#165: How We Think About Storytelling at Drift
Speaker 1: And we're back. Seeking Wisdom is back, episode 165. I'm here with the young Jedi, Adam Schoenfeld, in the great state of Seattle. That's not a state, Washington.
Adam Schoenfeld: We can make it a state, maybe. I'm happy to be back. It's been a little while. And we're talking about one of your favorite topics today, which is storytelling.
Speaker 1: I'm excited to talk about storytelling, but first I must tell the people that I'm red, because I just spent some time in Florida. It's snowing here in Massachusetts. If you can, go to the sun. Have you been in the sun, Adam?
Adam Schoenfeld: I did get a little sun. I did. I got to southern California.
Speaker 1: Oh, nice. Nice.
Adam Schoenfeld: Yeah, but I'm red because I have bad lighting in my home office. I didn't actually get tan. I was SPF 50 the whole time.
Speaker 1: I never wear sunscreen. Not advisable, kids. Please wear your sunscreen. But because of my natural dark complexion, I usually never have to wear a sunscreen unless I'm in the Caribbean or South America. And I did not wear sunscreen and I actually got burnt on my face a little bit here. So Miami sun, Tampa sun is pretty strong.
Adam Schoenfeld: So kids, wear sunscreen. That's what I took away from that, as I'm still going to make my kids put on their sunscreen.
Speaker 1: So we're going to talk about storytelling today.
Adam Schoenfeld: Storytelling. And you said, this is one of the things you wish you knew when you were younger to learn to tell stories well. And you said at the end of the day, most of success comes down to storytelling. But where does that come from?
Speaker 1: I think it's... Storytelling is something that I talk a lot about now. And it is something that no one ever talked to me about growing up. I never heard anyone talk about storytelling for most of my life, I should say. And I'd say it was even worse because I come from a very logical, just like Adam, very logical, rational framework- driven way of thinking that some would say lacks emotion, empathy, humanness. And so I come from that very rational way of thinking. And so storytelling can, to a lot of people, seem flimsy, right? Seem arbitrary. And so it's hard to put your arms around it. And so I didn't really put much credit into it until we started to talk about and think about it. And I started to think about, okay, how do you do marketing? Because I wasn't a marketer, even though I built software for marketers, I didn't know how to market. And so I started to think about it and that got me into human decision- making, which we've talked about it that got me into cognitive biases and all these things. And then once you worked yourself up from the bottom, these biases and how do we make decisions and blah, blah, blah. Then I could finally understand for the first time ever the power of storytelling. That's when I started to look at the stuff from Joseph Campbell, the Hero's Journey story, character archetypes, all those kinds of things. And so I started to read those and then it made sense to me. Then it was almost a matrix moment for those of you too young, check out the movie, the Matrix, if you don't get that reference. And all of a sudden I can now look backwards and say like," Oh, all patterns that I see, all these things that I can't explain to my life really are story driven." Everything from a political campaign to the way you communicate inside of the company, the way that you write marketing messages with sales messages, the way you communicate to your kids, the way, the stories you remember your grandparents or your parents telling you like... Those are like... There was a reason why stories were the thing that would always stick.
Adam Schoenfeld: This is so interesting because I kind of thought story... You were a natural storyteller because I met you late in that curve where you'd already sort of built from the bottom up of human decision- making and then getting to stories. So how did you learn that in such a short time? How did you go from sort of not thinking to kind of known as this?
Speaker 1: To thinking about it? It's so funny to look at it backwards now, because most people that I've met in recent history see me from that perspective or lens, and it's the most foreign thing to reality. For me, I got immersed and I'm obsessive addictive personality. So I got immersed into it and I couldn't stop reading because again, it was like all these things were unlocking for me. You were just like," Oh, I'm starting to understand why certain marketing messages work, why certain sales messages work. Why I remember certain things from growing up." And so like, but I am not a natural storyteller. I would be the person inside a room. Let's say if we went to a room where we were meeting new people and you're at a dinner or you're at an event or something like that, you have those people that can just tell stories, right? And like have the crowd wrapped around their fingers. That's not me. I'm the wallflower, I'm the person not talking. I'm the person actually trying to process through my head. How do I come up with a story? What's an interesting story. What would be interesting? What would kind of, what can I say? That's interesting. That's naturally me. So I'm not naturally a storyteller, but once you see the patterns in storytelling and then you correlate them to things that you knew in your own life, where there was comic books or movies or things that you remembered, then you can see like," Oh, okay, what's the components of a story? How do you make a story interesting? How do you make someone feel like that is their story versus your personal story," right? And so how do you abstract things up just a little bit with just enough detail, but it's abstracted up to a level that they can put themselves and see themselves in that story. And so you start to learn all these things. It's an amazing thing. Do you think you've learned storytelling since you've been adrift?
Adam Schoenfeld: I think I've learned a little bit and that's actually one of the big things is how you have to take yourself out of your own shoes and think from the consumer of the story's perspective. And I'm actually curious to ask you a little bit about that. How does a consumer of a narrative receive a story versus receive me giving them a three by three framework with a lot of detail and bullet points? Like explaining something in a more kind of pedantic logical way versus articulating something in a narrative.
Speaker 1: I think with a three by three and being... Coming at someone with a framework, there's no tolerance, there's no forgiveness in that for them to kind of imagine themselves. There's no give, right? So like there's no flexibility in that. And so it's like, it's either this way or that's it, right? You either understand this framework. You either think the same way that I do and I can put myself through this framework or you don't, and it doesn't stick. And with a story there's just enough wiggle room and ambiguity to allow you to kind of put yourself in that story. And so we started at drift from the very beginning of even explaining the problem that we were trying to solve initially in terms of a story. And we started with not us, but the consumer of the story and saying like for the consumer of the story, what would be the most general thing that all of them have gone through? What do they deal with in their normal lives? And so like everyone it's universal, everyone has gone through this thing. Obviously we started with this idea of the store and the empty store because everyone, no matter what age, demographic, or location in the world has gone through that scenario. And so that immediately let them identify and say like," Oh, I'm in this story. I get this story because I lived this story." Versus starting with technology, which has us... Problem that we are solving from a go- to- market standpoint. That's us again. Right? All those things reduce too quickly and you lose most people.
Adam Schoenfeld: Right. Yeah. That you could have... Instead of saying," imagine being in an empty store," you could have said," imagine you're a marketer launching a website and you're trying to get leads." And it wasn't that, it was from the complete other side.
Speaker 1: Exactly. Because everyone listening to it could identify with the store. Very few people would be the marketer with the lead problem, with the... Sometimes that's useful to get that specific, but we didn't want to reduce it that far. We wanted to make the message universal so that we could capture lots of people whose job might not be that exact job.
Adam Schoenfeld: Do you think it's critical to have a crisp analogy like that in a story?
Speaker 1: I don't know if it's necessary, but for me it's the easiest way, right? Because again, I think from... like yourself, in some ways, from a framework standpoint, and so if I can rely on analogies, then it's easier for me to come up with a story because I can come... I have something to compare it against. I'm basically starting... By starting with an analogy, I'm basically starting with a framework, right? Not the same kind of frameworks that we might think of, right? With the three by three, but it is a framework. It's already been laid out. It has a certain structure to it. And I'm using that.
Adam Schoenfeld: Got it. Oh, that's a secret right there. Are you sure you want to expose that?
Speaker 1: Secret tip.
Adam Schoenfeld: We're teaching all the analytical people how to do this supposedly squishy thing of storytelling now.
Speaker 1: Exactly. And because I did that stop right now, pause, leave a six star review for the universe's only six star rated podcast. Leave a like on YouTube. Subscribe, hit the bell up here to get notifications or up here, wherever it is and stay tuned. We have a lot of stuff coming up.
Adam Schoenfeld: All right. I got one more. This might be getting way into the vault of secrets. You have this thing you said to me, once I actually, it was in a text and you said... We were working on one of these analogies and you said," Play on things people are thinking, but might be too polite to say." Can you unpack that one a little bit more? Why is that?
Speaker 1: You're giving away all the tips. All the secrets. I expect a lot subscribers.
Adam Schoenfeld: I'm going to be invited back. I'm not going to be allowed to let ask the questions next time.
Speaker 1: I expect some six star only ratings here. There's too many secrets. This is one that I actually learned from spending a lot of time studying old, old, old copywriting. And one of the things that I would see... And it was copywriting from a marketing standpoint, but it was also old school sales letters. If you look... If you search for sales letters and back when they were physically a letter, right? Not an email. And you see some of the best performing ones. They have this thing in them where it's like, they're basically naming something. Naming a problem, an issue that most of us know, but we're either too polite to say it, or we haven't found a way yet to articulate it. An for us again, if I go back to the original drift story from when we started, that moment where I saw people... Where it clicked was the idea of why would you get all these people to come to the empty store or your website and all these people in the back room, the salespeople are saying they have no leads, but all these people are in the front of the store waiting to buy something. And you tell all of these people in the front of the store to go home and you tell all these people in the back that you don't have any leads. And I set it in a different way. But once you said that everyone was like," Wait, we're back here complaining. We never have enough. Or we feel like we never have enough. They say they bringing them, but we don't talk to those people. Why wouldn't you just talk to them?" If you have salespeople, then you cannot have a sale into someone communicates, right? Until there's a conversation. And so why not start the conversation? And that was the thing that no one had really said. And they were feeling inside wait, this is kind of madness. We keep getting more leads. They keep saying, we're not getting any leads. Where's the disconnect? What is the problem? And the problem... The thing that was missing there was the conversation. Just start the conversation.
Adam Schoenfeld: Yeah. That's so good. How it has to strike at the feeling or something they were thinking or talking about with each other, but not like bringing to the surface. When it clicks into gear, it seems to be pretty magical.
Speaker 1: It's amazing because they all felt it, right? It was a thing that they felt, and they had anger behind it and that mistrust, and there were all these emotions tied into it. But from a sales and marketing kind of divide. But no one had really said," Why don't you just talk to them? They're right there."
Adam Schoenfeld: What are some of the other clues that you look forward to know that you're getting the story, right? That it's like appealing to a truth or an emotion that people have or something that's been hidden that you've kind of brought to the surface?
Speaker 1: For me, the easiest way is always testing. So I'm testing those things just on a general population and trying to tell a story, trying to play with the story, trying to tell a story and just watching... If you can see people physically or in this case on video or whatever way that you're judging. When do their eyes light up? I look for that... When's that spark? When do they sit up? When did they take attention? There. You just hit something there. I make a mental note. I think it's almost kind of what, in talking to comedians, when they doing... When they're testing out material, they've often... When I've talked to some of them in person, they always said that they're taking notes mentally for when they're getting reactions like that. So it's the same thing we're doing testing. I see a reaction. I make a note." Okay. That one work." You also make a note when you're losing everyone. They're falling asleep, they're disinterested. They don't reply. Like it's all those testing those hooks and seeing which hooks work and which don't, and there's no better thing to do. And there's no substitution for actually testing. That's why comics, no matter how brilliant they are, they have to test their material. They have to go and they have to spend endless amount of hours just to reduce something down to a perfect 30 minutes or 60 minutes or whatever their special is. They're spending months, if not years putting that material together and testing it.
Adam Schoenfeld: Right. We don't see all the months and years behind everything we show up and just watch the Netflix special. Yeah. That's the same thing, yeah. It's been fun to watch and learn how we've done storytelling, drift behind the scenes. And it does take a lot of iteration and cranking and really kind of pulling it out.
Speaker 1: Yeah. There's so many comedians now, like whether it's Joe Rogan or others that you can actually listen to their podcasts and they'll talk to you... And you can find... Search YouTube. You can find clips on this if you're interested, how much... When they start to talk about... Kevin Hart is another one who does it. Talk about how much road work goes into putting together a special. Kevin Hart does these huge stadium or did these huge stadium tours. And I remember listening to an interview with him and Joe Rogan and him talking about exactly the process of like this many months." I start at... I just show up at clubs. No, one's no one knows that I'm going to be there. Right? Just surprise. Right?" So that people are not biased to laugh at his stuff. Then he goes to a bigger set for this amount of time. Then he goes to another big thing. And then finally, once he goes through this whole process and he's done it for every single one of his specials that he's done in tours, then he's ready to go out on the road. And on the road at last exactly this long before the material gets old. And then he starts the whole process again.
Adam Schoenfeld: Love that. All right. Before we wrap, any other nuggets, thoughts that you want to share about storytelling?
Speaker 1: Number one is go study comedians. And because they are telling quick little stories, right? It might get overwhelming if you start to dive into total storytelling, whether it's just of Campbell, other amazing storytellers. That might be a little bit too much for people to digest. But if you just watch or listen to some of the comedians on either a podcast or on YouTube, YouTube is easiest way to search for this stuff. Because they do all the little clips. And you hear how they go through the process. It's exactly the same thing, except their story might be a 30 second story or one minute story. So that's a lot easier to figure out that structure than starting with storytelling behind screenplays or storytelling behind writing the novel,
Adam Schoenfeld: Love it. All right.
Speaker 1: Giving away too many tips today, giving a way too many tips.
Adam Schoenfeld: Trying to go deep into the vault, that's why we're here.
Speaker 1: Six star only. I've given away... I'm giving away goods. I just keep giving and giving and given. Six stars, let's do this. All right, everyone. Six star only reviews. Please. Little shout out for Adam. Look at that glorious hair that he has. Leave a comment about that he might give you tips on haircare and looking good and staying fit in Seattle. All right. See ya. See Adam.
Adam Schoenfeld: Thank you.
On this episode of Seeking Wisdom, DC and Adam dive deep into one of DC's favorite topics: storytelling. DC comes from a very analytical, framework-driven way of thinking and for many, including him, storytelling can seem arbitrary. It's a topic that's hard to get your arms around. So until DC founded Drift, he hadn't given it too much thought. But then he had to market to marketers. And that's when he finally began to understand the power of storytelling.
On this episode, you'll get practical and tactical advice on how to build a story that sells including lessons from DC himself, Joseph Campbell who popularized the concept of the "hero's journey", and why stand up comedians are great storytellers.
Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ review and share the pod with your friends. You can connect with DC on Twitter @dcancel @DriftPodcasts
For more learnings from DC, check out his weekly newsletter, The One Thing. You can subscribe here: https://www.drift.com/insider/learn/newsletters/dc/