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What’s a “Headless” DAM and Is It Right for My Organization?

Ben Owen

By Ben Owen | Nov 22, 2021

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In every industry, there’s all manner of technical jargon. You can walk into any corporate board room and hear executives tossing around words like “synergy” and “onboarding.” Words like these have meaning, but to someone without expertise in the industry, discussions regarding specific “bandwidth” and “touchpoints” lead to confusion. For a new person in the room, this feeling of ignorance can be overwhelming.

You may be asking yourself why this dynamic matters to you and your work. It’s important because many people feel overwhelmed when they try to build a digital asset management system (DAM) from scratch. They are usually creatives or marketing professionals without DAM expertise, and have found that trying to learn about the industry online is like walking into a board room without knowing the organization’s jargon. It leads to burnout and frustration, and ultimately to poorly-built systems or platform purchases that don’t suit their needs.

One example of an industry-specific term which can easily be misunderstood is “Headless” DAM. With this in mind, in this article we discuss what a “Headless” DAM is and how you can determine whether it’s right for you and your organization.

What’s a Headless DAM?

DAM systems have two primary benefits they seek to provide. First and foremost is efficiency. Effectively managing your digital assets eliminates wasted time and money searching for and recreating lost content. The second is security. Housing your content in a single location outfitted with permissions and enriched with metadata allows your brand to maintain consistency and ensure that no one accesses files they shouldn’t.

As technology advances, the ways for providing these benefits take on new forms. Traditionally, increased efficiency through DAM is achieved by providing end-users with an easy-to-use user interface through which they can search for and manage content. Security comes primarily through logins and accounts with their own specific permissions, allowing user groups to access content curated just for them. Users log in, find the content they need, and either use an integration or download the asset to get it where it needs to be.

This front-end user interface is the “head” of the traditional DAM system. In a “Headless” DAM, efficiency is realized by automating the sending of assets from the DAM to other systems the organization uses. Security and consistency are achieved through the use of secure APIs and decreases in downloading and potential human error. To better illustrate these concepts, let’s take an example.

Headless DAMs in the Real World

Suzie and Mark work for competing consumer products brands. They both have positions in their marketing departments, using creative content across multiple channels, websites, and platforms to grow consumer engagement. Suzie’s company has a traditional DAM system, complete with processes and standards that make using the system and managing the program easy. Mark’s company, on the other hand, uses a Headless DAM to manage its content.

Let’s suppose that Mark and Suzie both want to post a freshly created ad on several online platforms like their website and digital marketing emails. To do this, Suzie logs into her company’s DAM, does a quick search, and finds the original version of the ad in minutes. From there, she downloads the ad in a few different sizes to fit the needs of the online platforms or uses integrations to place the ads within them directly. If she downloads the ad, she then goes to the platforms she wants to use it on and uploads the correct version on each.

Rather than log into a DAM interface, Mark logs into the different platforms he’d like to post the ad within. For example, he may want to log into his company’s content management system (CMS) to post the ad on the company’s website, along with the customer relationship management (CRM) software to use the ad in a marketing email. Because the company’s DAM is headless, it’s automatically connected to these systems, meaning that Mark can find the same ad in the correct format in both of those systems without having to log into a separate DAM interface.

Is a Headless DAM Right for My Organization?

As you can see, both a traditional DAM and a Headless DAM achieve the same result, just with a different number of steps. The potential benefits of going headless are clear, but is it right for your organization? The danger of technical jargon and information without context is real. You don’t want to invest time and money into a system that won’t work for you. To help you avoid that, we’ve outlined a few use cases that can make a headless system a potential fit.

1. You Use Assets on Multiple Systems with Different Requirements

Headless DAMs, as demonstrated in the example above, are perfect for organizations with a complex web of systems. This network is usually referred to as an organization’s “tech stack.” It includes systems like a CMS, which houses content to be used on websites and eCommerce platforms, a CRM to manage sales efforts, and a product information management (PIM) system. If your organization uses content on many different platforms, then a Headless DAM may be right for it, since all your content would be searchable and version-controlled from each system automatically.

2. Your Metadata Standards and Ingestion Processes are Clear

The secret to a successful digital asset management program, whether it has a head or not, is clear, documented, and relevant standards, processes, and workflows for managing the system and the assets in it. These include metadata keyword lists, a controlled vocabulary, file naming conventions, folder structures, and upload and download procedures. These standards, specifically around metadata and ingestion, are especially important for Headless DAMs, as metadata is what allows the successful connection between the DAM and your organization’s other systems. If your team doesn’t have workflows in place for applying healthy amounts of metadata to assets as they’re created, a Headless DAM may not be a good fit for your organization.

3. You Have an Experienced IT Team with Time to Spare

Headless systems are successful and beneficial in part because they are highly customizable. Many DAM providers specialize in headless systems, but your internal IT and engineering teams will still need to build the custom pieces of the system. If your IT team does not have extensive experience with APIs and integrations, as well as time and energy to put towards designing and maintaining a headless system, a more traditional, out-of-the-box DAM solution may be a better fit.

4. Your Organization’s Willingness to Invest is High

Headless DAMs work best for large organizations with multiple departments using assets across many systems. This, as well as the complexity of the technology involved, means they aren’t cheap to build, implement, and manage. If your organization’s budget is small, a Headless DAM likely won’t work for it.


Headless DAMs, while the future, aren’t for every organization. At the moment, they’re costly to implement and manage, even though they provide enormous benefits. If you need help deciding if a headless or traditional DAM would work best for your organization, contact Stacks! While the technical jargon can be scary, our mission is to make DAM easy, actionable, and obtainable, even to those without any DAM knowledge. We work with brands of every shape and size to gain a clearer understanding of their needs and implement an end-to-end program.

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