Marketing has always been a tricky one when it comes to measurement of what is working (or not). Once upon a time, marketers could fall back to a large extent on gut feel (for instance, a huge amount of buzz around a TV campaign might be deemed success, even if there was no data relating to how many sales that helped generate. But being guided by the gut feeling is no longer enough, according to Deena Brown of North Plains. This article is copyright 2015 The Best Customer Guide.

The marketing function has to demonstrate real ROI to the board, and marketing activity and budgets are typically more fragmented than they used to be - so it's more important than ever to measure what's working and what isn't.

In today's multi-channel world, where content is constantly being created and distributed, whether via social and viral methods or more traditional ones, keeping track of what has been pushed out and to which channel has never been harder. Plus, the vast majority of marketers are not data analysts by training.

Measuring campaign success is a multi-faceted challenge and one that does not have a single answer, but a very good starting point is making sure that those core marketing assets are being managed properly in the first place. These might include documents, video, audio, social and web content, packaging and POS material.

It is not unusual for a large brand to have in excess of 100,000 of these assets and even in a smaller organisation, these could run into tens of thousands. Moreover, when they are being distributed and used on a worldwide basis, company size is immaterial: the same challenges around managing brand assets still apply, including that the right piece of content is being used in the right way, with the correct associated rights management or IP.

Typically implemented in the form of a Digital Asset Management (DAM) system, the science of digital asset management has been around for a few years, though is currently going through a period of accelerated evolution and growth. Recent research from eMedia found that around 43% of marketing professionals surveyed are looking to implement digital asset management solutions while 52% have existing systems that they are seeking to improve.

This increasing interest in DAM is partly down to the sheer volume of content with which people must contend, but there are other important factors for the rise in interest such as risk management. We can all recall high profile examples where brands have been taken to court for using content incorrectly.

Digital asset management can provide control and visibility over all the assets for a brand and that can span every step from creation through to distribution and archiving, including approval tracking and rights management along the way. One of the most immediate benefits of a DAM is that it creates a central resource that all employees (and potentially, their agencies and other suppliers too) can use to search and find existing assets easily and quickly, together with any related information over usage (for instance, when does the licence on an image expire, details around compliance and so on).

Real-world benefits cited by users include better control over content quality, for example, encouraging teams to check the centralised DAM repository for content, rather than creating their own little libraries of previously downloaded content, which can quickly become outdated.

Another benefit often mentioned is the reduction in duplication of effort and cost (why pay for that extra photo shoot if a colleague in another country has already commissioned suitable imagery), and reduction in the amount of requests back to agencies for copies of content (one company that North Plains works with made savings of over US$3 million in one year, simply by eliminating requests to the agency to send over images on CD via courier). All of the above ultimately leads to improved compliance and supports brand protection.

DAM also gives organisations an insight into how assets are being used, which in turn supports measurement of campaign success and return-on-investment. For example, a DAM can show how many times a particular asset was downloaded region-by-region and even by who (within the organisation or agency).

This helps marketers get a better handle on that vital first step of colleague buy-in: after all, there is no point creating a great set of award-winning 'white papers' or compelling videos if no-one is downloading and using them. Conversely, when the field cries out for yet more data sheets, the marketing team has existing ammunition around whether that kind of content is really being used (or not). On a more immediate level, one example might be an image with particular 'viral' appeal, which can then be linked to a current social media campaign. DAM is even being used in real-time at events, to push out content 'on the fly'.

Over a period of weeks or months, the information contained within a DAM can be used to create rich reporting content, for instance to demonstrate to the management team that investment in creative assets for a particular campaign was a good decision and that the assets were successfully deployed in X amount of regions and used across X different media channels. DAMs can also be connected to other marketing systems to help contribute to the overall bigger picture (for example, to evaluate how many times a particular piece of content was liked, shared, viewed etc).

Beyond helping to establish ROI, DAM can also provide insight into marketing process efficiency. For example, DAM can help to identify and highlight the source of approval bottlenecks in the approval process. Brands are also using DAMs to help with internal auditing processes to ensure that auditors have the information they need to ensure that compliance around marketing content is being achieved.

"Having a better understanding around marketing ROI is only going to become a bigger focus and that means having insight into what is working both externally and internally," concluded Brown. "While one part of the overall requirements for measuring campaign performance, digital asset management can go a long way to making sure that the right content is being created, used and shared in the first place."