Leaders’ Insights: Paul Carton, Vodafone Ireland

26 Jan 2017

Paul Carton, Vodafone Ireland. Image: Paul Carton

Paul Carton is head of digital at Vodafone Ireland.

Working for one of the biggest brands in the Irish telecoms industry, Paul Carton started out as a digital marketing manager for Vodafone Ireland in 2015 before elevating to his current position.

A marketing graduate of University College Dublin, he previously worked as an account manager for Google, and as a strategic planner for creative digital agency In the Company of Huskies.

At Vodafone, Carton tackles the issues associated with data to engage with customers on a digital level, while maintaining the importance of empowerment and following your gut instinct.

Describe your role and what you do.

With digital technology driving an ever-increasing pace of change in customers’ expectations and behaviours, my role is to ensure we are keeping up with these and are adapting and maximising the potential that they offer, from both a customer and business perspective.

I work closely with teams across the business to understand how digital is impacting their area and the opportunities that this presents them.

What set you on the road to where you are now in the industry?

I came to digital through an unconventional route. I studied drama and theatre studies in Trinity and, during this time, developed a passion for understanding people and what motivates them.

This led me to begin my career at the Dublin Fringe Festival before moving into a marketing role at CoisCéim Dance Theatre. It was here I discovered the power of digital marketing and, in particular, the data it offered in terms of helping identify what customers were interested in and what drove their decision-making. The ability to get this insight almost instantaneously is what drew me to digital.

To help accelerate this move, I decided to return to the Michael Smurfit School of Business to do an MSc in marketing, after which I joined Google, where I worked with large multinational brands, helping them with the transition from traditional to digital media.

What do you do every day to help you achieve your business goals?

Data. By really understanding what we want to achieve, we are able to measure progress against business goals in real time. By setting out clear, measurable objectives and KPIs, it’s easier to understand if you are moving in the right direction to achieve your goals. Monitoring these daily allows you to correct your course quickly if metrics are not moving in the right direction.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Some of the best advice I’ve ever received is around staying true to yourself. It’s easy in a big corporation to lose sight of this, and to try and find a role which allows you to ‘fit in’.  However, if you know your numbers and are not afraid to speak up as your authentic self, it really helps you to work with those around you and bring your best to the office. Vodafone is big advocate of this, which is why I really enjoy working here.

In a world where you are always one algorithm change away from your strategy being totally thrown off course, it’s also important to be hugely tenacious and keep going, despite setbacks

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

The biggest mistakes I’ve made have been not listening to my gut. It’s always good to question your initial response/reaction to something, and often times it has led me to take a different approach that I’ve been comfortable with. However, there have been times I’ve gone against my own instincts despite a niggling feeling I shouldn’t, and it has compromised the results or led to poor decisions.

How do you get the best out of your team?

For me, the key is empowerment and ownership. Equipping your team with a clear vision, the right tools to help them identify opportunities to make this vision a reality, and making the space for them to deliver against these is what will consistently allow your team to be at their best.

Trust becomes hugely important as an enabler of this, so getting to know your team on a personal level and taking time out to look back at what worked, what didn’t and why is key to building an environment which allows for this.

What would you say are the key skills and traits a new starter in your industry needs?

Given the rate of change within the digital space, the key characteristics that I look for in candidates entering the industry are: curiosity, tenacity and great cross-functional skills.

In digital, it’s easy to get stuck on knowledge of particular tools or platforms, but in order to really drive the desired results from these, candidates need to understand the why behind these tools and platforms, and why they are important from a customer perspective. In a world where you are always one algorithm change away from your strategy being totally thrown off course, it’s also important to be hugely tenacious and keep going, despite setbacks.

Additionally, as digital becomes less about a stand-alone team and more about business as usual for all teams within a company, being able to work cross-functionally seamlessly is really what will set someone apart from the competition.

What trends do you see affecting your industry in the near future?

I think the biggest trend – which has been around for a quite a while now, but businesses have struggled to truly capitalise on to date – is context. Mobile phones have completely changed how, when and where customers can and want to engage with brands, and I think businesses have been slow to understand how this has altered customers’ needs and expectations.

By understanding the new needs that this shift in connectivity brings, from being something that is confined to an individual part of the office or house to something that is now everywhere a person is, brands and businesses can truly start to become more useful to their customers and create value for them at points of their relationship, which was simply not possible before.

This in turn is driving an increased focus on big data and security.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity. What are your thoughts on this and whats needed to effect change?

Constant connectivity has created an opportunity to deliver value for customers in new ways. It requires diversity – new and different ways of thinking around problems – and, for that reason, its imperative to identify and address the barriers to having a diverse team.

In my opinion, the solution to this relies on STEM doing what it does best: quantifying the problem. Using data to find patterns that result in a lack of diversity is what’s needed to identify the root cause and find ways to disrupt these.

In order to keep up with customers, data needs to be at the heart of everything we do at Vodafone

Who is your business hero and why?

Although not from the business world, one of my biggest business heroes is a former lecturer in drama. I will always be thankful to him for his advice on my very first day in university, when he told me the single most important thing I could do to be successful was to be endlessly interested in people. This advice has stayed with me since that day, and it has been my attempts to stay true to this that have led me to where I am today.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I’m a huge fan of Byron Sharp’s How Brands Grow. It’s easy to get swept away by the many fleeting trends and crazes that regularly emerge in digital marketing, and this book really helps me to stay focused on what’s important when it comes to driving growth: being there, being easy to buy from and basing everything on data.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

In order to keep up with customers, data needs to be at the heart of everything we do at Vodafone. We’ve invested heavily in our analytics capability, and our platforms are hugely important in order to understand the impact our work has and to identify new and exciting ways to engage with our customers digitally.

Apart from this, coffee and the ability to have fun at work are the two most important things to have a great week in the office!

Paul Carton will give a talk entitled ‘Building Value for Consumers in a Digital Age’ at the 3XE Digital Marketing Conference in Croke Park, Dublin, on Thursday 9 February.