Dr. Nicola Nice has a boozy dream. The Ph.D. in sociology and London native had a long career advising Fortune 500 companies on their branding and how to better understand their consumers. In the spirits sector, she worked with clients including DIAGEO, Gruppo Campari, and Bacardi USA.
But when she created her own gin cordial company, Pomp & Whimsy, to be directed at consumers besides men, branding turned out to be her biggest struggle. “It was a lot more challenging than we thought it would be,” Nice admits. “You know how important design and packaging is — it’s everything in our industry. It’s critical that you get the nuances right and think about how people are reacting to it.”
While some alcohol brands have been marketed to women (hello, Skinny Girl), Nice came to the conclusion that it hasn’t been done effectively. “How do you market to women in a space that historically hasn’t worked all that well?” she asked herself. “We could point to all the brands that were condescending or overly girly or pretty and glittery. It made us feel like we weren’t being taken seriously.” She postulated that this was because women hadn’t been the ones at the wheel before. With her female-led team, Nice was confident that she could make a brand that would appeal to women.
But what’s the “right” expression of femininity, a concept that means something different to practically everyone? “We are in an industry that’s run by men. There was an idea that if we went too feminine or too feminist that the system would reject us,” Nice realized. The goal was to be inclusive from the start.
This was so important that Nice brought branding designers on as partners from the very dawn of the company. Knowing what she wanted was integral, too. She wrote a clear design brief, because she was aware that the better the brief, the better the service she would get. It didn’t hurt that she had already worked with those designers for eight or nine years before making them a part of her new company. And little by little, the process which Nice describes as “part science and part art” began to take on a life of its own. “You have to live it and breathe it before you know what it is,” she says.
Case in point, the name Pomp & Whimsy. It was just a working title for the liqueur. It was the name of the company itself, really just a placeholder while they went through articles of incorporation, but Nice hadn’t intended it to be the name of the product as well. “It fit this idea of something special but fun, something old but new, something masculine but feminine,” she says. And it turned out that customers liked it. People were talking about the name, even when the team explained it was just temporary. She eventually realized that it fit perfectly with her complexly flavorful product.
And while branding is what gets a company recognized, it’s a stellar product that makes customers come back. Nice admits that the spirit was even better received than she expected. She began to enter it in competitions in 2017. Since then, it’s racked up gold medals and 90-plus ratings consistently, from a 94 bestowed by Wine Enthusiast magazine to Double Gold at the Global Spirit and Millennial Awards.
That’s because its complexity mimics its name. Tastings magazine described it as having “floral, spicy aromas and flavors of elderflower, violet and jasmine water, currant bubblegum, candied lemon, lavender and bergamot, and white frosted cake with a silky, bright, fruity sweet medium body and a polished, intricate, very long juniper jelly on raisin toast, floral talc, and exotic fruit punch finish.” A mouthful, but one that appeals to cultivated palates.
Now that branding is in place and a clear success, Nice says her biggest challenge is fundraising. But that is going well, too. Pomp & Whimsy will close its next round this year. With that extra money in place, the company will be ready to grow its enterprise value and scale.
And when Nice sells the company someday, that won’t be the end of her goal of inviting women to the bar. There’s still much work to be done in the spirits industry. And with the right branding, Nice and the entrepreneurs who will follow in her footsteps will make drinking well as inclusive as it should be.