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DAM 101

The 5 Stages of the Digital Asset Lifecycle

Ben Owen

By Ben Owen | Jul 25, 2022

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People go through many life changes, and while the phases they go through and the changes they experience may be unique, there are broad, general stages most people can relate to. Digital assets go through a similar process during their lifetime in your organization’s DAM program. While the specific way each stage looks can be different for every organization, department, or asset type, the stages themselves are relevant (or should be) to every organization, its DAM stakeholders, and its digital assets.

In this article, we outline the five stages of the digital asset lifecycle and how to make the most of the assets in each stage, as well as provide some reasons that having assets go through each stage is vital to the long-term success of your DAM program and growing the life expectancy of the assets you create or acquire.

The 5 Stages of the Digital Asset Lifecycle

1. Digital Asset Creation / Acquisition

Humans are born. Digital assets are created or acquired. Whether it’s a photographer shooting new images, a graphic designer adjusting an organization’s logo, or a social media intern purchasing stock imagery from Getty Images, the birth of new digital assets shouldn’t be random or left to chance. Digital assets are the number one way consumers learn about your brand and what matters to it. Because of that, it’s important to be strategic about the kinds of assets your organization creates or buys.

To get the most out of assets at this stage, define specific strategies and brand guidelines for each group of creators at your organization. For example, a sports team can give its photographers a list of the specific types of shots it wants at specific times in the game for use on social media. Designers should have specific colors and fonts to use, and everyone in the organization should know what the newest branding looks like. Even the least creative employee counts as a creator if they're acquiring assets for use through licensing agreements or purchasing stock photos.

2. Digital Asset Approval

Even with well-documented strategies and brand guidelines, there are no guarantees that every digital asset your organization creates or acquires will fit its messaging, core values, brand identity, or the color scheme it uses on its Instagram page. Whether it’s an individual process such as a photographer culling down to a round number of selects after each product shoot, or a more concrete set of activities, your organization should have an approval process for all its assets. The core reasons for this are to save time and money further down the asset lifecycle and increase the life expectancy of assets. Without an approval process, your DAM system can quickly become cluttered with assets that don’t quite suit your needs and are, therefore, never used.

3. Digital Asset Ingestion

Another reason that culling and approving assets early in their lifecycle is vital is that it saves your team significant time in the ingestion process. No matter how simple or complex your organization is, you should have a DAM system—a dedicated single source of truth in which your approved assets live. The process of adding approved assets to this library is called ingestion.

Ingestion is the phase where the most important digital asset management tools like metadata tags, file names, folder structure, permissions, and more come into play. Applying these tools takes time and energy, so be sure the person or team responsible for this task only spends their time making approved assets searchable and secure. To get the most out of this phase, you’ll need to work with your end-users to develop standards for all the tools listed above. You’ll also need to ensure that the people responsible for ingestion are aware of what the job entails.

4. Digital Asset Distribution

Distribution is the phase where assets are put to use to generate value for your organization. At this point, your assets have been created according to a clear strategy and brand guidelines, approved, and made searchable and secure. They now live in the DAM system for your end-users to find and use on whatever channels they’re responsible for.

It’s critical that the standards you created for those responsible for ingestion are also made available to those looking for assets to use. All end-users should know how to look for and find assets easily. Depending on whether or not your organization has a DAM platform, there may be other tools and features you can leverage at this stage to make life easier for everyone.

5. Digital Asset Archiving

Just as all of us will one day retire from the workforce, all digital assets eventually lose their relevance to your organization’s day-to-day activities. These assets need to be removed from your current DAM library and placed into an organized and easy-to-navigate archive. As your organization changes and grows, you’ll need to have someone consistently archiving assets that no longer line up with your brand identity and strategy.

Just because assets are archived, however, doesn’t mean they don’t have any value. The reason the archive must be organized and easy to navigate is that your team will need to reference or even use older, historical assets. Nostalgia and an awareness of your brand’s history are both very strong ways to build brand loyalty in the marketplace. You can capitalize on this by building and maintaining a strong archive.


It’s likely that in your organization not all of these stages are well-defined or even exist. If that’s the case, messes, confusion, and chaos can develop quickly. Stacks specializes in helping brands not only set up their DAM programs the right way but also in bringing clarity to the chaos of a messy DAM system. Contact us today if you’re just getting started or if you tried your best to develop these stages but are off-track. We’d love to help!

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