CMO of the Week: Munchkin & Curio Home Goods' Diana Barnes

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Since joining Munchkin in 2014, Diana Barnes (“DB”) has transformed the baby retailer company from its product-focused B2B foundation into a design-driven, socially responsible, global baby lifestyle brand.

Since joining Munchkin in 2014, Diana Barnes (“DB”) has transformed the baby retailer company from its product-focused B2B foundation into a design-driven, socially responsible, global baby lifestyle brand.

In 2022, the children’s retailer sold more than 47 million products in the U.S. and was ranked No. 8 on Fortune’s list of America's Most Innovative Companies, sharing the spotlight with giants including Alphabet, IBM and Apple. The company reports 92% brand awareness among their target audience. The products are on the shelves of Walmart, Target and Amazon and available in more than 50 countries.

“Munchkin is in our most inspiring, most innovative phase in the company's 33-year history,” says Barnes. “We're creating a brand-new category that will help bring a new, deeper level of connection between moms and babies. I want our consumers to design a life they love starting with our well-designed, problem-solving baby products and growing into loving our beautifully designed, highly refined home goods collection.”

Munchkin’s next phase of its growth is to become a house of brands. In collaboration with Munchkin CEO Steven B. Dunn, Barnes has co-founded Curio, a premium home lifestyle brand and collection of home goods for adults.

“We're evolving from a leader in the baby lifestyle industry into a more mature expression with Curio, which is our line of inspired and curated home goods made for a demographic who enjoys nesting and collecting art and home design,” explains Barnes. “Since COVID, people are spending more time in their homes and Curio Home Goods is our new company on the path to becoming a house of brands.”

Prior to joining Munchkin, Barnes was global director of brand design at Dell, Inc. and also held executive creative positions in the music and entertainment industries at Sony and EMI. Brand Innovators caught up with Barnes to discuss storytelling, podcast and building Curio. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you talk about your customers and how you are reaching them?

Our target for Munchkin has always been and will always be parents and caregivers. Our products really speak for themselves. The thoughtful design and functionality really do the heavy lifting for us as our clean packaging is designed to enhance and showcase these truths rather than distract with unnecessary sales copy.

Our emotional connection to our audience has been the through line that helped us achieve our No. 1 position in most of the categories we play in. Our dedication to doing good for the planet and the animal world really resonates with our customers and helps them feel good about buying Munchkin products.

We are number one in engagement in our social media platforms and our ad-free, top-ranking podcast, StrollerCoaster, is in its fourth season. It's the latest and most unique way we've been engaging in an active dialog with our consumers. It's not just consumable content. It is an elongation of our authentic conversation with our consumers. We also have a separate podcast for children called Storytime

On the Curio side, we are still in soft launch mode. We're going to test a number of ways to reach our consumer, which may have some overlap with Munchkin.  We're really excited to see what comes back to us. It is interesting, the current data shows us that our demographic skews slightly male, which is very different for us. I wouldn't say it's luxury, it's categorized more as premium. It's also a DTC brand while Munchkin thrives in mass retail.

It sounds like podcasting plays a big part in your marketing strategy.

We see it as another extension to engage in an honest conversation. When you run a podcast, generally you put it out into the abyss, you look to see if you have downloads and you read the very few reviews. Interestingly, the podcasts aren’t reviewed like a product would be on Amazon. Listeners actually write to us directly, and say, ‘Hey, you saved my life in the car the other day. I'd really had it after a temper tantrum at Target and that podcast on how to stop yelling at my child really was a paradigm shift in how I'm dealing with this stage of my toddler’s growth.’ We love hearing that.

I've also conversely heard a couple of pieces of feedback on some things that listeners didn't understand in an episode, and they asked for more clarity. I love that too. StollerCoaster is a unique two-way dialog when most podcasts really aren't.

How are you thinking about innovating in the DTC and retail category?  

They are two very different ways of doing business. We're so excited to be in the DTC ethos after having 33 years in the physical retail space as a legacy brand. On the Munchkin side, our products like the No Spill Miracle 360 Sippy Cup and the Sterilizing UV Diaper Pail continue to pave the way to solve modern parenting problems and give us the permission to innovate with categories like gear and infant health, which we've just entered and are doing extremely well in.  

On the Curio side, we're on our way to creating a house of brands. We're bringing the same focus on design, making the ordinary extraordinary, that we have in Munchkin but taking it to the next level. The innovation story for Curio is that each product has a unique surprising function made to delight our customers. Our Ionic Collection starts in the kitchen and features everyday items that have not been regarded as candidates for high design. These products are intended to be left on display.

Innovation is always key no matter how you go to market. Innovation is the magnet, no matter where they shop.

What attracted you to the brand in the first place?

I'm a natural born storyteller. This company’s story had not been told when I came to Munchkin eight years ago. One of my superpowers is to create a heartbeat for a brand. When I met Steve Dunn, our CEO/Founder, I knew it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to bring the story of his design-led company to life. At that point in my career, I was really looking for a worthy and meaningful story to tell. The story of Munchkin is rooted in love, the love a parent has for its child. I always keep that front and center.

The new Curio brand is truly organic, born of lots of conversations on planes, museum trips, and not having the products that we wanted in our own homes. We looked at certain everyday objects that we all use or need and asked why does that have to be so unattractive? Why does that have to be stored out of sight? How can we breathe design into this seemingly mundane and truly necessary product? If you have a great idea, it can come to fruition very quickly at our company, which is truly one of the most amazing things about it. Curio was born from our curiosity and our need.

We're very thirsty here for innovation and design. Munchkin is, at its core, a design company first. All of our design is done under this one roof in LA. Curio is really just satisfying a natural need to evolve. When people have children, they're spending more time in the home and they want to elevate the home as well.

Can you talk about your approach to leadership?

My approach to leadership has been essentially the same with each company and centered around my lifelong mantra, “to whom much is given, much is required.” I am known for getting the best from every single person on my team and I do that by leading with discernment and trusting my own instinct. People describe me as firm, fair, and fun and I'm okay with that. It's such a privilege to lead in design and I try to stay rooted in gratitude.

Can you talk about what innovation means to you? 

Innovation to me is a great idea that hasn't been realized. It's timing meets opportunity and the right team to bring it to life. That means making sure you have superb thought leadership and unified, committed leaders in your business to support that great innovation. It's rarely done just by one person here. It's certainly a global effort. Munchkin is a modern, innovative company with an old-fashioned work ethic and that's the secret to our success. 

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