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Inevitably as an industry grows, terms that once had clear definitions become generalized and muddied, and that is the case with the words “digital assets” and “content.” If these terms are the same, and they are not, it would stand to reason that a CMS (content management system) and a DAM (digital asset management system) would perform the same function, but they don’t.

In fact, a DAM and a CMS are two very different systems that perform various functions for marketing teams. In a nutshell, a CMS helps manage content for your website while a DAM helps manage content for your entire business. 

So, while it is true that both systems manage content, they do so in entirely different ways. A DAM and a CMS used correctly complement each other and work alongside each other to help a brand have a unified voice and avoid any compliance issues. 

We’ll explain the uses of a CMS and a DAM system, the differences between the two tools, each solution’s essential features, and for what use cases each tool is best designed.

What is a content management system (CMS)?

A content management system is “an application that is used to manage web content, allowing multiple contributors to create, edit and publish.” 

WPBeginner defines a content management system (CMS) as: “A software that facilitates creating, editing, organizing, and publishing content.”

Here is why you don’t want to mix up the terms “digital assets” and “content.” If they are the same things, then, by definition, a CMS and a DAM would manage the same thing, but content and digital assets are very different in the marketing world.

When marketers talk about content, they are speaking of the information on your website and web properties while digital assets could be almost anything, including content. 

Confused yet? Keep reading.

Digital assets are a much broader term than content and encompass anything you might use for marketing purposes, whether it’s an image, a slogan, or a jingle.

A CMS only controls assets that are relevant to building web pages. That’s it. 

If you have a website or blog, you’ve probably used a CMS to edit the pages of your website or fix the text on your blog. A CMS’ core strength is you don’t have to have a lot of inside knowledge to use one. 

In fact, you may not be aware you ARE using one. This is because a CMS provides you with enough tools and templates that you don’t need to understand HOW it works to make it work.

If you need a higher SEO ranking, a CMS is an easy way to change your meta title and links. You can even use the CMS to change the website’s coding and technical details of the system without much understanding of how the code works on any deep level.

What a CMS and a DAM do have in common is they both store media. Interestingly, most organizations store assets in more than one place, according to a recent survey.

A CMS stores media needed to maintain your website while a DAM stores media needed to market your entire business. 

A good CMS will have the following features:

  • Tools: A good CMS should have templates and tools that allow people to alter their website without understanding the mechanics.

  • Storage: You should be able to store and index web pages.

  • Search engine: You should be able to search for and retrieve content for your web page.

  • Administrator privilege: You should be able to give various levels of permission over the ability to alter your website.

  • Publishing: You should have web publishing and editing control.

A CMS, however, doesn’t give you an excellent way to organize large digital media libraries, find assets, or distribute the assets among systems and platforms. That’s why you need a DAM.

What is a digital asset management system (DAM)?

A digital asset management system is a crucial marketing tool. Using one central library across all systems allows your team to organize, search, distribute, and collate their digital media (such as images, videos, and presentations). 

A DAM is a single voice for a brand preventing confused messaging, inconsistency, and internal bottlenecking through your entire organization.

A DAM allows you to manage any digital file and allows editing control, including reformatting or resizing an image, tracking usage on a piece of media, and sharing long files with no lag time. It also increases the security of your media files by controlling permissions, compliance, recovery, and duplication while also managing file encryption and image watermarking.

While a DAM effectively manages your digital assets, it does not have the ease of use or the publishing capability of a CMS. 

While a CMS can create highly-specific well-designed web pages without the user having advanced technical knowledge, a DAM lacks those capabilities. It was not designed for that.

While a DAM system will be used primarily by your PR and marketing teams, anyone in the organization can be given access. The power in a DAM is its flexibility.

A good DAM system will have the following features:

  • Storage: It will store and manage all marketing media (music, videos, etc.).

  • Search engine: A quality DAM system can find and retrieve media assets easily (and if it’s an integrated system, also find matching media material from the web or downloaded programs). It should also enhance searches making media files easier to find.

  • Organization: It should enrich media with custom metadata (hyperlinks and keywords) which boost productivity.

  • Security: A DAM system should manage version control of your media and track all media assets; furthermore, it should manage access permissions for all users.

  • Customization: You should be able to manipulate media into any type of file or any size.

  • Accessibility: As the DAM operates in the cloud, users can access digital media on any of their devices.

  • Distribution: Sending media files via email is a hassle. A quality DAM system allows you to send large files with download links quickly and easily.

  • Convenience: A good DAM system can format files automatically so that users always have the media they need.

Now you have an idea of what a CMS and a DAM system are, but what are the similarities and distinctions?

Do you need a digital asset management system if you have a CMS???

Although both work with digital content, are designed to be useful for teams, and improve workflow and productivity, they are very different systems. 

Having one system does not give you the capabilities of the other. The significant difference between the two systems are:

Purpose: The purpose of a CMS is to allow someone with no experience creating and maintaining a website to have that functionality even if they don’t know how the system works. A DAM system doesn’t do any of that, but it does organize and collate your digital media so that you can find it faster and use it where and when it’s needed.

Users: CMS will probably just be used by the people working on your website. Due to its ease of use, this might not even be your marketing team.

However, your company’s executive may want to keep an eye on the website, and CMS makes that easy.

A DAM system will be used by your marketing and PR teams to create creative media, but the media library also might be helpful to your developers, support managers, etc. Think anyone who might need access to media files.

Usage: CMS is fantastic at two things: maintaining websites and creating blogs. You can write, edit, experiment with fonts and styles, and publish your blog all with your CMS. 

It holds just enough of a media library to put a picture in a blog or a song or logo on a website. CMS also has some analytics features so that you can monitor the traffic on your website.

A DAM system is entirely different. It’s a centralized library of all your digital media files, all of which can be searched, organized, manipulated, and shared. It will grow as your organization scales and updates itself so that you won’t need another one until there’s a leap in technology. 

In addition, you can filter your media any way you’d like, so no matter how many files your library contains, you can always find the one you want.

Files: While a CMS tends to contain mostly text-heavy files with a few image and video files so that you can keep your website up to date, A DAM system will be home to all kinds of files of all sizes and types. A CMS is not meant to store or organize the amount of data that a DAM system can hold.

How Optimizely Content Marketing Platform can help

They say trust is the foundation of every relationship…and it’s the foundation of all our values. Meaning we value it over everything. 

Trust is earned, yet we first have to give trust before receiving it. We assume noble intent in all situations–so even if we disagree with someone’s approach, we believe they’re coming from a good place.

We are experts in digital asset management system solutions, and you can trust us to help you find the perfect solution for you. Check out Optimizely Content Marketing Platform