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DAM 101

5 Steps to Go from Digital Asset Hoarder to a Healthy DAM System

Casey Templeton

By Casey Templeton | Oct 28, 2021

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Think it’s time for your brand to implement a digital asset management (DAM) platform? Chances are you have a pile of unorganized assets plaguing your servers and your CEO’s personal Dropbox account. Getting your digital content onto a DAM is a smart idea but there’s some work to do beforehand.

I’m a big fan of before and after reveals. Some of the best are on A&E’s gut-wrenching, reality television series Hoarders. Each show begins with a tour through a house, filled to the ceiling with old children’s toys, coupons, and empty food containers. Although the homeowner states that they know exactly where everything is and there isn’t a problem which needs to be dealt with, they agree to allow a team of experts to help them clean out their home.

The most important members of the team are not the extreme cleanup experts, but the trained psychologists who work with the homeowner to identify the root cause of the issue. The same principle applies when facing a mountain of digital asset clutter. The key to organizing it is to identify and solve the core problems: lack of workflow, no folder structure, no searchability of assets, no established DAM program.

5 Steps to Take To Get Your Digital Content Under Control

1. Collect, Divide and Conquer

Collecting all your assets into one place enables you to sort them into large groups. It’s a great way to make the big pile a little less scary.

  • Trash or Keep: Maybe you have a fresh new brand, quality standards, or PR headache that needs to be dealt with. Do you delete the asset (Trash) or do you think there’s a possible future use case for it?
  • Expired or Current: Does your organization use digital content that has license expiration dates? Separating these very different file types helps avoid the legal headaches of copyright lawsuits.
  • Current or Archive: Set a “day zero” for your current assets to establish which images should be archived. Doing this allows your team to focus on getting current assets under control and THEN go back and focus on the archived ones which are likely to have lower priority.

2. Establish Your Folder Structure Style

Are you a trendsetter? Super corporate? Do you nerd out as a brand historian? Your folder structure can be whatever fits your workflow. Here are some common types:

  • Date Based: Places every asset into a year-based folder; 2021, 2020, 2019, etc.
  • Location-Based: Is your organization based on specific locations, states, cities, etc.? If so, create regional folders but try to avoid super-specific locations that can make the process overcomplicated; i.e., “4002 Front Street Living Room,” “Eric’s Basement Bar Arcade Room.”
  • Organization-Based: Take a look at the general sitemap of your organization’s website. How has your organization created structure? Perhaps the wisest move is to mirror this structure so your end-users are more familiar with it; i.e., “Services,” “Leadership,” “Government Affairs,” etc.

3. Cut the Fat

Jumping back to the Hoarders analogy, how many rolling pins do you really need? When was the last time you used your automatic cat litter box since your furry 3-legged-friend died in 2004?

Much of your brand’s digital content is no longer relevant or vital to a healthy archive. Cut it. If you don’t want to delete it forever, consider creating a massive folder where files go to die instead. Eliminate duplicate assets, smaller file sizes, etc.

4. Use Your Words

At this point in our DAM therapy session, it’s time to focus on where our newly organized assets will eventually live. A proper DAM system.

We can migrate our folder structure to some DAM systems directly. Others, and most likely many more in the future, are folderless interfaces. In folderless environments, it’s critical for all assets to be enriched with searchable metadata and informative filenames.

  • Controlled Vocabulary: This is the language of your organization. Document how it talks, uses acronyms, and searches. Utilize this data to establish a list of 50-250 metadata tags that can be applied to your assets.
  • File Naming: What’s the most information your end-users can obtain by simply viewing the filename? Start with a date-based code or department-based code at the beginning to maintain order when outside their folders. A great first step could be to apply an asset’s folder path as a filename. For example,

“2018 > Housing > Exteriors > Doors = 2018_Housing_Exteriors_Doors_0001.ext”<p>

5. Create Healthy Habits

The hope is that your brand continues to create, collect, and find dynamic digital content moving forward. Let’s focus on how you can keep these assets from piling up again and losing the order and structure you’ve established:

  • Create a collections bin or folder that all incoming assets drop into. Those assets are then culled, enriched with metadata, renamed, and placed into your DAM in the appropriate location.
  • Establish WHO will do this. Does your organization have someone with a lot of bandwidth and a basic understanding of the process? If not, would a fractional DAM manager be helpful?
  • Publish your newly-formed DAM standards and train others on best practices. If you don’t do this, and you win the lottery and don’t show up to work on Monday, your team will be back to square one.


Getting your brand’s digital content under control and well-organized is the first major step to establishing a DAM program. For more information about establishing a DAM program for your brand, visit Stacks’ website or contact us directly!

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