Content Strategy

The Worst Way to Measure DAM ROI


When it comes to digital asset management ROI, are you asking the right questions?

I was recently asked by Metadata for Content Management reader, Niels Nielsen, about content management and DAM ROI (return on investment). Niels was understandably skeptical about claims he’d read on websites that measure ROI in terms of time savings to individuals.

You know the drill:

DAM saves each staff member 243 hours per week, which multiplied by 653 weeks in each year, results in an annual savings to the company that nearly offsets the time wasted in staff meetings.

There’s usually an infographic to go along with the nonsense for those who find DAM ROI articles important enough to share on social media, but not interesting enough to actually read.

The “saves your employees x hours per week” rationale is about as close to pure fiction as I can imagine. Worse, it misses the entire point to DAM and content management, which has never been to make the lives of individuals easier. The management of digital content is all about protecting an organization’s investments while reducing its exposure to liability.

My employer sells DAM systems and I’m the first to admit that using a DAM provides me with absolutely zero personal time savings. In fact, it slows me down because, once I have created new content, I then have to add that content to the DAM, add metadata and, if I plan to share that content or use it on a website, I have to generate a link from the DAM that I can paste wherever.

It would all be faster for me if I just stored all the files I need locally.

And there you have the inherent problem with the “saves staff time” argument. The benefits of carefully managing content should not be calculated as benefits to an individual, but as benefits to the organization as a whole. For example, you don’t have access to the files on my computer, so my convenience is your hinderance. And when you come asking me for those files, it becomes a shared hinderance.

But who cares?

Our company will start to care only when my productivity starts to wane because all I do is send files to people. Even then, though, I’ll likely be reprimanded for poor performance long before anyone starts thinking we need a DAM. The need won’t become serious for our company until the threat of not having a proper content management initiative in place becomes real.

Here are my favorite horror scenarios to tell organizations who (wisely) don’t buy into the time savings argument. If you’re looking for serious DAM ROI justifications, try this approach instead.

ROI Justification 1: The Million Dollar Laptop

When my computer is the sole storage location for the content I produce, my computer becomes extremely valuable. What should be worth a thousand bucks or so, suddenly becomes worth tens of thousands of dollars or more, depending on the enterprise value (or loss estimate) of the content therein.

If I lose the computer, or the hard drive crashes, we’re screwed. If I my laptop is stolen, and I’ve just been working on industrial designs for the iPhone 8, what’s that loss worth? Not only do we no longer have those files, but someone else now does.

Content that is developed under the employment of an organization most typically belongs to that organization. The onus is on the organization to ensure that content (investment) is protected. Granted, even with a DAM or other content system in place, an employee might forget to move works-in-progress to the system; but policy can educate (threaten) employees to help them develop good habits. And with some systems, the copying of locally developed content to the enterprise system might even be automatic.

ROI Justification 2: Workflow Communication

My coworkers don’t know what I’m working on, or the status of what I’m doing. If someone is waiting on content from me, that person might want to be able to check in on development. If that means repeated “how’s it going?” emails to me, that slows down two employees.

But, again, who cares?

Our company will care only when a deadline is missed because Employee A assumed Employee B was on schedule but, in fact, was running weeks behind before he ultimately delivered something that wasn’t in line with expectations. If Employee A had been able to check drafts and see that progress was being made, direction could have been offered, and downstream scheduling might have been adjusted.

ROI Justification 3: “I didn’t know we couldn’t use that!”

Ambulance chasing attorneys have a new revenue source these days: the misuse of content. While working freelance a long time ago, I worked on a brochure for a DAM vendor. My team worked with imagery provided by the client. Not thinking twice about the content we were given, we did what was asked of us and then moved on to other projects.

About a year later, the DAM vendor’s CEO told me they were being sued for misuse of content that stemmed from the brochure we produced. The claim was that improperly licensed content had been used in the design.

This surprised us because what we created, we created from scratch–except for the stock images the client provided. It turned out that, while the DAM vendor had licensed the imagery, it had done so for a specific purpose that did not extend to use in brochures.


I don’t know how much money that ended up costing the DAM vendor, but it was sizable. And this was a DAM vendor that one would think would have known better!

What this story demonstrates is that licensing and usage restrictions can be complex. Assumptions can be costly when erroneous.

A properly configured content system can provide all the detail employees need with regard to what they can and cannot use, and how they may use what they’re permitted to access. That last point is important: Just because permissions enable me to access content doesn’t mean I can use that content for anything I want.

ROI Justification 4: Spread the Content Wealth Across the Enterprise, Partner Channel and Beyond

The last ROI point I’ll make is not about content system ROI, but about content acquisition ROI. Whether your content is produced in house or licensed from external sources, the more you can legally and compliantly use that content, the better your content acquisition ROI.

This means more than letting Sales access Marketing’s collection of overused stock photos that no one can bear to see in another PowerPoint. What I’m talking about is being able to use a central content repository across the planet.

For example:

  • Enable website editors to access content directly from the Web content management system (WCMS).
  • Enable product managers to access content directly from product information management (PIM) systems.
  • Enable campaign managers to access content they can use in marketing automation or emailing tools.
  • Enable partners to access content via website portals, and even embed content directly on their websites.
  • Enable press professionals to access the content they need in order to promote your company.
  • Enable retailers to access the content they need in order to properly present your brand and products.

And, in all situations, ensure that the content made available is suitable for that channel, approved for use, properly licensed, localized as needed, embedded with rights and usage metadata, etc.

Making the Case for a Content System

So, can you justify DAM or content management to your organization using these arguments?

I once wrote that DAM is like medication for erectile disfunction: If it’s needed, it will be obvious to everyone involved.

I still believe need should a more powerful motivator than ROI. The benefits of managing content shouldn’t be vague or arguable. If the need is unclear, the need is likely premature.

Will a DAM save me time when I’m trying to find a file? Sure, if that file isn’t already on my computer in the place where I know it to be. But simply finding content is what DAMs were about fifteen years ago. It’s a different world today; the conversation has changed.

More DAM ROI Reading

Here are some additional articles by trusted #LearnDAM sources that might be of interest to someone looking into ROI for digital asset management or content management in general.