In December last year, Ravi Kiran quit Starcom MediaVest as the group's chief executive officer. A good five months after that, he tells afaqs! that his next goal is to launch a 'Word-of-Mouth' company -- not to be confused with a social media agency -- amongst other ventures.
Kiran wants to deliberately steer clear of familiar territory. He, however, admits, that starting one's own media agency, as opposed to launching a creative hot-shop, is a herculean task.
On a philosophical note, he adds that the reason he has left the media/marketing industry behind is because he is looking to explore "a better balance of money and meaning" in his life. According to Kiran, there no longer exists a specific age to start one's own venture and explore one's dreams. "Today, we're all coded to be impatient; I don't have the patience to get to 60 years to start exploring the path to meaning!" he quips. Kiran insists that he never had the inclination to start his own venture. But, isn't that exactly what he's doing now?
"I never intended to own my own piece of land as such," replies Kiran. "Starting my own media agency would entail that; this venture doesn't," he says.
What is a 'Word-of-Mouth' company?
A concept that exists overseas, Kiran's 'Word-of-Mouth' company will be floated with the objective of understanding the social behaviour of people, to study how people relate to one another within the context of society, and to explore how and why they share their opinions about brands with one another. He uses the weather as a metaphor. "We know that weather exists, but for a long time (before the meteorological department came into existence) we didn't know the mechanics of it. Similarly, we know that word-of-mouth communication exists, but haven't done enough to understand, monitor, measure and manage it."
Kiran reveals that the working titles of this company are 'Chatr' (pronounced Chatter) and 'Ripl' (pronounced Ripple). The company has a tentative launch date -- in about a year's time. The office is likely to be located in Mumbai.
Word-of-mouth versus social media
Being very vocal about the fact that his will not be a social media agency, Kiran says, "The digital space and social media are likely to be just a part of the whole notion of word-of-mouth communication that includes offline conversations, public relations and overall human behaviour. Sure, word-of-mouth won't replace television or print communication, but it is so much more important than it was a decade back."
Kiran's logic is that with the recent decline of the credibility of advertising, growth in word-of-mouth communication has soared. "Today, we trust our friends' opinions on brands, or even that of unknown people, more than we do advertisements," he reasons.
The solution, he claims, is not for brands to shout louder, or try to be more visible. Rather, he feels it would help to study the phenomenon of word-of-mouth, something that Kiran feels already exists. He says, "I'm not claiming to be a messiah who will bring in a new discipline called 'word-of-mouth'. It exists already -- why else would people put 'share' buttons on their websites or release their ad films on the viral space before television?"
Kiran plans to identify existing word-of-mouth communication, and build it into things that companies are already doing. It thus follows that the company will be driven by a lot of research.
Although he wants to avoid rushing into typical business-related aspects such as the name of the company and logo design, Kiran shares some details on the kind of talent he wants to source for this venture. "I will recruit people from an anthropology, sociology or psychology background, as they are professionals interested in behavioural science. I am also considering account planners as they are quite curious about things," he says. He adds that passionate individuals are welcome aboard as long as "they don't harbour any morbid fear of failure because there is a fair chance of failure in this venture."
The clientele for his company would include brands, other companies, social organisations, NGOs and political parties.
Despite having 20 years of experience in the media industry, and having been a CEO (chief executive officer) for the past eight years, Kiran says, "Right now, I am in a position to be inspired and am shameless in admitting that I don't know all the answers. I'm just another guy with a plan for a start-up. In fact, I bring with me 20 years of baggage, and 20 years of ego that may serve as obstacles in my path ahead, as opposed to a fresher who does the very same thing."