American Marketer

Software and technology

Have your digital marketing assets outgrown Google Drive?

April 30, 2024

Google Drive homepage. Image credit: Google Google Drive homepage. Image credit: Google


By James Fox

When it comes to digital asset management (DAM) for the largest brands, enlisting staff librarians like myself is an increasingly popular practice.

With information science backgrounds, librarians bring a rigorous academic approach to using metadata and managing ever-increasing troves of digital assets.

Combining that rigor with a user-friendly interface for brand marketers – as well as other internal stakeholders and brand partners – can yield major efficiency gains.

Of course, not every marketing team is going to have a librarian on staff. But the good news is that implementing the right DAM strategy and tools can pay quick dividends compared to the ever-growing chaos of legacy processes.

DAM good
The concept of reuse is the driving force behind this strategy.

When marketers and partners have seamless self-serve access and the ability to easily find and reuse the correct assets in multiple ways, marketing hums.

Campaigns and go-to-market activities, from social media to customer sales interactions to distribution partner channels, have the asset consistency and availability they need to be most successful.

However, for many marketing teams, this remains easier said than done.

If asset organization and findability are in disarray, trouble tends to snowball quickly.

Efforts to get assets to the teams and partners that need them become increasingly time-consuming, and brand message consistency suffers.

One all-too-common thread: brands start out by using Google Drive or alternatives such as Box, Dropbox and WeTransfer only to outgrow those tools –but not pivot strategies until assets have become overly disorganized and unmanageable.

That reality begets the question: How do you know when your brand has outgrown Google Drive and needs to take its digital asset management to the next level?

One tell-tale sign: when you, or your colleagues, or your partners email your IT department asking “Where’s the file I need?” you have reached that point.

Your brand cannot leverage the benefits of asset reuse and self-serve access if no one can find what they are looking for, in itself self-defeating.

James Fox James Fox

3 pillars of asset management
Whenever I begin working with marketers to plan out a more effective digital asset management technology strategy with best practices, I show them the three pillars of asset management: folders, permissions and metadata.

While Google Drive and other more basic file storage applications have folders, those folders can move around on the screen—and a particular user may not see intended folders that other co-workers have created for them.

Setting a folder structure in place that is immovable – except by admins – and the same for everyone is a deceptively simple, but underused, best practice that makes asset scale and dissemination much easier.

For a user to know where a folder is and be able to click the same place every time—instead of searching—delivers a massive efficiency advantage.

More reliable digital asset management technology also offers the ability for the same file to appear in multiple folders.

Whereas copying a file to a new folder in Google Drive results in two different out-of-sync files, this ability enables users to take an action such as adding or deleting metadata from a file in one location, and then see that change wherever that file appears.

Locking the folder structure and offering efficient capabilities prevents folder sprawl, which is the downfall of other folder structures.

While you can share files and folders and control recipients’ view/edit/admin permissions in Google Drive, it is next to impossible to understand there which groups have access to view what folders.

A better approach in the DAM allows admins to know which groups can see a folder with one click, and makes that view available in one expected place.

Admins can also ensure that everyone on a team has the same permissions and sees the same assets, vastly simplifying activities and improving efficiency.

Pairing a locked folder structure and administered permissions controls also maintains business continuity as employees and partners come and go.

Take a scenario where a new marketing lead arrives.

With Google Drive, that new employee will likely create their own new folder and start copying, further exacerbating folder sprawl.

With a more advanced DAM strategy, admins can hand over all access and control associated with the role, enabling the new hire to inherit the position—with business continuity and without adding complexity.

Google Drive allows users to add metadata – whether called “tags” or “descriptions” – to asset files, but no one does so in practice because that metadata is completely hidden and poorly defined.

A more advanced digital asset management technology strategy enables marketing teams to easily define important information that users are interested in and that they can do useful things with, and always ensure that metadata is available and visible.

Taking this path also makes it simple to add metadata in bulk – for example, recording the name of a photographer for all images in a particular photo shoot.

Whereas metadata goes unused in Google Drive, it is tremendously beneficial in making marketing assets searchable and usable in advanced DAM systems.

Move beyond Google Drive
Speaking as a librarian, creating elegant folder structures and robust metadata is what I love to do.

While your own zeal understandably might not exactly match mine, the results of a more optimized DAM strategy will be well worth the transition.

Careful and rigorous planning can future-proof a brand’s digital marketing asset libraries in the setup process, solving problems that other brands are destined to struggle with before they can even arrive.

REMEMBER, IF internal users or partners are contacting IT for help and losing hours trying to find lost or misplaced or misidentified assets, it is time to take this librarian’s advice and escape the limitations of your legacy DAM strategy.

James Fox is senior librarian of strategic accounts at Image Relay, Boston. Reach him at