What is “brand”?
The London-based Design Council notes that: “Brand is a set of associations that a person (or a group of people) makes with a company, product, service, individual or organization. These associations may be intentional – that is, they may be actively promoted by marketing and/or corporate identity – or they may be outside the control of the business.”
For example, the growing belief among younger demographics that the fossil fuel industry represents the fuels of their parents.
In early 2018, I completed a strategic assessment of this organization for the Advisory Council. The assessment determined that AAPG, in its current form, does not appear to be a sustainable enterprise over the long term. One factor attributing to this is the recognition that the AAPG brand, and its divisions, is largely unknown outside of the oil and gas geoscience community. To illustrate, the Energy and Minerals Division is a natural gathering for individuals that share a passion for alternative energy forms, and the critical materials that they require. Unfortunately, the EMD is largely unrecognized by broader geoscience disciplines, its membership is flat, and because it sits within the AAPG umbrella, its visibility is restricted to current members of this Association. Although AAPG provides relevant content in the environmental fields, carbon sequestration, and renewable energy forms, most of this information is not disseminated within the growing community of alternative energy scientists – a group of people that will likely never associate with AAPG’s current brand.
You’re probably aware of the fact that AAPG has been experiencing significant membership decline. Many factors could be contributing to this trend, including: attrition resulting from retiring Baby Boomers, changes to industry staff requirements as a consequence of the unconventional revolution, the evolving worldviews of millennials and Generation-Z, the broader appeal of competing organizations, among others. AAPG’s membership trends are the result of one, or a combination of these factors. It could also be a reflection of its brand, and its loss of perceived relevance in a rapidly evolving and competitive landscape of geoscience communities.
As members, we should constantly evaluate whether or not the AAPG brand fulfills its mission of being “indispensable to geoscientists,” and whether or not it is capable of attracting and retaining the individuals that are required to ensure its sustainability. Based on my 2018 strategic assessment, and a recent analysis conducted by the 2019/20 Advisory Council’s Strategic and Long Range Planning Committee, there are arguments to be made that the organization is failing in this regard, and without rapid, meaningful change, AAPG risks further loss of its ability to attract and retain members.
There has never been a more dynamic period for oil and gas exploration and production than what we are experiencing today. Over the past decade, internal and external forces have rapidly changed the way that we operate as an industry. Yet, over the past 100 years, AAPG has maintained a relatively stagnant and traditional brand. Competing organizations like the Society of Petroleum Engineers and the European Association of Geoscientists and Engineers are rapidly distinguishing themselves as internationally diverse gatherings for geoscientists, with operations that can respond rapidly to events such as the COVID-19 global pandemic, fluctuations in commodity prices, evolving social and environmental sentiment, and their impacts on industry. Knowing this, one could argue that the AAPG brand may have consequences on its future financial viability as it could be overlooked when corporate sponsorship decisions are being made, and when future geoscience professionals evaluate the type of associations they wish to fund.
The Sustainability of AAPG
Major social trends put AAPG’s sustainability at risk should it not consider a change to its brand and operations. In 2017, Ernst and Young conducted an extensive survey that provided an in-depth view on how individuals view oil and gas and the companies that produce them. EY concluded that a seismic (no pun intended) cultural shift is underway that will make it increasingly difficult for companies to attract and retain knowledgeable and highly skilled workers. Notably, the survey found that 62 percent of older Generation-Z (ages 16 – 19) respondents view a career in oil and gas to be unappealing. The numbers were not as startling among Millennials (ages 20 – 35), with 44 percent having an unappealing view of a career in this industry. Perhaps most concerning is the fact that more than two out of every three teenagers believe that the oil and gas industry causes more problems than it solves.
Many of you reading this will think that these responses are incompatible with your beliefs. However, they are what they are, and it is important that AAPG recognizes the changing worldviews of younger generations.
As professionals, we understand that global energy requirements are projected to grow substantially into the future. We also understand that many young professionals will inevitably find their way into our industry. But it’s unlikely that they will all commit to traditional careers in oil and gas. Furthermore, the EY data indicates that these individuals may not associate with organizations catering to a narrow focus on what they describe as “their parents’ fuels.” Many will, and already are, committing themselves to what they believe are more fulfilling careers in renewable energy and environmental sustainability.
A Call to Action
Through renaming, and a focused rebranding that expands scope beyond traditional oil and gas geoscience, AAPG has an opportunity to diversify itself by becoming a geoscience platform for “all things energy.” A new association name and subtle scientific diversification should not be feared, it should be embraced as a way to ensure that this organization prioritizes its long-term success. This change can be accomplished in a manner that protects the rich petroleum history of our past, but it is essential that we broaden our appeal to the 21st century market.
By rebranding, AAPG can establish a competitive advantage relative to peers that are offering similar membership benefits. After all, these discussions are already occurring within these competing societies. Is AAPG content with this? We must be mindful that this opportunity only exists for so long.