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DAM Best Practices

File Version Control Within Digital Asset Management (DAM)

Ben Owen

By Ben Owen | Feb 24, 2022

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Over time, all things grow and change. We humans have a love-hate relationship with this dynamic since it applies to everything in our world including our skills, talents, and abilities, and the directions and goals of the organizations we work for. We can see this phenomenon at work all around us, but nowhere is it more obvious than at the movie theater. There are thousands of amazing new films out there, full of creativity, great acting, and plots that expand our worldviews, but theaters still continue to feature movies that have been rebooted, remade, or expanded. For example, theaters are packed with people dressed as Luke Skywalker since Star Wars has been redone to appeal to a new generation.

The prevalence of reboot culture in movies clearly shows our relationship with change. Hollywood produces these films because they know they'll make money. Audiences love to watch movies featuring characters and plots they're familiar with, but with updated special effects and actors they know and love. People get excited about who’ll be cast as the new Spider-Man or Batman and love to debate which installment of the series was the best.

At the same time, however, people get tired of these reboots and want something new and fresh. This explains why movie critics complain about the “death of originality” while at the same time giving a 99% rating to a rebooted superhero film. This same dynamic exists in many digital asset management (DAM) libraries. The organization updates its branding, but many of the changes are small so that its messaging and style are familiar to consumers. This leads to servers full of images that look similar but have important differences. The many versions of a specific asset can be difficult to sort through and manage, and can lead to end-user confusion. Below, we lay out some digital asset management best practices to ensure proper asset version control in your system.

Version Control Use Cases

Below are the most common reasons different versions of an asset are placed in digital asset libraries.

1. Rebranding & Guideline Changes

Like Hollywood taking an old film and remaking it to appeal to today’s audiences, brands often revise the look and feel of their messaging and content to engage with new market trends more effectively. These alterations can be small, like using a different font or making the colors of the website a shade lighter. They can also be more significant like redesigning a logo, style, or website layout. Even the slightest revision to branding guidelines, however, requires editing or remaking all current assets with the new branding to ensure a cohesive and consistent brand experience. As these assets are rolled out they must be properly managed so that end-users can easily find and put them to use.

2. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Market Research

For marketing teams in a post-Google world, the words and phrases used within and around content matter. Describing assets on the organization’s website or assigning titles or captions to messaging has become an exact science called Search Engine Optimization (SEO). In essence, it’s the science of making content relevant to what people are looking for. Because captions, titles, and headlines matter so much in today’s digital world, assets may need to be updated as your SEO team does more research. For example, they may decide that “A Great Beef Ravioli Recipe” is more relevant than “How to Cook Beef Ravioli.” Ensuring that the asset versions with titles and descriptions based on analytics reach consumers is significant to your marketing team’s success.

3. Channel Requirements

Your creative team is probably great. Chances are it’s full of incredibly talented people that can produce things many of us can’t even imagine. Because of this, it’s highly possible they will create files that your organization wants to use across many channels and platforms. The problem, however, is that the various channels your organization uses to send assets to the market are likely to have different requirements for file size, type, and formatting. To use the same asset across multiple channels, you may need to create distinct versions of it to meet these specifications and plug them into separate systems. This clutters your library and makes searching for and using the original asset difficult.

How DAM Solves Version Control

1. Retain the History of Your Assets

The secret to effective version control isn't necessarily to throw old variations out, it's to retain the history of an asset in a single, organized place. As your branding changes, it's important to be able to reference what was done in the past to ensure your brand stays true to its core values and identity and remains authentic in the eyes of the consumer.

Many DAM platforms allow you to upload new versions of assets rather than adding a new one or replacing an old one. This is typically done by uploading an asset with the same file name. In this case, the platform stores all the previous iterations of the asset. This means that there's no confusion about which is the newest version of the asset and your team retains the ability to see its history. If your organization doesn't have a platform with this capability, we recommend using file names and folder structure to organize assets and communicate version history.

2. Apply Metadata to Determine Asset Relevance

Another way to differentiate asset versions is to apply metadata to help your team filter their searches and quickly find the correct version of a specific asset. Creating a taxonomy and keywords around version history and file types can help your team track which assets are relevant and which are out of date, ensuring that no off-brand or unapproved assets are used when they shouldn’t be. In some DAM platforms, different metadata can be attached to each version of a specific asset, allowing your team to quickly pull older versions up for reference and document the evolution of the asset over its lifecycle.

You can ensure that only certain users will be able to see the most recent versions of assets by building a controlled vocabulary around asset versions and usage rights. You can also implement a permissions structure that controls which assets can be viewed by which users. By combining these tools, some users will only be able to see the most recent versions of assets.

3. Integrate with Other Systems

For organizations that deploy content across multiple channels and use many systems in their tech stack to do so, integrations are key. Integrating your digital asset library with other channels decreases clutter and increases understanding across your organization. It also ensures that your divisions and departments aren’t working in silos. For example, suppose a particular asset is being used across multiple channels and systems. Without integrations, this asset would be downloaded by users from multiple teams, edited and reformatted, and then uploaded to whatever system they're using. In this use case, the versions being used in the market are different from those on the DAM system, and there may be inconsistencies in how the asset is manipulated.

Now imagine that the DAM system is integrated directly with those other systems, whether as a Headless DAM or through APIs and development. When an asset is altered in the DAM system, it automatically updates and reformats it as needed to be used in the other systems. This capability maintains brand consistency and creates a single source of truth for all your teams to refer to.


If your DAM library is full of duplicate versions of assets and cluttered with older files no longer relevant to your day-to-day, contact Stacks! We can work with you to find a system that will help you manage different versions of your assets or optimize your current system. Metadata, taxonomies, file names, and controlled vocabularies are confusing and difficult, let us make DAM easy for you and your team.

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