Google Drive v. Digital Asset Management - What’s the Difference?

Jen Neary
Written by: Jen Neary
Posted on: January 2022
Google Drive v. Digital Asset Management - What’s the Difference?

Recently, we've been hearing one question quite a lot. How are you different than Google Drive?

We understand. We’d ask it too if we were looking into digital asset management. Google Drive is a simple and useful tool and, frankly, at Image Relay, we couldn’t work well without it. It’s great for creating and managing documents and collaborating with coworkers. And it’s about as inexpensive as software can get!

Can you use it to manage thousands of images and files and important brand assets? Yes, of course. Is it the best tool for that? Nope. If you’re looking into digital asset management you may have started to notice the cracks in Google Drive and how hard it can be to manage lots of files and lots of users. From finding the right stuff to maintaining consistency to ensuring the right access to the right people, Google Drive often becomes more and more difficult to manage as the number of files and number of users grow. So, when we hear “How are you different than Google Drive?” it’s often prefaced by “Our Drive has become a nightmare.”

Here are some of the main differences between Google Drive and digital asset management . . . and if these things sound familiar, you’ve come to the right place!

1. Access to the right content for the right people

If the right people don’t have access to the right material when they need it, your solution is not working. How many times have you received a file link, even from an internal colleague, and seen this?


It happens all the time because Google Drive is largely built as a personal work repository. Control of a file is with an individual and they have to click into “Advanced” to be able to share in a reasonable manner. Sure you can have Team Drives but does every employee have the right to put whatever they want in there? That can easily turn a well-intentioned, neat collaborative area into a swamp of personal files that no one can sort through

Most companies and organizations work with outside partners like agencies, dealers, and perhaps even directly with customers. They aren’t part of your team in Google, so how do you manage what they have access to? You can invite them for broad access to your Drive or you might have to invite them to individual files. That can be fine for one or two partners, but what about 100, all with slightly different access needs?

With digital asset management you can create permission levels for individuals or groups of users and provide varying levels of access to groups of files. For example, you need your retail partners to have access to brand and product images, or when you need the design team to access RAW camera files. With digital asset management, you create permission groups that have access to just the relevant files and invite your partners individually or in bulk. They can then go in and get what they need when they need. They won’t bother you for fulfillment requests and they won’t run up against “request access” warnings.

2. Finding the right things

Finding the content you need comes down to two things: browsing and searching. Browsing is sorting through folders and subfolders to find what you need. Searching is entering terms in a search bar to find what you need. Google Drive isn’t particularly good at either.

Because Drive is primarily built for management by the individual user, you get a mixture of “My Stuff” in areas that should appropriately be “Our Stuff.” Organization structures that work for one individual may make no sense to others so good luck sorting through the folders of other team members. Digital asset management is built with the organization in mind so that everyone works from (and understands!) the same folder and organization structure. Individual workspaces don’t creep in and make a mess of things for everyone else.

Searching in Google Drive is good for indexed files like documents and spreadsheets. For images, videos, and other files, it’s less successful unless you know the file name. And who always knows the file name?!

The fundamental difference between searching in Google Drive and searching in a digital asset management system comes down to metadata. Metadata is the information about your information; the contextual data associated with your files that can help your users find the content and understand how to use it. Most people never think about metadata, even though it is one of the most important things on which the internet and modern communications are built. (Here’s an overview of metadata to help you learn more and how important it can be for your work.)

With a digital asset management system, adding metadata to files is a core feature. You can add descriptions, tags, and rights information, basically anything you want to help describe the file. Users can then search and hit on metadata associated with a file to find what they need. For example, say you have a product image for a product with a particular SKU. In a digital asset management system, the SKU number could be part of the metadata associated with the file. In Google Drive, if the image doesn’t have the SKU number in the file name you’re probably not going to find it in a search by SKU number.

3. Controlling your brand

It’s tough to provide a consistent brand experience when your library is full of content uploaded by any user with little structure. The issue of “My Stuff” v “Our Stuff” comes up again. Google Drive is built on “My Stuff” and digital asset management is for “Our Stuff.” And is there anything that is more “Our Stuff” than brand assets?

With anyone allowed to upload to your organization’s Google Drive, you could have 10 different versions of the same logo coming up in a search. It can be impossible to know which one is the most recent, or which one you should use in a specific context. These different versions may have no information about how or where they were used, or who made the edits.

Digital asset management puts control of your brand in your hands. As a repository of only approved assets, all users know what is current, and contextual information in the metadata lets users know how and when they can use content. You can add information about license rights, including attaching documents like release forms to images, and use expiration dates to close off access to outdated material.

Other tools like Collections and embed links let digital asset management users keep previously shared assets up to date at all times without having to send out new links or change things in a content management system.

4. The visual look and feel

Google Drive is built for file storage and collaboration, it is not built for presenting your brand. Digital asset management systems are built for presenting your brand and presenting the important information you need to know about the content. That means automatic thumbnails, a visual-focused layout (not list views of folder shapes), previews for almost all file types, and metadata that stands out for each file. Digital asset management systems provide visual reporting on asset use and users. Google Drive provides some reporting but not much.

Another big difference in the presentation of assets is that digital asset management systems provide tools, like Collections, that give users the ability to curate assets in customizable ways and share them internally or externally.


5. Cost

Google Drive is much less expensive than digital asset management solutions, and it is a great tool for managing and collaborating on spreadsheets and documents with your team. And if you are only using it to manage several hundred photos and a few brand assets, then it may be the right tool for you. But the low price is also a strong indicator that it may not provide all of the tools you need to manage a large number of digital assets. True digital asset management systems have been custom-built for this purpose, whereas it is an afterthought in Google Drive, reflected in the low cost.

Digital asset management systems start around $100 per month and can go up to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for complex, enterprise systems. The needs of the vast majority of businesses is somewhere in the middle. You can expect to pay a few thousand dollars up to around $20-30,000 per year for digital asset management systems that serve small and medium-sized businesses and organizations.

While the cost is higher, so are the benefits. With time savings, improved distribution, enhanced rights management, and better control over use and re-use of content, a good digital asset management system that’s the right fit for your organization should pay for itself well within a year.

6. Trust

This last point is less about Google Drive v. digital asset management and more about Google v. Image Relay. We can’t speak for other digital asset management providers on this issue, but we think there is a big difference between working with Google and working with us.

Have you ever heard anyone ever say “Google provides amazing service”? How quickly do you think Google will respond to a request from a company with 5 users? Do you even know where to begin with getting a person on the line? Who do you email? Google has a near endless library of resources and forums but that personal support and a direct answer is exceedingly hard to find.

That’s not Google’s business. It is our business. We’re only as good as our most recent interaction so we strive to provide responsive, personal service at every step of the way from signing up for a demo to working with us over the years and even to ending the relationship. It’s that commitment that has helped us become the highest-rated digital asset management solution.

We’ve also committed ourselves to do good beyond just working with our customers. We are a B Corp and changed the structure of our business to try and be a force for good. That means treating our employees right, reducing our environmental impact, not working with companies doing great harm in the world, and partnering with organizations like USCRI to increase impact.

Google used to believe in “Don’t Be Evil” but they took that out of their code of conduct last year. You can take that however you like.

So, there are some of the differences. If you’re finding that Google Drive seems to be “not enough” for what you need to do, please reach out. We’d love to hear from you.

Jen Neary
Written by: Jen Neary
Posted on: January 2022