For just about as long as Digital Asset Management (DAM) has existed, control over rich content assets has been one of the core value propositions pushed by vendors.

It’s time to call BS!

Wait, Isn’t Control Important?

Well, of course it is – you don’t want just anything showing up on your website, or in a TV ad. Maintaining your brand identity and compliance with usage rights agreements have always been important, but never more critical than in today’s attention-driven and litigious market – not to mention ever-more complex when managing global, multichannel creatives campaigns.

But the premise of control as a value proposition has always been a two-sided coin: on the front is the shiny promise of content in control. On the back (unseen, unadvertised) is the reason this line has been pushed: in order to achieve control, everyone in your organization has to work within the DAM system, with one consistent approach to sourcing, editing, approving, and distributing content. Furthermore, the byproduct of this approach is getting locked into the vendor’s software. No wonder vendors have pushed this idea for so long!

Besides the lock-in, there are two primary reasons why the promise of control falls flat:

  1. The control valued by marketing executives acts like shackles to the rest of the organization – especially if the DAM system isn’t easy to use, doesn’t address exceptions well, or lacks properly assigned and maintained permissions. There’s a real price to be paid – in speed, flexibility, and responsiveness to changing business needs – by forcing everyone onto one path (even assuming you’re successful in getting everyone on that one path).
  2. Marketers and other business users are like Houdini – if top-down systems shackle their ability to get their day-to-day jobs done and their individual, team, and business unit goals met, they will find a way around those shackles.

Content’s Escape Act

Just like Houdini seemed to defy physics in his escapes, so too will your content find ways out of any system of control you devise.

At every step of your content’s journey, it can be downloaded, screenshotted, copied to a laptop, Dropbox, Google Drive, or Network Drive. A piece of feedback or approval decision could be conveyed in an email, text, phone call, or hallway conversation.

To generalize this, you might say that content follows the path of lowest friction at every step in its lifecycle: at every point, someone asks themselves, “Is it easier for me to take the next step inside the prescribed system and process, or is it easier to do something different?”

And the more rigor, control, steps, or simply poor user experience a software system imposes on each of those steps, the more likely someone makes the second choice.

There is a political aspect to this as well in many large organizations. The more senior the manager or executive, the less likely they often are to use official tools. They don’t have time to learn them, or they’re always traveling and working mostly from a mobile device, or they simply can’t be bothered and are too powerful to be told no. So even if they’ve gotten an approval request notification from the project management system, they ignore it until someone asks them in a personal email.

Unfortunately, once content or process steps are out of the system and move forward more informally, they rarely make it back in until they’re final (how often have you heard someone say “we only use DAM for final assets”?) and the value of a controlled, measured, and monitored process, is lost.

Escaping the Content Conundrum

Is there any way out of these ever opposing forces of control and human nature?

The Katy Bar the Door Solution

One option would be to take a zero-sum view: to win we just have to apply more force. We need more control. We need to cut off alternative options to the official one. No Dropbox allowed! Nothing is approved until the system says so! We don’t pay the agency until content is in the system and labeled just so.

Last year I spoke to a DAM consultant about connecting DAM to Dropbox hot folders. She scowled and said, “The DAM industry has been trying to get rid of Dropbox for years!” Safe to say she’s taking this approach.

If you try it, I wish you luck. You’ll need it. It’s a fight to the death, and I’m betting on human nature.

A better approach: embrace, enable, engage

A more successful approach treats human nature as fixed, and adjusts technology to work with it rather than in opposition to it. Human creativity works in many ways – it differs between people, and for the same person depending on the time of day, place, or specific context. Instead of fighting this, embrace it.

That means you need to enable your technology, and your teams, to work the way they want to. To keep the processes they’ve perfected over time, if they’re working well. To use the tools that make sense for each team’s (or individual’s) job – from Slack to mobile apps to email. To open a file with the application of their choice directly on their desktop. Lower the friction.

And finally, engage. That means providing paths for content and information to flow back into your system seamlessly. Ever notice how some system notifications let you email a response instead of clicking on the notification and having to log in first? That’s a good example. A system that actually engages its users is a system that will actually entice (and keep!) its users. And when people are actually doing their work within your system, instead of finding ways around it, the analytics and insights you pull out of it won’t be window dressing, but a real reflection of your business, highlighting real areas of success or opportunity.

Unravel the knot

If you’re looking for a new system to manage and control the lifecycle of creative content in your organization, ask yourself these questions:

Do I want control for my benefit, or is control a byproduct of users actually using it?
Does the system I’m considering make it easy to embrace, enable, and engage the way people actually want to (and will) work?

Beware if your answers aren’t about the users…this may be your last escape attempt!