It's a question we hear a lot and you are likely wondering about: What's the best digital file storage solution for managing content across a marketing team?
In this post we’ll look into one of the most widely used solutions for managing content, Dropbox, and how it compares to digital asset management solutions. We’ve already looked at how another popular tool, Google Drive, compares to digital asset management. What’s the difference between Dropbox and DAM?
We’ll dig into the specific use cases, features, strengths, and drawbacks of each solution so that you can have a better sense of what might be best for your team.
Specifically, we’ll look at these key dimensions and see how Dropbox and DAM stack up:
What is Dropbox?
Dropbox is one of the most widely used cloud file storage solutions. Companies of all sizes use it to securely store all kinds of digital files. For many companies, it is THE file repository for the organization. Dropbox describes itself as “Everything you need for work, all in one place.” That makes sense - it is in the name. It’s the “box” where you can “drop” anything.
What is a Digital Asset Management System?
Digital asset management (DAM) is software that allows an organization to store, organize, manage, find, and share their digital content from a single location. It’s file storage, but also much more than that.
What is the Difference Between Dropbox & DAM?
The major distinctions between Dropbox and DAM are that a digital asset management system is:
- A more visual-forward platform, showing thumbnail and detailed views of all kinds of files
- Relies on metadata (the information about a file) to make content searchable
- Usually managed at the organization level rather than by individual users
- Built for directly serving content to websites
Today, even small teams can work with thousands, tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands of pieces of content!
Managing that amount of content is critical and can get overwhelming really quickly. So, what’s better for keeping things organized and accessible, Dropbox or a digital asset management tool?
The answer, like so many answers, is: it depends.
You have to be able to find your content if you want to use it.
Some organizations are very organized with logical folder structures that make finding the right content easy. But that’s not most organizations. More often than not, you’ll have some highly organized individuals and a bunch of other people who are always asking the organized people where to find something.
And those less organized folks will usually only ask a colleague after they’ve spent loads of time and a lot of frustration doing dozens of searches trying to find the right piece of content.
That’s why effective search is important to any system you use to manage your content. It can save so much time and unnecessary headaches.
Searching in Dropbox is, shall we say . . . limited. Search around in some Dropbox forums or on Reddit and you’ll find loads of complaints about searching.
Dropbox search is limited to what’s in the file, so if you don’t know the file name and it’s not a document file, things can get tricky.
For example, maybe you want to find a photo from a recent photoshoot with a celebrity. In your Dropbox the name of the file is 00001234.jpeg. You can search for the celebrity’s name or other things you know about the image and likely come back with nothing.
That’s because digital files stored in Dropbox lack something important to make them searchable: contextual metadata. Dropbox does have some metadata in the system, but mainly limited to file type, date created, or other technical bits of information about the file.
Dropbox does not provide the more contextual metadata like descriptions and tags that can make finding the right file easy and fast.
Digital Asset Management:
DAM systems utilize metadata to make search easy and effective.
Metadata is the information about a file, including tags, descriptions, folder location, and technical information about the piece of content (file type, file size, orientation, create date, etc.).
Metadata adds context to your content and lets your team (and external partners) know more about what a file is, how it should be used, and important information like usage rights. In a digital asset management system a photo of that celebrity would be tagged with the celebrity’s name and show up in search, regardless of what the file name was.
And a user would also know other information about the image, such as year taken, how they can use the image, or anything else the organization wants to communicate about that piece of content, such as a required citation or expiration date.
Digital asset management.
Search is the function that most people experience the biggest difference between a general cloud file storage solution and digital asset management.
If document text search is all you ever need, then Dropbox can be enough. With descriptions, tags, and other metadata, digital asset management takes search to another level. Your team can find the common marketing content (images, videos, design files, audio files, etc.) they need quickly.
No more endless searches and pulling out your hair trying to track something down.
Content isn’t just documents or one type of image. Content for marketing teams comes in hundreds of types of files - images of all kinds, design files, document files, video files, audio files, etc.
Dropbox supports almost all file types and will provide previews (including video playback) for almost all files.
Digital Asset Management:
As a more visually focused system, digital asset management provides thumbnail and detailed previews of almost all file types, all without the need to download. You know what you’re looking at before you click into a file. Digital asset management systems also make file conversions on the fly, so a user can, for example, view a .PSD file and download a usable .JPEG or .PNG file instead of having to work with the source file.
That helps improve speed and let users work with pieces of content even if they don’t have all the design tools that other team members may have.
Digital asset management (for the file transformations).
Both systems provide previews of all common file types. You do not need to download a piece of content in order to view it, which is the case for some other systems, including Google Drive. Where DAM edges Dropbox is the ability to make file transformations on the fly. Users can get the type of content they need even if the source file is in a different format.
Your team members don’t work in individual siloes. They need to work with each other and with other partners and agencies to make things really happen. Collaboration starts with access. Your team and your partners need to have access to the content they need to use, and if they can’t get access, collaboration simply doesn’t happen.
Dropbox is for your company and the individuals that work there. You’re paying per seat so you only want people from your organization storing files in the system.
Dropbox provides a number of tools for internal team collaboration, including meeting tools, annotations, commenting, and a variety of templates to make completing projects easier.
Using these tools, or even accessing content stored in Dropbox by people outside your organization, however, is trickier.
Digital Asset Management:
Access to content based on a user’s role is a core feature of any digital asset management tool. Different groups of users have access to different groups of content, all managed by an administrative user at an organization.
Don’t want the sales team to have access to marketing source files? Don’t give them access. With DAM, it’s easy to give groups of users access to the content they need, whether inside or outside your organization.
For external users, you can invite them to any permission level you choose or you can easily send content (individual files, groups of files, folders, or Collections) without the need to go in and change access rights on every individual piece of content.
Dropbox’s collaboration tools are fantastic for teams working together. They have some limitations and it comes down to how well it plays with others. Dropbox is for your internal team collaboration.
Digital asset management, on the other hand, is about providing access to the people that need content, regardless of where they work. So, if you’re mainly working internally, Dropbox works well. If you are working with lots of external partners, look at digital asset management to ensure the right people have access to the right content
Sharing / Distribution
Some content is for internal use only but lots of marketing content is made to be shared with the world.
Having the right tools to get your content in the hands of the people who want it should be a huge priority for marketing teams.
Sending someone a link is easy from Dropbox. Provided that it doesn’t contain too many files. Dropbox puts limits on sharing. If you want to send a folder with more than 2GB, you’ll have to upgrade to a more expensive plan (where you still have a limit of 100GB). Some transfers will even require the recipient to upgrade THEIR individual account in order to receive the transfer.
It’s a good way for Dropbox to get more people using their product, but it’s not the best experience for someone on the receiving end. If the recipient is outside your organization, self-service is not a thing. Unless someone is in your organization and has access to the team Dropbox, it’s not possible for them to go in and find what they need.
Digital Asset Management:
DAM systems are made for sharing. Storage and security is nice, but your marketing content needs to be out in the world!
Whether it is individual files, groups of files, folders, or Collections of files, sharing from a DAM takes moments and the recipient doesn’t have to deal with .ZIP files, finding out they don’t have access to a file, or any transfer limits.
The access issue may sound like a small deal but imagine sending something to an international partner and they are left without access and a looming deadline while you are asleep and unaware of their request for access. That’s no good and doesn’t need to happen!
DAM systems also provide for quick file transformations and resizing. Need to turn that Photoshop file into a usable jpeg? DAM replaces the need to download it into another tool and make the transformation. Digital asset management systems can do that operation on the fly so that you only share or download the file type that you need. DAM systems also provide embedding tools and (often) flexible APIs to distribute your content for building websites or e-commerce sites.
Digital asset management.
With easy ways to share, automatic file transformations, embedding, and distribution through API connections, DAM is made for getting your content to the right people and out into the world.
No software is perfect and questions will come up about how to perform an action, address a potential bug, or get some advice on how to accomplish a task. Sometimes you might want to consult with an expert on an issue about organizing or distributing your content.
Unlike some other cloud storage options (looking at you, Google Drive), Dropbox has a large and responsive support team. You can often get a hold of a real person for help and don’t have to only rely on forums and blog posts about how to tackle common issues.
Digital asset management:
Many DAM vendors, including Image Relay, offer live chat solutions (in addition to email and phone options). Your team can be talking with expert support in moments. DAM solutions also often have dedicated support libraries for answering common questions
Both can be good!
Dropbox provides much better service than some other digital file storage solutions, and many DAM vendors offer great service as well (not all, though!). For companies like Image Relay, superb customer service is what we’re all about. It’s just as important as the product we provide.
It’s not the right tool for your team if it is way out of your budget. Some organizations have a budget of near $0 for cloud file storage options and others have budgets in the tens of millions to cover large, international teams and petabytes (that’s one million gigabytes for those keeping count) worth of files.
For individuals, Dropbox is $19.99 per month and covers up to 3TB of data. Team plans start at $15 per user per month with a minimum of 3 users ($45 per month). You can add more sophisticated features and more storage for $25 per user per month under the ‘Advanced’ plan ($75 per month). With a small team, Dropbox can be quite affordable. If you need to give access to a thousand or ten thousand (or one hundred thousand!) users, the price can get quite high. Of course, there are discounts per user for lots of users but you’ll have to talk with the Dropbox sales team about enterprise options. The price can easily get into the tens of thousands of dollars per month for large teams, but that still saves a lot compared to trying to maintain a huge amount of data on in-house servers.
Digital asset management:
The price for a digital asset management tool varies a lot. Some systems, like Image Relay, start at under $100 per month for a team. Some highly customized enterprise systems can cost tens of thousands of dollars per month.
DAM systems can help organizations save millions of dollars in time and lost assets, and help organizations increase revenue. That means the value, the return on investment, can be huge with digital asset management, even if the price per year is significant.
Price will largely depend on team size. Dropbox is directly seat-based pricing while most digital asset management solutions have seats (usually admin or contributor seats) as some component of pricing but not the sole factor. Dropbox may be less expensive or significantly more expensive than a digital asset management tool depending on the size of your team and the amount and types of assets your work with.
Price isn’t everything when it comes to value, however.
The cost-savings and efficiency improvements from digital asset management means lots of savings, increased revenue, and large ROI. For most marketing teams, the value of digital asset management should more than pay for itself within a year. Dropbox can provide lots of benefits compared to other storage solutions.
It is more expensive than many basic digital file storage solutions but can provide huge savings compared to managing large amounts of storage on in-house servers (with all the personnel and maintenance costs that entails).
So, which is it?
After looking through all the differences and where each system performs best, you might still be thinking, “What should I use?”
For many organizations, we think the answer might be both.
How to Use Dropbox:
Use Dropbox where it performs best.
For individual team members managing working files Dropbox works great. If your goal is for team members to have all their files in one place, Dropbox is a great solution. If you need to provide self-service access to files, search through thousands of files to find content, or work mainly with visual files, digital asset management may serve your needs better.
How to Use Digital Asset Management:
Use a digital asset management system where a DAM shines. Use a DAM for storing, organizing, and sharing final content.
If what your team needs to accomplish requires searching, brand consistency, access controls so the right people get the right content, transforming files on the fly, or connecting content to websites, digital asset management will work best.
Having worked with hundreds of marketing teams to manage content, we’ve seen pretty much everything. From small teams of 2-3 people with a few hundred pieces of content to large enterprise corporations with hundreds of thousands of files and thousands of team members.
We’ve seen teams successfully use Dropbox for almost everything and we’ve seen organizations manage ALL of their content in a DAM, not just the content important for the marketing team. More often than not we see successful marketing teams use both Dropbox (and/or Google Drive) and a digital asset management system for doing what each solution does best.
Want to learn more about how digital asset management can help your marketing team manage all your amazing content?
Sign up for some time with our team and we can show you how to take your content operations to the next level beyond Dropbox