How To Harness Creative Talent To Foster Retail Innovation

“Creative instability is an epidemic in retail right now,” according to Angelo D’Agostino, former VP of Brand Marketing for Wet Seal, which closed all its brick-and-mortar stores earlier in 2017. D’Agostino recently reunited with Live Nation as Creative Director, after receiving a 2017 Retail Innovator Award for his work at Wet Seal.

In this exclusive Q&A, D’Agostino shares his passion for creative leadership in retail and other businesses.

Retail TouchPoints (RTP): Why did you decide not to pursue another career in retail right now, after Wet Seal?

Angelo D’Agostino: I was approached by Live Nation prior to Wet Seal’s shuttering and the decision to leave was a balanced but bittersweet move. For me, the jump out of fashion seems more like a “fight or flight” response given the fragile state of the retail landscape. Marketing/creative teams are the first casualties of a trending retail downturn — I’m not out of the game, but I’m definitely on a sidelined hiatus.

RTP: How do you propose retail companies adapt and embrace a new digital, creative way of thinking?

D’Agostino: Retail executives must be willing to objectively peel back the layers of how consumers interact and engage with our brands to begin to tackle today’s business challenges. No matter the age or demographic — if you can arrive at a level of understanding with your customer and teach your marketing and creative teams to speak that language, you’ve won.

We can’t operate under the antiquated assumption that the person who is thought to be the “smartest” is the best person to be making decisions. Our employees are usually running circles around us, intuitively aware of the changes and updates to programs, social media algorithms and information trends well before we are. We need to empower them to use that information to help lead the business forward. I’ve never met an Executive Team that wholly understands the role of Marketing or Creative leadership, and I think that’s because traditionally there’s a gap between ROI contribution and building equity in brand affinity.

I refer to myself as a “Brandvocate” because my aim is to push the brand forward, always the brand first. If you understand your brand and can help others to see who and what you represent, your creative thinking will become a lot more valuable. Ideation is an art, it’s not a science — there is no recipe book to building a brand. The nature of digital commerce demands that you know, or aggressively seek out your customer — not the other way around. I think that might be the biggest lesson, that the Internet is not a mall…you can’t survive on clever windows and loud signage to stand out. Like any good relationship — if you can keep a running dialogue between the brand and the customer, you’re doing something right. Also, we have got to start striking “Millennial” marketing from our lexicon — that group is aging up and aging out – and we should be focused more on Gen Z — they are going to dictate the future of retail.

RTP: How should businesses focus on creative leadership?

D’Agostino: Retail executives should reinforce, from a corporate perspective, the many reasons why creative functions add value to a business. If you treat your creative teams like a service area, like a mechanic’s shop, all you’ll get from work output is whatever problem can be diagnosed at the time. You’re not fostering new, innovative ideas if…