PMMs, Positioning, and Chicken Soup

“From that day on, Jenny and me was like peas and carrots.” – Forrest Gump

It’s been an intense, rewarding week of positioning discussions with clients. Some are refreshing positioning for the new year. Others are figuring out positioning for new products. 

At the same time, it’s a cold day here in the Bay Area, so onto the stove goes the pot for chicken soup: turnips and taters, sweet Winter carrots, onions, and an end-of-life egg chicken whose time had come.

The ingredients for chicken soup don’t change, and that’s true for positioning as well. From my first big launch, Bell Labs FormalCheck launched in 1997, to the coolest new innovations today, the recipe for success is the same.

  • The world has changed 
  • This change is impacting customers
  • The old way of doing things is failing to meet this new challenge
  • Introducing product, which uniquely does [X]
  • How you can get going (always have an explicit call to action for the customer)

Context for FormalCheck

Bell Labs Design Automation (part of the old AT&T Bell Labs, named for Alexander Graham Bell) had seen the writing on the wall for the way people had been testing the functionality of new semiconductors. 

For years, chips had been tested with an approach called ‘synthesis’, in which actual chips or software models of chips were physically put through their paces on every possible combination of scenarios and checked that the expected outcome occurred. Brute force.

In 1994, the computing community spotted the “Pentium Bug” in which the Pentium Pro chips going into most of the world’s computers incorrectly handled floating-point operations. While semiconductor manufacturers like Intel had successfully used synthesis to test chips with hundreds of gates, the new Pentium Pro had thousands of gates, and the number of possible permutations to test had soared geometrically into a number of test scenarios that would have taken YEARS to check with synthesis. 

Intel took at $475 million charge because of the bug. Ouch.

Bell Labs had created a formal verification approach that used advanced mathematics instead of synthesis, meaning the full verification process could be done in weeks instead of years.

Positioning FormalCheck

So how did we position the FormalCheck product?

  • The world has changed
    Semiconductor processors used to have hundreds of gates, now they have thousands, and soon will have millions of gates
  • This change is impacting customers
    Pentium Bug story
  • The old way of doing things is failing to meet this new challenge
    Verifying the Pentium Pro would have taken years, unacceptable commercially for even Intel’s deep pockets, and led to a $475 million charge as a result
  • Introducing product, which uniquely does X
    FormalCheck uses formal mathematics to verify functionality in today’s top-of-the-line silicon in weeks instead of years, meaning we can successfully guarantee semiconductor functionality before you ship, instead of hoping it all just works out, and living in fear.

At the time we launched the product, the Pentium bug was such a big story that even CNN had covered it on its TV channel for non-industry folks. This was a great backboard against which to position FormalCheck.

Putting the Recipe to Work for You

First, ask yourself these questions, and write down the answers:

  • How has the world changed?
  • How is this impacting your customers?
  • In what ways are legacy approaches failing to meet the new world’s challenges?
  • How does your product’s new approach uniquely meet these challenges?

You’re Not Alone, So Don’t Position by Yourself

You have customers, engineers, sales people, customer support people. Ask them all, and lots of them, the above questions. Reality is the only place you will find the ingredients to great positioning. 

Positioning is the best part of being a product marketer. It’s also the most creative part. I have had a great week so far.

Have a different recipe you use for positioning? Share it in the comments below.

The Front Porch
Moss Beach, California

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