-based digital storage was first designed (on the left of the spectrum below), Marketing intends its product to vary by audience, channel and purpose:

Put another way:  the intent and performance of marketing assets, content and campaigns, is audience-dependent.  

For Marketing, the “best” use of an asset, creative or entire campaign requires knowing and acting with the audience’s preferences – and how the brand hopes to influence these – in mind.   Acting without such insights increases risks of off-brand campaigns and content – potentially affecting customers’ experiences and leading to the measurable consequences noted above.

Because traditional file-based systems don’t attach and share contextual insight with each asset, marketers can’t see the insights they need to use these optimally – or even to avoid risk.  More recent Digital Asset Management solutions (or DAMs) do little to solve this problem, having evolved from file-based storage systems themselves.

Instead, marketers need approaches and tools which allow discovery of both assets and important contextual insights to guide their re-use.  These should align to how marketers want to work – and deliver insights at the moment of need.   

The creative process should manage assets — not the other way around

Pioneering brands are curating, managing and sharing assets, contextual insight and collaborative activity within or next to creative workflows. General Electric, with over 300,000 employees and hundreds of content creators working across 175 countries, realized its siloed, file-based DAM hindered discovery and effective use of assets.  By integrating asset management to content planning and creation workflows, GE overcame these challenges to improve user experience and effectiveness in discovering, reusing and reassembling existing asset into new content and experiences.

In such approaches, the files and folders we’re accustomed to seeing become almost invisible – and our thinking evolves as well:  we start to understand and evaluate assets and performance within the context of a specific campaign, and its underlying strategic objective.

Doing so overcomes the inhibitors and risks of file-based asset management above, and enables:

  1. Visibility and Discovery, since assets can be discovered on the basis of how each performs for specific audiences, channels and purposes
  2. Coordination, as workflow facilitates collaborative efforts to sequence assets into content, experiences and journeys  
  3. Governance, where campaign briefs and marketing operations direct the collaborative activity above to ensure relevancy, compliance and execution

Best of all, this is how Marketers want to work:  if we plot specific marketing tasks along a spectrum similar to that above, we see that higher-value marketing tasks are best supported by enabling visibility, collaboration and governance.  

The images below depict what Percolate’s leading customers expect such a collaborative, workflow-based, contextual approach to assembling and managing “assets” within a creative workflow might look like.   

In the first, we see a visual space in which different types of assets can be combined to create new content and experiences. 

The second suggests how teams can collaborate to curate and version assets and the content they build – which experience and expertise can be shared with other downstream marketers.

In my next post, I’ll share examples of how leading brands are managing assets within their creative workflows — and the improvements in efficiency, speed and relevance they’re experiencing.

Then, in the third and final post, I’ll explore how the performance of assets and content can be assessed within the context in which they’re used – and ways those advanced insights can be used to discover, inform and optimize how assets are reused to create subsequent campaigns.  Subscribe to receive the rest of the series straight to your inbox.


1Even as these pain points become more acute, DAM innovation has been incremental, and focused on alleviating symptoms of siloed, file-based storage; e.g., modest improvements in upload and download experiences, versioning of files, etc. Such bandaids ignore the root cause of the inhibitors above.

Want to learn how brand innovators at Land O’Lakes, Sutter Health, Google, and more are thinking about the future of marketing? Request an invite to Transition 2017 in San Francisco.