Getting To Know An Interactive Strategist

July 20, 2016

I just passed the two-month mark as senior interactive strategist here at Fast Horse, and I can now safely say I know everyone’s first name, their roles within the company, the clients they work with most frequently, and most importantly, their personalities and interests when they’re not kicking ass at work. This is a very important part of becoming a team member at Fast Horse; you need to understand and empathize with the people you’re going to be working with every day. This also helps in understanding each individual’s working style and tendencies, so if you do need, say, a developer’s expertise, you know when and where to find them.Fast Horse

Creativity & digital in my youth

number muncherFrom a very young age, I loved to draw, and I know this obsession came from my mom. She was a first-grade teacher and made arts and crafts a priority in her classroom. So, needless to say, we had many leftover art supplies and projects that both of my brothers and I could use to let our creativity run wild. On top of that, I came from a school district (ISD 318) that put a lot of focus on students’ learning in computer labs. Not only was I crushing it in art class, I also was racking up high scores on Number Munchers and Oregon Trail. This should be enough evidence that the teachers, creativity and technology we have around us in grade school directly influence the passions we have in our futures.

CD jackets = instant inspiration

Growing up through middle and high school, I was influenced so much by the music I was listening to. My eclectic taste helped keep my mind open and showed me that creativity comes in various forms.  What excited me the most was the artwork that came on CD jackets. When I saw the mailman drop that brown package into our mailbox, I bolted down the driveway because I knew the latest shipment from Columbia House (remember those CD clubs?) just arrived. I drew all the album covers on the walls of my bedroom for about eight years, along with the annual fresh coat of paint that was “requested” by my parents. Some of my favorites included:

Greenday, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Smashing Pumpkins

5 years, 2 majors

UMD BulldogsI attended the University of Minnesota Duluth, where I wanted to focus on finance and hopefully end up on Wall Street trading in the stock exchanges. About two and half years and a finance-related internship later, I realized it was too dry for me, so I switched gears and immersed myself in the web. I learned everything I could about programming, HTML, .NET and added another major: management information systems. I graduated with two majors in 2002 (finance and MIS), acquired a boatload of college debt, and went to work full-time with a development firm that I started with while in school.

Growing professionally

Here’s a very high-level breakdown of my professional career that I’ve held over the last 15-plus years within the digital industry:

  • Jeff Wagner - Sr. Interactive StrategistCustomer support specialist: A great place to start, and you learn to truly listen to people’s problems and find quick solutions. After hearing a lot of the same issues you get a better understanding of the user experience needs (before UX was UX) that many people demand.
  • Junior web developer: I got a chance to show off my shiny and expensive college chops to develop some overly complicated and cumbersome interfaces.
  • Web designer: I couldn’t stand how poorly the interfaces I was developing were being designed. Took side projects to prove that design was a better fit for me and soon after made the transition full-time.
  • Lead web designer & developer: The first agency gig that put me in a leadership role, loved it, met one of my best friends who has been the biggest mentor in my professional career.
  • Freelancer/owner: Through numerous projects I made many contacts who needed design work on a frequent basis. I felt the time was right to do my own thing. Scary, but exciting.
  • Creative director: Missed working with creative people and came back to the agency world, where I could build a team and create a design approach that was highly collaborative and user/data-driven.
  • Senior interactive strategist – Here we are. (more detail at my LinkedIn)

Interactive Strategy… why I love it

I’ve always been obsessed with digital marketing and creativity will always be my most valuable asset. What I’ve found is that my obsession and my passion team up very well when solving problems. Much of my career has been creating intuitive and memorable user experiences (UX) that delight and create extreme convenience. The last few years have been focused on the grander scale of customer experience (CX), which factors in a multitude of different marketing strategies including:

  • Cultural Trends
  • Influencer Marketing
  • Sharing Ecosystems
  • Retargeting Strategies
  • Media Purchasing
  • Device Consumption
  • Efficient Buying Experiences
  • Ease of Payment
  • Automated Fulfillment Processes
  • Data Analysis
  • Ratings Networks

User Experience vs Customer ExperienceThis is just a sample of the complex pieces that are needed for clients to visualize potential customers, engage and convert them, and maintain their loyalty. It’s one heck of a challenge, and in my experience, it never comes easy. I pursued Fast Horse because we have extremely talented people obsessed with pieces of this evolving customer-experience landscape. I believe they chose me because of my problem-solving strategies and how I approach most everything with design in mind. Together, we’ll get to take on the most complex problems with some of the world’s most influential brands.

The Future

Ah, the future — hard to predict what or who the next big impactful trend, app, device or influencer will be, but with the talent that I’ve gotten to know within these walls we’re going to put our stamp on it one way or another. It’s funny — I’ve been hoarding the white boards so often around the office (just my natural way to work out problems in my head) that FH had to order more for most of our conference and collaboration rooms so others had access. I’m still drawing on the walls well into my thirties.