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U.S. Bancorp Leverages Digital Watermarks to Engage Customers With Interactive Documents

U.S. Bancorp leverages digital watermarks to turn printed materials into interactive, multimedia documents, providing the bank with a new way to engage customers.

U.S. Bancorp is breathing new life into its customer reports with digital watermarks. Smartphone users can scan the digital watermarks, which are embedded in images in the bank's printed reports, using a mobile app that connects them to additional mobile content, providing an enhanced reader experience.

"We see [digital watermarks] as an opportunity to enhance our materials with more dynamic content," says Moira Clark Bonn, VP of marketing for U.S. Bank, U.S. Bancorp's commercial bank. "It also allows us to provide a deeper level of content if a consumer wants to access more information about a given product or service."

The Minneapolis-based bank partnered with Digimarc Corp. (Beaverton, Ore.) to introduce the watermarks. "A digital watermark is invisible to the eye but yet visible to the software within the application," explains Dominic Venturo, U.S. Bank's chief innovation officer for payments. "It is part of an evolution we are seeing in media and magazines where technology can bring to life a printed document and provide enhanced content, such as video."

The watermarks are codes that are embedded into printed materials using the Digimarc Discover Online Services Portal. Customers with smartphones can download the Digimarc Discover app for Android phones or the iPhone to scan the watermarked images. The app then links them to webpages with additional, multimedia information about U.S. Bancorp's ($336 billion in total assets) products and services, including simple tips on saving; resources for active duty military, veterans and their families; and a video of U.S. Bancorp CEO Richard Davis receiving an award from the United Way.

Venturo says U.S. Bancorp was working with Digimarc on other projects when it decided to incorporate the digital watermarks in the bank holding company's 2011 annual report and Corporate Citizenship report. The company found that digital watermarks were more secure than similar technologies, such as QR codes, he reports, adding that the watermarking technology was easy to implement and the codes don't interfere with the report presentation.

According to Bonn, the response rates to the watermarks have been good, and U.S. Bancorp expects to see increased user engagement as it uses the watermarking in more materials. The company is looking into watermarking its consumer branch brochures to provide a link between its individual branches and its website, she adds.

While U.S. Bancorp is the first company to use the digital watermarks in customer reports, according to Digimarc, they have been inserted in banknotes to detect counterfeiting and in films to prevent pirating. The company gained a good deal of exposure for watermarking this year's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition with links to videos of the magazine's models.

A Compelling Use Case

Ed Knudson, Digimarc's EVP of sales and marketing, says the technology is easy to incorporate in customer communications because it doesn't interfere with a company's infrastructure. But to make watermarking successful, banks must provide links to compelling content, he emphasizes, pointing to tools such as retirement and loan calculators, and to videos and other promotions as examples. Knudson also advises companies to test the technology before implementing it to ensure that the embedded links work and its servers can handle the response.

Meanwhile, according to Michael McEvoy, managing director of ath Power Consulting, which is based in Washington, D.C., and Boston, the real potential for watermarking is in providing information at the individual customer level. Watermarking could make electronic account statements more interactive, he says, by linking customers with information about their payments over a period of time, for instance. "The more personalized it is, the more valuable it is," McEvoy says.

Jonathan Camhi has been an associate editor with Bank Systems & Technology since 2012. He previously worked as a freelance journalist in New York City covering politics, health and immigration, and has a master's degree from the City University of New York's Graduate School ... View Full Bio

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