The There is a Difference series talks with people that take a different path in their work, careers, and life. Our colleague and friend Kyle McAdams is an architect turned marketer working in the construction marketplace. His unique path and perspective give him the advantage of seeing and addressing the challenges he faces in his work. We asked Kyle about this in this edition of There is a Difference.
Hi, my name is Kyle McAdams. I am an architect and a marketer. It’s not your typical background for either I suppose. I started my career as an architect and worked in retail development, working on malls, developing malls, developing movie cinemas. And part of what I did was create demand. The designs I were doing were of course, architectural in nature, but also were about drawing in people to places to spend money and trying to make the operation of those places as efficient, as possible in terms of operating to make money but doing it in a way that made people happy. And the companies I worked with my clients usually had people about my same age working on the projects with me, and I came to realization early on that they made a lot more money than I did. And I was doing a lot of the work and I wondered what it would be like to sort of be on the other side.
After about 10 years in the profession, I went back to business school and studied business. What I thought would be taking me back into the world of real estate, but there in business school, I really became intrigued with marketing the process of it, the psychology of it, and trying to understand consumers. I guess, similar to trying to understand the users of spaces and buildings. Coming out of business school, there weren’t a whole lot of big-time consumer products marketers that were looking for architects to bring on. So, I didn’t have a whole lot of luck landing jobs with the big firms or the big Proctors and Gambles of the world, but there was a company that liked the fact that I had a creative background. It could help design places, that was Disney. Disney brought me on originally to the Disney development company and what eventually became an Imagineer.
I was an Imagineer for a couple years and I worked on new theme parks. None of them came to fruition. There was one big one we were trying to build here in the Washington DC area, but didn’t come to fruition, like I said. But throughout this process, I got to know a lot of people in the marketing groups at Disney. So when I was moving groups out of the Imagineering team, I had opportunities to look elsewhere. And the brand group at Disney was very interested in having me join them. So I just became a brand manager for Disney, working with theme parks, Orlando as a destination. Walt Disney World was a destination and the various parks of that, the various hotels, it all depends on what the interest of the person would be. I ran a lot of Florida resident programs, packaging, different kinds of products for Disney.
I liked it. Didn’t love living in Florida. My wife really didn’t love living in Florida and opportunities move up would mean moving to California. And I didn’t want to do that. So when Capital One came to me looking for brand managers, they were trying to build a brand team. They had never advertised ever. So what we know of as “What’s in your wallet?” didn’t exist. I joined them and moved back to DC, which is where I really wanted to be in the first place. From there I really launched into my marketing career. Worked in credit cards with Capital One for years, as they were transitioning and wanted to move me to Richmond, didn’t want to go to Richmond. I live right next door to the old AOL headquarters. Got a job at AOL and started doing digital marketing, which was another change of pace, but another learning experience. I spent four years there really beginning to understand digital marketing, but at a very early stage of this development. It was an interesting place because it had so many different kinds of content that I found interesting as an architect and got to sink my teeth into it.
I still had the yearning for being an architect and designing and thinking about buildings. So I had an opportunity to join the American Institute of Architects as their director of marketing for their software products, AIA contract documents. Any of you out there who are architects or in the construction business, know the AIA contract documents, they’re sort of the backbone of the industry in construction. The legal relationship documents between all of the parties that make up the construction process and got me back into the world of getting to know the designers and builders of spaces. And had some great luck there. I got promoted to become the head of marketing for of the AIA overall. So marketing to architects, getting building product companies engaged with the AIA and architects and getting to understand how building products were marketed to architects, getting to better understand the specification process and how it was important to get in front of architects and contractors to get them to try or get them to believe in your products so that they would be specified to be put into buildings. I had some great opportunities there and it had got me back into the world of buildings.
If any of you follow the marketplace now the world is all about property technology and the systems that make buildings smart. So I had the opportunity to join Kastle Systems here in Washington, DC and that’s where I’m at now. I am director of marketing for Kastle Systems, access control, visitor management, video surveillance, really sort of the nervous system that makes up buildings. And I’m talking to many of the same people, developers, property managers, tenants, about spaces and how people use them and the systems that make up those spaces and how they talk to each other and how you better use space. So it’s been a very strange process, but that’s how I got here. And that’s what I do now.
How do you go from being an architect to a marketer and why?
Well, I touched on it a little bit, is that when I was an architect, much of what I was doing was designing for business processes and the consumer and how they experience those spaces and goals around not just designing beautiful places, but helping the company make a profit and having the company brand look a certain way to influence people on how they might be using space and hopefully spending money. When I went back to business school, what really intrigued me about marketing is you work on these projects. And in some ways it’s similar to being an architect. So an architect develops a building plan, right? You develop drawings of spaces, and then you try to have people understand those spaces like clients and contractors, I should say, HVAC engineers, structural engineers, working with them.
All you’re doing as an architect is really putting the plan in place and having consultants work with you to make the thing a reality and make it come true. As a marketer, you’re doing the analytical work to try to understand who the end user is. Much like you would as an architect and try to design the messaging and execution and look and feel that will influence them to engage with the product you’re marketing. And you have to work with consultants to get that done. You have to work with your digital marketing consultants, your creative agencies to put together the stories and the experiences that will make the marketing, not just tell bullet points, but actually evoke experience and emotion and meaning. So I think that’s sort of the parallel path. I tell architects all the time that if they think marketing sounds interesting, you’ll probably be pretty good at it be because you’ve all been about figuring out the end user and figuring their needs and designing around that.
How does being an architect give you a different perspective on marketing?
Part of being a marketer at a company like Kastle is designing user experience for weird things like the mobile interface of how somebody lets a guest into their multi family residence. Right? So having to understand the various scenarios and design the workflow for each of those scenarios. So if I’m potentially somebody living in a multi family class A apartment building, I have to think through, if guests are going to come to me, what are the scenarios that I’m going to be facing? And one of them is, I’m just going to, somebody’s going to buzz me and this old school wave just buzzing in. If you think about Seinfeld back in the day when George was on the Intercom, he called him up, he just pushed the button and buzzed the door. That’s still possible.
And we still do those things with much more high-tech gear to do it, but that’s only one of the ways to do it. Another way is that you can now schedule a time when a visitor could have access through a reader, so that they’d just be scanning a QR code through that reader, but you have to set the parameters and there has to be an interface of how do I set the parameters? What’s the timeframe and what do we name this thing? How is that different from the instant door? The remote unlock. So thinking of the words that would make the most sense to a user. And then there’s another version of, okay, what if I’ve got a dog walker, who’s going to come every Tuesday, forever. And it’s a different kind of schedule. And so that’s a recurring schedule and trying to think of the right words to put in the right order and design the right next screen that will take the person to have the experience you need them to have.
But not only that, okay, how are those things now have I lined them up in a way those three names that remote unlock, that scheduled access, that recurring access, do they make sense when I put them on a screen and they’re in order and can I market them to say, hey, you’ve got visitor access, blah, blah, blah. It’s just things like that, that an architect has the mind to think through the stages and not get bogged down into the whole problem at once, but can break it down into the solutions and functions that go through that. So I think that’s one of the things that an architect thinks. Designs, whether it’s a message, whether it’s a process, a look and feel all designed with the end user in mind.
What are some of your best marketing practices?
I think I’ve been talking about some of them, but I think for me, it gets down to segmentation and knowing the right user. So, the same system access control has completely different way of being marketed to a commercial building owner versus a multi family apartment owner, or operator or property manager versus somebody trying to attract tenants in a commercial building or a tenant in a multi family building all have different benefits from the same system. So from an owner’s perspective, it’s going to create a better experience for the end users so that your building will be full and you’ll be able to make more money by not having empty space so you get rent from all of those people. From a property manager’s perspective, it’s all about making my job easier. Being able to use access control to manage people and not have to chase keys when a tenant leaves or a resident leaves.
I’m going to be talking about the ease of use, or I might be talking about if you have to be keeping your space filled because your owner’s going to be pissed off at you if you don’t, then I will be talking about the user experience, the tenant experience, making the experience smooth for the tenants so that they will stay there for a long time. If I’m marketing to a tenant as in a leasable space, it’s all about impressing your employees with a modern work experience or a modern workplace. And in today’s world of hybrid work, where access is not just that people have access in your space.
You need to know who is in the space and when. And it’s the same system we’re talking about that it’s one thing. It lets people in, lets people out and knows who’s there, but you position it and talk about it in a different way to different audiences and maybe talk about different features. That being that’s the architect in me that thinks about the end user and how to engage with space in different ways. So every kind of those spaces might have different users at different times that I need to think about when I design a space, it’s similar in terms of designing a message about the same product, but using different iterations so to speak.
What is the most unique marketing program that you’ve conducted?
That’s a fairly easy one. I happen to have been lucky enough and it’s interesting. This is the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World. And if you go to Walt Disney World, there’s all kinds of decor. And if you’ve seen any of their advertising on television, now it’s all about the 50th anniversary. Well, I was there at the 25th anniversary. That’s how long it’s been. And for the 25th anniversary, we basically made the castle, the magic kingdom into a birthday cake. We had it transformed with candles and icing. And I don’t know if any of you out there listening happened to visit then, but I was part of the team that put together that promotion. And that also included all of the decor working with the Imagineers. I was no longer an Imagineer then, but I got to work with them to create all the 25th anniversary decor.
Not only that went in every theme park. So each theme park had to have its own package of decor. So, the Magic Kingdom looked different than EPCOT. And the complexity of that, what goes on the light poles at Walt Disney at the Magic Kingdom versus what goes into EPCOT, what goes into the banners. And then I also did overall resident marketing. So we literally had a contract with State of Florida to put 25th anniversary decor in all of the visitor centers, in all of the roadways coming into Orlando, in the airport. When you come in, how we were promoting it there and how we had banners and painting and figurines all around and tracking all of this and having basically an inventory of everything that goes for the State of Florida across the Walt Disney World property, even in Disney stores.
So, we have Disney dollars. If you’ve ever… You’re a big Disney fan and you go to Disney stores, you can get Disney dollars and use them at any Disney store. They’re more collectibles than anything else. Well, I made the first change to Disney dollars for the 25th anniversary. They changed all of them to have a one time for one year. The Disney one had a feature of Walt Disney world, 25th anniversary, the $5 bill, the $10 bill, the $20 bill. So just all of the unique little elements we take for granted in terms of what we call a decor package and the experience of teaching the people at work at Walt Disney World, the front line people about how you need to be treating people during this 25th anniversary. How do you make every experience more special? You make special 25th anniversary badges?
How do you engage people, talk about the badge and where you’re from and trying to figure out where they’re from and matching the two things about it? And then for every single operation we had the local people within that operation. So if you were at the, I don’t know, Pecos Bill hamburger stand, you had to think of special ways to recognize guests throughout the year for the 25th anniversary. If you made pizzas, you would have to think of ways to recognize guests throughout the year, giving away a free pizza for every such and such a little kid that comes up. So we let them figure out how they were going to do it themselves. It was a magical year, and that was actually the tagline “It’s a magical year in a magical place.” So that was the most memorable single project I ever worked on.
What’s your greatest challenge this year as a marketer?
It’s going to be managing growth. We’re exploding as a company, as property technologies are becoming a bigger deal and buildings are getting smarter and access knowing who’s in your building, what they’re doing, what’s the days they can come in the days they can’t come in, what spaces they’re going to be using, when, is very important. It’s part of the nervous system of buildings. And because of that, we are growing very rapidly entering into new markets. We just entered four new markets in the last month and the building awareness in those markets of a company that people may not know. Kastle we’ve been around 50 years, but most of that’s been in the DC area. We’re now nationwide. But many of these markets like Seattle, they don’t know us from Adam. So we’re having to build awareness there. And what comes with it is all of the new salespeople that are coming on board that have never sold Kastle and trying to train them.
We are trying to train the marketplace about who Kastle is, and you’re trying to train and put the best materials in the hands of the sales guys so that they can sell Kastle in these new places. And so it’s just challenging. We’re having to grow as a marketing team. So trying to bring all these people up to speed on not just the company, but the industry and the products and services that are changing at light speed. It is a world of technology. It’s no longer a security company. It’s basically a technology company that happens to be applying it to access control, video surveillance. But it’s also this same technology that tells elevators, oh, this is Kyle he’s on the third floor. I’m going to open the door, take him to third floor and not going to take him anywhere else. And I know when his day is over, I know I’m to take him directly to the ground floor. That’s the only place he’s allowed to go. It’s exciting. But that’s the challenge is trying to keep up with it all.
Can you tell me a little bit about your painting?
Oh, my painting. Well, I am an architect, so I did get trained in visual communications, but you never really got to just do painting on its own. So I always kind of liked it. And now as I get older, I’m just trying to dive back into it, pick it back up again, take it further than I did before. And it’s just something that if I had my druthers and could do anything I wanted to in life, I would just paint and do architecture, whether it was a real building or not. I would just draw and do architecture. But painting is a great way to express the drama of life.
Thank you, Kyle.
Watch the full interview with Kyle on the Draper DNA YouTube channel – CLICK HERE!