David MacLaren is the Founder & CEO of MediaValet. Passionate and creative, he has built a 30-year reputation for identifying and solving problems head-on. Beginning his entrepreneurial career in his early teens, David has started a variety of companies that have defied the status quo and delivered industry-defining solutions.
As the year comes to an end and I have a moment to take a breath, I find myself reflecting on just how big a year 2020 was for the digital asset management (DAM) industry. As always, there’s a silver lining to all adversity and this past year was no different. Thanks to the challenges that organizations of all sizes, industries and markets faced, the role of DAM within the rapidly evolving “modern” or “digital” workplace has solidified. DAM, today, is a must-have for all mid and enterprise size organizations, especially as they reach a certain level of digital maturity. In our world, this is the beginning of the Collaboration stage (or level three), just two steps from absolute chaos (level one). Thanks to the massive leap in digital maturity that was required of all organizations over the past 9 months, 2020 was a major inflection point for DAM, a critical point in the evolution of DAM and in its importance in the modern IT stack. In under a year, DAM has moved well beyond marketing operations, into all departments – organization-wide - to meet the needs of today’s very real, very permanent, fully distributed, work-from-anywhere digital workplace.
From conversations with the likes of Gartner, Forrester and other major analysts that cover DAM, MAM, CAM, EVCM (and all the other acronyms that touch what we do), it appears that the various trends we’re experiencing first-hand are being seen and felt by the large majority of B2B, enterprise, SaaS vendors around the world. Now, while there were numerous factors that advanced DAM in 2020, as an industry and as an organization-wide solution, there were four that I believed were material and worth noting.
Business Continuity Concerns
The first, and arguably the most critical, was ensuring our businesses survived and were able to function efficiently throughout what would become one of the biggest shocks to the global economy over the past century. As we all know, this shock left no country untouched and has reshaped the future of how employees work - forever. Organizations that were traditionally office-bound found themselves unable to meet the needs of their newly remote teams. Even those with VPNs that previously allowed teams to connect to their office servers or had some form of cloud-based file sharing solution found that those systems weren’t able to meet the volume, speed and security demands of their remote workforce.
Gartner’s 2020 Hype Cycle for Digital Marketing Report was right on the money when it advised that “current market and economic conditions should drive marketers to focus on technologies that enable a marketing team’s resilience.” Put simply, we all need to implement technologies that enable our teams to be agile, responsive, and productive, regardless of where they work from – now and in the future.
Those that already had a cloud-based enterprise DAM solution in place had an easier time making the transition to supporting a full-time, remote workforce. We’ve heard countless stories over the past 9 months from our customers on how thankful they were earlier this year to have an enterprise cloud-DAM in place and how it helped them ensure their businesses didn’t skip a beat as their workforce moved home overnight. As a result, throughout 2020, we’ve experienced a significant uptick in usage and an unprecedented number of customers expanding their DAM into other areas of their businesses. I expect we’ll see this trend accelerate in 2021 as organizations move beyond simply trying to survive, to fortifying their operations to successfully weather similar adversities in the future.
Business Velocity and Team Productivity Concerns
The second factor that I saw propel the value of DAM in 2020 was the need for organizations to provide their remote workforce with fast and reliable access to their high-value digital assets.
This year we spent a considerable amount of time – with both new and existing customers – discussing how DAM can increase the velocity and productivity of their entire organization. In today’s landscape, it’s not enough for DAM solutions to solely handle final, consumer-ready assets (or content to many); and simply address the needs of marketing and sales teams. To ensure organizations are as agile, responsive and productive as possible, all areas of the organization need fast, reliable and secure access to the assets they need – when and where they need them. This includes access to source, work-in-progress (WIP), final originals, content, and archived assets. Both DAM consultants and technology analysts are now covering this idea in considerably more detail, highlighting the critical nature of DAM beyond just storing and distributing content. One notable example is from Gartner, who echoes the sentiment that “DAM supports the entire content process, from asset ingestion through to development, publication and measurement.” We believe DAM should go a step or two further, protecting and managing assets throughout their entire lifecycle, from ideation through to archival, and all steps and versions in between.
Organizations’ recognition of the need to protect and provide access to their assets, at all stages of the asset lifecycle, appears to be shifting and quite quickly. Over the past year alone, we’ve seen a substantial uptick in organizations using DAM during the ideation and creative process to manage and secure source and work-in-progress files. Prior to 2020, I believe this was due to the growing trend of large brands creating in-house agencies; however, the mass move to working-from-home over the past year has since accelerated the need. As we enter 2021, I expect this trend will continue as well. John Horodyski, a prominent voice in the DAM space, went so far as to highlight DAM as critical to succeeding in creative operations.
The Foundation of Digital Transformation
2020 also brought a clear divide between DAM vendors’ approach to product development. Some have invested in a “product suite approach”, focusing on adding complementary in-house solutions like video editing, workflow, and product information management (PIM). Others have invested in a “best-of-breed" product approach, choosing to invest heavily on core DAM features while building a robust API, strong partnerships, and deep product integrations with other “best-of-breed" marketing and creative technologies.
This divide has led to an ongoing debate within the DAM industry and within organizations looking to purchase a DAM. While not specific to DAM, Gartner recently released a 2020 Martech Survey that shed some light on the topic. The survey shared that on average, brands that adopt a best-of-breed approach when purchasing software use more of their marketing tech stack than those that follow a product suite approach. Benjamin Bloom, Gartner's Senior Director Analyst for Marketing Technology, also shared that “those following a best-of-breed approach report higher levels of MarTech stack effectiveness.” That’s not to say that this is the definitive truth for all brands, situations and use cases, but it does support our own long-term, strategic decision to follow a best-of-breed approach as we architect and build out MediaValet.
While not every organization will choose the same approach, over the last year we’ve seen an increase in organizations that have a deeper understanding of the approach they currently use and of the approach, they’ll need to follow to achieve their long-term digital transformation objectives. If 2020 is any indication, over the next 12 months the DAM industry will have significantly more conversations around APIs and 3rd party integrations than ever before. I don’t expect this trend to slow anytime soon as more and more organizations are realizing that digital assets are at the core of their business and that DAM is the foundation of their digital transformation.
The True Value of AI in DAM
The fourth and final factor that I’ve seen advance DAM this past year is a shift in the understanding and expectation of how artificial intelligence (AI) can increase the effectiveness and utility of DAM – for all users. When AI was relatively new to the DAM market in 2019, it quickly became a “must-have” for nearly every organization looking to purchase a DAM, which led to rushed, ad-hoc AI implementations from DAM vendors hoping to “tick-the-box" during the sales cycle. Unfortunately, this led to quite a few disappointed and disheartened DAM customers as they quickly realized that the initial application of AI was not the holy grail to their asset tagging and discoverability woes. Sadly, 2019 was the year of overpromises and unmet AI expectations; an article from DAM News even highlighted it as one of the #1 fibs told by vendors. It scares me to think there were other “fibs” that year – or any, any other year.
On Gartner’s 2019 Hype Map, artificial intelligence was placed at the peak of expectations. In 2020 however, it’s slipped into what they call the “Trough of Disillusionment” as the reality of what AI can and cannot do (at least today) has set in. What we’ve seen this past year is that organizations using DAM, or in the process of purchasing a DAM, have a better understanding of artificial intelligence, its capabilities and its applications. They’ve also been able to better articulate their DAM needs and how AI may be able to help them. This has been a welcome change, as it’s caused DAM vendors to reach a little deeper in order to help their customers successfully plan and implement their DAM strategy - and their use of AI.
Our approach to AI has been a bit different from others. We took our time, asked a lot of questions – of both AI vendors and customers – and did a lot of product research before we started feature development. This approach led us to implement standard AI features in a more effective manner; and then to focus on advanced, highly-customized AI, where the true value for organizations lies. In July, Microsoft awarded us a partner of the year award for our work on AI & Machine Learning.
With AI, we’ve been able to dramatically improve asset discoverability and ROI for our customers and we’ve only just begun asking questions and challenging the status quo.
Here’s to 2021
I’m extremely proud that our team is always at the forefront of finding innovative solutions to the DAM challenges facing organizations, and of helping shape the vision of DAM in years to come. As I look to 2021 and beyond, I’m excited for what lies ahead. DAM is not only increasing in importance within the existing MarTech stack but in the overall IT stack as well. The expectation and the vision of DAM changed forever in 2020 - for not only ourselves but for all those involved in DAM.
Before I sign off for the year, I want to thank all of our customers, our investors and each and every member of our team for all they’ve contributed to MediaValet in 2020. I’m truly proud to lead this company.
Here’s to what will come in 2021 and all the opportunities it will unlock!
MediaValet is one of the world’s leading cloud-based digital asset management (DAM) solutions, helping top global brands manage and distribute their assets. A centralized DAM approach enables marketing and creative teams to move fast, with confidence and control.