DTC as an Experience: Lessons Learned from the Spirits Industry

Like many industries, the spirits category has seen a rise in direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales as the COVID-19 pandemic affects on-premise consumption. Websites, social media apps, and online marketplaces are becoming more essential to the purchase of spirits brands as people visit stores less frequently. To compete effectively, DTC players are doing more than offering efficiency and availability. They’re also competing by providing engaging experiences that may inspire DTC brands outside the spirits industry, too.

We believe the future of the DTC spirits experience spans discovery, transaction, unboxing, and beyond. Creating an end-to-end experience gives spirits businesses more opportunities to tell interesting brand stories and build loyalty. Although no single spirits business has mastered the entire DTC experience perfectly, many are succeeding with aspects of it. Here are lessons learned from spirits brands that are going beyond the transaction and providing an experience. As you review these examples, consider also that Isobar can help you turn your own DTC capability into an experience that builds customer loyalty regardless of your industry. Contact us to learn more. Meanwhile, read on for lessons learned from DTC spirits brands.

Offer an Engaging User Experience

Flaviar, a self-described “club for spirits enthusiasts,” prides itself in making rare and exotic spirits brands available directly to Flaviar members. But Flaviar does more than deliver exotic brands. Members receive an experience that includes tailored recommendations, personalized samples, themed tasting boxes, and incredibly lively and educational commentary on spirits brands in its inventory.

Visiting the Flaviar site feels like a fun exploration of fascinating spirits arcana. For example, according to Flaviar, it’s not uncommon for Japanese Whisky to be aged in mizunara (Japanese oak) casks. Suntory conducted a research on how mizunara oak influences Whisky flavor and found out it adds coconut notes to it. Oh, and did you know that the rum-drinking phrase “tapping the Admiral” comes from Admiral Nelson, who was killed in the battle of Trafalgar? Flaviar explains that a popular (and mostly likely false) story persists that Nelson’s body was preserved in rum to be shipped back to England but, when the barrel arrived, some of the rum was missing because some enterprising sailors siphoned it off. 

And those are just two examples of the content you’ll find on this most engaging site – all to keep you engaged while you arrange your club membership and arrange for direct shipment of the many spirits brands available here.  

Tell a Great Story

DTC spirits brands also create an engaging experience through the stories they tell about themselves.  For example:

  • Hercules Mulligan rum and rye, which sells direct via Flaviar, is named after a little known tailor, spy, and hero of the American Revolution. According to the website, his tailoring business in Manhattan was frequented by “British officers who trusted his friendly and talkative demeanor, plus our Agent Double-Oh-Needle offered them the finest Spirits that loosened their tongues and revealed many a secret.”
  • 21 Seeds tequila, available on white-label DTC site Speakeasy, is run by three women who believe that #GirlsCallTheShots. The “two sisters and a friend” who run the company aspire to build a community of like-minded friends bonding over shared experiences and jokes. Says the site, “Our goal for 21 SEEDS is more than just a delicious tequila: we want it to inspire you to gather your tribe of friends new and old, cross borders, share ideas and make connections. It’s the seed of something bigger.”

And these are just two of many, many examples of spirits brands that keep potential customers engaged by talking about . . . themselves. To be sure, spirits brands need to deliver a product that people want to buy. But the storytelling turns the transaction into an experience that generates more brand love and loyalty – much the same way that auto brand Aston Martin is part of the James Bond story. When you have an interesting story behind your product, you generate interest in the product itself.

Interact on Social

In 2019, Patrón became the first liquor brand to sell its product through ads on Instagram stories. The launch made headlines, and for good reason: selling tequila on Instagram amounted to a pioneering and fun way to engage with millions of younger, legal-age consumers who are probably cultivating their taste for liquor. What better way to appeal to them than one of the most popular apps among Millennials?

The Instagram Stories have featured intriguing content such groovy artwork and ideas for how to taste and mix Patrón. The spirits company works with third-party DTC services such as Drizly, Instacart and ReserveBar to fulfill actual purchases. The launch was well timed with Instagram’s evolution as a shopping platform. And, of course, Patrón had no way of knowing that within a few months, people would flock to social media sites such as Instagram as the pandemic shifted browsing and shopping habits online.

What’s Next?

DTC spirits brands still have a ways to go. One largely uncharted frontier consists of packaging the actual product for shipping. As BoozeBusiness.com noted:

We can’t tell you how many times an anxiously awaited product has arrived wrapped in what looks like a dog’s breakfast. The shipper is trying to assure that there will not be breakage but in so doing, brands come in Styrofoam peanuts, ridiculous and hard to unpack bubble wrap, and outer wrapping more appropriate to packing fish than expensive spirits. Is that how you want to present your brand?

DTC is more than a transaction – but that last mile of the delivery still feels less like an experience. In this regard, spirits brands might do well to learn from businesses outside their category, such as Glossier, known for its pink bubble pouch, or Allbirds, renowned for its sustainable and attractive packaging

We believe these lessons can apply to any business capitalizing on the growing DTC market. At Isobar, we create great experiences in refreshingly human ways. Contact us to learn more.