Liquor Delivery Startup Thirstie Brews Branded Content

ThirstieVeevThe combination of content and commerce can be a complex cocktail to get just right. Alcohol delivery service Thirstie is experimenting to find the right mix.

“It’s not that content to commerce is all that hard to do,” said Devaraj Southworth, CEO and co-founder of Thirstie and a former AmEx exec. “It’s just hard to do well.”

Founded in 2013, Thirstie is a discovery/commerce platform for drinks, a sort of Seamless for adult beverages. Consumers make purchases on the Thirstie app or site and Thirstie fills their orders within the hour through partnerships with local liquor retailers in urban centers like New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Austin and Miami.

The app has roughly 30,000 downloads, while the site generates around 100,000 monthly uniques. Web traffic is growing approximately 30% month over month, Southworth said.

The on-demand liquor delivery ecosystem is booming. Or at least there’s a lot of competition. Thirstie, which raised a $2 million seed round last March, shares what’s becoming a crowded market with the likes of Drizly, Minibar, Saucey, Tipsy, Swill, TopShelf, BrewDrop and a number of other smaller players.

Southworth sees content as a differentiator for his platform. In June, Thirstie rolled out The Craft, an editorial hub for recipes, recommendations and booze-related news. In October, the company brought on a director of content, Amanda Gabriele, who previously spent nearly two years as a copywriter at Jackthreads when it was still part of Thrillist Media Group.

Thrillist and Jackthreads put significant sweat equity into their content/commerce strategy, but after five years together, the duo went their separate ways in October.

As Eric Ashman, president of Media at Thrillist, told AdExchanger in a previous interview: “Thrillist was about food, drink and travel, and we were writing articles about things like the best blazer to wear when you go out to a restaurant. It was transparent to our readers and they voted with their eyeballs … or the lack of them.”

But Thirstie’s approach is more straightforward – writing about drinking culture and selling booze is a more natural fit.

It’s also an alternative to paid media, which can be a bit of a pain in the rear for publishers and brands operating within the highly regulated alcohol space, where targeting restrictions drive up the cost per click. Although Thirstie does use content recommendation engines like Taboola, Outbrain and RevContent, Southworth said, it hasn’t seen much success on Facebook or Twitter.

According to Thirstie, the average basket size has increased from $30 to $80 since it launched its content hub, and repeat usage is up roughly 60%. Bounce rate on the site decreased from 70% to 40% and time spent doubled. Approximately 80% of new customers are coming in through The Craft.

“Our main job is to keep trying to figure out exactly what the conversion path from reader to buyer looks like,” Southworth said. “But I’m not concerned if someone comes to our site, engages with our content and doesn’t make a purchase on that visit or the second time or even on the third visit. I really mean that. We’re trying to build a sticky community where we’re seen as the subject matter experts so that when someone does finally decide to make a purchase, they do so with us.”

But it’s a potentially windy path. Thirstie’s goal is to shorten it as much as possible. Over the next couple of months, the company is planning to roll out new functionality to keep the consumer as close to the purchase as possible when intent is at its highest. One potential feature would allow users engaging with a piece of recipe content to automatically add all of the ingredients listed to their shopping cart at once.

IMG_0519Thirstie is partnering with several liquor brands on native content, including VEEV Spirits, an independent liquor brand founded by two brothers who started out selling bottles from the trunk of their car. These days, VEEV has national distribution deals with places like Walmart, CVS, Kroger and Safeway.

VEEV has worked with Thirstie on a number of branded content initiatives since July, mainly around tentpole events like the Super Bowl and what VEEV co-founder Carter Reum called “genuine pulse points for our brand throughout the year,” like Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

“The biggest challenge is always around not wasting your media impressions, and that happens when the consumer always has the ability to purchase your product,” Reum said. “VEEV has been featured in the New York Times style section, which was great, but we never knew if we sold a single incremental bottle as a result.”

Before supporting VEEV with a content push on The Craft, Thirstie didn’t see much in the way of VEEV sales on its platform, mainly because not that many of the local liquor stores in Thirstie’s delivery network carried it. After the promotion, Southworth said, VEEV sales increased 2% and numerous retail partners indicated that they wanted to add VEEV to their inventory.

“You hear a lot about brands trying to use content to drive commerce, which is great in theory, but it’s not quite as simple as it sounds,” Reum said. “It’s not just about using content to generate sales, it’s about finding out what kind of content is resonating.”

And that requires giving up a certain amount of editorial control.

“We’re okay with that because the result is less in-your-face branded content,” Reum said. “They’re the experts and we defer to them as long as we think what they’re doing is authentic to the brand.”

Because branded content that sounds too much like branded content does get read, let alone result in a sale.

“The brand usually wants to make the content sound like a press release vomited all over it – it’s every brand manager’s inclination – but that’s not practical,” Reum said. “But by giving up a little control you end up with a more genuine product, and we’ve found that when consumers have the opportunity to discover genuine content naturally it leads to more conversions in the long run.”

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