Brand bulimia, or what’s in a name?

Brand bulimia? Moniker mayhem? When is a product a workflow? When is a subsidiary a brand name or a product line? Neil McNaughton, the jaded editor of Oil IT Journal (published by The Data Room and previously known as ‘Petroleum Data Manager’) reflects lightheartedly on the naming of complex product and corporate identities.

Generally speaking, when you are out shopping (or in shopping if you are an eBay freak) the name of the object of your desire is not an obstacle to the incipient transaction. Buying a breakfast cereal does not require a degree in semiotics. “I'll have some Kellogs Cornflakes please”. “Certainly sir, shall I wrap that for you?” Money changes hands and you can rush back to the car, tear the pack open, pour in some milk and get munching.

Relational theory?

The naming convention here is maker: ‘Kellogs’, and product: ‘Cornflakes’. There may be other considerations in you purchase—size of the pack, flavor differences, whether animals were hurt while filming the TV ads etc. but these are not reflected in the product’s name. It is as if most marketing folks have at least an intuitive grasp of relational theory—you do not have to put all your data in the same field!

Four names already

Straightforward nomenclature is definitely not the case for exploration software companies. I’m afraid I have to get ‘personal’ here. Take Schlumberger for instance. Sorry, that should be Schlumberger-Sema. No it shouldn’t—it should be Schlumberger Information Systems! Or should that be GeoQuest?. Hey we have four names already—and we still haven’t drilled down to a product yet!

Who to call?

Other corporations have similar complex naming patterns. Before you even begin talking of products, you have to build a mental map of corporate structure and recent acquisitions just to figure out who to call. Who you do end up calling will likely determine what you end up buying.


In some cases we still have a layer of corporate structure to drill down through before we get to the ‘cornflakes’. These are the ‘foreigners’ - as in Halliburton’s Geographix or Magic Earth units and Schlumberger’s Merak or Petrel (actually that should be Petrel Workflow Solutions I believe!). These semi-autonomous product lines reflect acquisition history and a desire on the part of the acquirer to preserve the independence and dynamism of the acquired company.


Lets suppose that you now know who to talk to and want to get inside the product lines. This is where things get really interesting. A bewildering variety of product topologies and nomenclatures are now on display. These reflect a confusing interplay between corporate acquisitions, embedded technology, delivery mechanism and ‘forward-looking statements’ from the marketing department.


It might seem churlish to take any of these great companies to task for what is probably just a degree of exuberance. But try these nomenclatures for size. Following the latest deal with Rose & Associates, Rose’s Multi-Mode Risk and Reserve Analysis (MMRRA) software is now to be rolled into Merak’s Value & Risk 2002 suite—itself a part of Schlumberger Information Solutions Living Business Plan. Or for instance, from the inside out, a product such as Landmark’s TrackPlanner is a part of the DecisionSpace Technical-to-Business workflow integration, as well as being a component of the new(ish) ‘Drill-to-the-Earth model’.

BHI, Paradigm

Others get sucked in to the same nomenclature nightmares. If you are interested in finding out about Baker Hughes’s flagship well data management system ‘Recall’ you might like to visit the Baker Atlas website where you will be invited to log on to ‘BakerHughesDirect’, select ‘TotalRecall’ from the ‘BakerAtlas or INTEQ’ areas. Paradigm too is ‘brand bulimic’ and also likes to jumble products and ‘workflows’. Thus Paradigm’ flagship Geolog log management, correlation and petrophysics application embeds the Epos data management and interoperability integration framework—all components of the ‘Trace-to-Target’ workflow.


So what? you may ask. I suppose that since this is a complex business, it is fair enough that this is reflected in product names. But beneath all this there lies a certain tension between technologists and the marketing department. Technologists work to a 10 year cycle. Marketing? Maybe 6 months to a year. The two can get out of sync. I suppose that the moniker mayhem is inevitable—although there is another way. Take the re-branding of Total Fina Elf as simply ‘Total’. That’s what I call radical!


Talking of acquisitions, I was earlier on at least, how do corporations manage to achieve cost savings on acquisition? Given that most companies were so big before mergers, further economies of scale are unlikely. New savings can only come from eliminating inefficiencies and excess costs. Nothing new here—but the corollary is amusing.

Inefficient is good

Midsized independents should pretty themselves up for the merger beauty contest by making themselves as inefficient as possible. This will let the bean counters boast of huge post-merger cost savings. The corollary of the corollary is of course that if you merge two well run shops, true savings are likely to be impossible without driving your retained employees to drink.

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