Smoke & Mirrors: Getting to grips with big data

After Smokehouse's social media image takes a battering, its new digital fairy godmother steps in with a cunning ruse to silence criticism.

by Guy Browning
Last Updated: 29 May 2015


Big Data. I always thought that referred to our fat finance director, Peter Barnsworth. But no. Apparently, it means releasing value from the mountain of information every interaction with the customer generates. I suppose it's the first world equivalent of little kids picking through rubbish tips in the third world.

What's really worrying is that it means CMOs talking to CIOs and that's got to be a disaster. It's like the US talking to Iran - amazing but still incredibly dangerous. Fortunately, in Linton Spivey we have the world's most obtuse and backward-looking CEO, who thinks a social platform is Guildford Station on a Friday night.


Caught the CIO and CMO talking in the car park. It's OK for them to say hello in the boardroom once in a while but casual chats between marketing and IT in car parks contravenes something very deep in the corporate psyche.

Our CMO, Narinder Shah, is a woman from a different country, ie, she's young and a digital native, which makes communication with her almost impossible. But, incredibly, Mike Lamb, our CIO, is a good communicator, which is as rare in a CIO as a sense of gay abandon in a CFO.

Later our CEO, Linton Spivey, roared into my office and said he'd read somewhere that it takes an average of seven negative comments on social media platforms to make consumers think worse of a brand. He's counted six and now wants to 'withdraw from the internet'.


We have a new arrival! In the exec meeting Narinder and Mike announced something called Data Driven Marketing. They were both beaming with pride and I think they may even have been holding hands under the table. They followed this up with lots of cute PowerPoint pictures covering every aspect of their new baby.

If I understood it all correctly, they're suggesting that we sell to people who want to buy, which took us all by surprise. I asked them to give me a useful PR angle on this Data Driven Marketing. They came up with 'A paradigm shift that integrates the art and science of sales'.

In communication terms that amounts to a fart in a paper bag as far as I'm concerned. God, I hate it when paradigms shift.


I know where the seventh negative comment is going to come from. As communications director, the bane of my life is some little amoeba called ClearSkies, a blogger/tweeter - or bleater, as I like to call them.

He seems to spend his entire life criticising every move we make as a company. Every time we talk about data mining, he shouts data protection. It seems to escape his notice that his whole online life is being picked clean by huge American corporations.

I'm assuming he's an embittered employee or former employee, but that doesn't narrow it down much. However, on the Smokehouse team I have very cleverly employed a troll hunter, I beg your pardon, a 'social media facilitator'.

Anneka is basically a digital fairy godmother with a profile picture that will grab the immediate attention of any sweaty little online Herbert.


If people are talking behind your back you need to put yourself in front of them, and there's no better place to do that than a restaurant. I got Anneka to send ClearSkies a direct message on Twitter saying that we have identified him as a 'key opinion former'.

She then invited him to lunch at El Colon, a Michelin-starred Catalan fusion restaurant. It's best to eat before you go there because the portions look as if they've been delivered by a passing bird, but in my experience no one ever refuses an invitation to go hungry there.

We met ClearSkies, who turned out to be a man of vanishingly small personality. In among a lot of angry gibbering we learnt he has a small boy who inevitably is a Manchester United fan.

Next week we'll announce our Data Driven Marketing initiative on the same day ClearSkies and son enjoy the directors' box at Old Trafford. I'm expecting the skies in the blogosphere to be clear. And that, friends, is the power of small data.

Guy Browning can be contacted at

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