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390: Munchkin is Using Innovation as a Competitive Advantage – VP of Marketing, Kristin Pagano

Kristin Pagano started her career as a media planner with Starcom Worldwide straight out of the University of Texas at Austin, where she had the opportunity to move back to LA and take on their Walt Disney account. She shifted to the client side at 20th Century Fox but felt a need to broaden her view of the overall marketing mix. After returning to school and graduating with her MBA from the University of Southern California, she started at Intel and then transferred to Activision. At that point, she had a 6-month-old and was presented with the opportunity to work for Munchkin. Starting as a senior brand manager in 2012, she worked her way up and became VP of Marketing in 2018.

As the Vice President of Marketing, Kristin oversees all strategies and tactics designed to grow the Munchkin business. Munchkin was founded in Los Angeles in 1990. Last year, they sold 47 million products in the US, which translates to almost 13 products for every baby born, showing just how massive the brand is today. Operating in over 50 countries with six offices and almost 400 employees worldwide, Munchkin was named #8 on Fortune’s list of America’s Most Innovative Companies among brands like Alphabet, IBM, and Apple. Recently, they expanded their portfolio by launching Curio, a premium home lifestyle brand. Kristin tells us this is just the beginning of their diversification.

In this episode, Alan and Kristin discuss the size and scope of Munchkin, their commitment to CSR and sustainability, and how they are overcoming the challenges of shrinking audience size and shifting distribution channels through innovation. One of the largest challenges Munchkin faces is having a very narrow audience with a limited lifetime value. This causes them to focus on the functionality and innovation of their products to delight their customers and win over a larger portion of this smaller group. With a small consumer base, it doesn’t make sense for the brand to spend large amounts of money on traditional marketing. Instead, they make these emotional connections through platforms like podcasts and CTV. With the loss of major distribution partners like Bye Bye Baby and Babies R Us, Kristin and her team are also reworking how they get their products to consumers and ensure a better buying experience.

In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How Munchin is dealing with a shrinking audience through innovation and alternative marketing
  • How a commitment to CSR and sustainability factor into Munchkin’s business strategy
  • How Munchin is innovating its distribution and shifting the way it works with partners to make the buying process better for its consumers

Key Highlights: 

  • [01:30] A working mom aspiring to be more like her own
  • [03:45] From media planner to marketing VP
  • [06:05] What is Munchkin up to today?
  • [07:50] What does marketing look like at Munchkin?
  • [10:30] How does Munchkin approach product strategy and innovation?
  • [14:10] How does a commitment to CSR and sustainability factor into Munchkin’s business strategy?
  • [17:10] Discontinuation of any product under 4 stars
  • [19:25] Working with distribution partners to grow the business
  • [22:30] Looking at new categories and pivoting where it makes sense
  • [23:00] Insights from working at Intel
  • [26:25] Advice to her younger self: Don’t be afraid to try new things.
  • [27:15] Staying on track with a rapidly evolving digital landscape: AI and Influencers
  • [30:40] Watching the impending generational shift: Where do your customers fall?
  • [32:40] Anticipating growth in a changing retail landscape

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