Global Matters

Being a brand: How The Sip is driving diversity in wine

Founders of the subscription-based wine service are breaking barriers for women of color, one sip at a time.

Founders of The Sip, pouring champagne
The Sip co-founders Catherine Carter (L) and Erica Davis (R)

It’s been said that a brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room.

Even more than choosing a name or defining visual identity, being a brand is about knowing your audience and giving them value. It’s about seeing a need and meeting it — about setting expectations and living up to or exceeding them. What your customers think and feel and know about you — that’s your brand. Still, many legacy businesses act like their customers — or certain segments of their markets — are monolithic, which is rarely, if ever, the case.  

“Being a woman and specifically a Black woman, especially in this industry, we get marketed to by big alcohol very intentionally,” says Erica Davis, co-founder and CEO of The Sip, a subscription service that curates boxes of bubbles from around the world. From traditional French houses to BIPOC brands that challenge the lack of diversity in wine, like Wachira Winery, a Black-owned winery in Alameda and Brooklyn-based B.Stuyvesant Champagne, the only Black woman-owned Champagne company in the U.S., The Sip is focused largely on expanding the choices available to their key audiences.

“There are all these expectations around what I should like. I think it's important as women that we are able to own those choices. For us, it's important to be able to empower women to do that,” says Davis.

The importance of being, seeing yourself

After a foundational ladies’ trip to Napa, Davis and best friend Catherine Carter of Oakland, CA set out to share their passion for sparkling wine with folks who might be left out of the conversation by the wine world’s existing gatekeepers — namely, Millennial women who enjoy Champagne and sparkling wine but are perhaps new to the industry and ready to expand their palates.

“Everybody's palate is different,” says Davis. “It's like a fingerprint. To pigeonhole certain groups, you limit their access to what could be. We wanted to build a brand where we saw ourselves, and where other women could see themselves, in the sparkling wine world.” She added, “For us, we really try to de-stigmatize the wine industry and make it judgment-free, so you understand that the only palate that matters is your own.”

Connecting with eConsumers

Early on, both Davis — the creative marketer — and Carter — the expert in operations for luxury brands — understood that a subscription-based model was appealing to the people they were trying to reach. “Being a Millennial myself and an avid subscriber, I already knew convenience is number one for this generation,” said Davis.

An eCommerce model would also help them test-and-learn more broadly. Subscribers get to review their wines and then The Sip captures that information and drives recommendations based on individual reviews, using “a killer AI recommendation driver for your palate,” says Davis. Then come the perks, like a wine accessory (flutes, tumblers, trays, etc.) in each box. This evolution led to The Sip launching an accessories shop on their website in Q4 of last year.

To expand access and connect with their customers as a digital brand, education has been key. Each box shares tasting notes for the sparkling wine newbie, with approachable descriptions like Cherry Coke instead of black currant. “Everybody knows what that tastes like,” says Davis. “Our goal is to just break it down into real talk and share how it's created, what goes into it, and that these are the things that formulate your actual palate.”

Doing good while doing well

Being a brand is about more than the product you sell. A lot of times, it’s about having a mission beyond the product — about showing up in the world in a way that makes a difference in the lives of other people.

Understanding their customer and setting out to do more than just sell wine, The Sip founders partnered with a local organization that aligned with their brand’s mission to turn sparkling wine into clean water for women and children.

Through its Take A Sip, Give A Sip program, the company gives clean drinking water for every purchase made on The Sip website to The East Oakland Community Project, a homeless transition shelter. “The best thing about the organization is that they really look at the individual and what they personally need, and that mirrors how we want to be seen in the world and how we think about business as well.” So far, they have donated 4,400 gallons of clean water.

Listening to “their girl”

The Sip recently launched in Canada, in addition to being sold in 46 states in the U.S. Thanks to their attention to detail and listening to “their girl” — a term of endearment for their customer — Davis says The Sip has grown 400 percent in 2021 over the previous year. “When we launched in 2020, our thought process was we were going to be 100 percent subscribed. But she [our customer] told us differently. She said, ‘We love the bi-monthly subscription, but we also want to be able to purchase on non-subscription months." So The Sip launched a curated one-time box, no subscription required. Coming soon from the company is a line of cocktails and spirits.

“A big challenge for us is making sure that we're doing what we set out to do, and we're not listening to all the noise,” says Davis. “Sometimes it can be challenging when you are a for-profit business to make the choice to not always do what's better for your bottom line, but what's better for your customer. But being a better person is just more important to us.”

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Tag: North America Tag: Social Impact Tag: Digital commerce

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