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Innovation Imprinting: Why Some Firms Beat the Post-IPO Innovation Slump

Innovation Imprinting: Why Some Firms Beat the Post-IPO Innovation Slump

Simone Wies, Christine Moorman and Rajesh K. Chandy

Growth and innovation are primary arguments for firms to go public and access resources from the stock market. However, for most firms, going public is associated with a pronounced slump in risky innovation. Why? After firms go public, managers often perceive pressures from the stock market that reduce their incentives to invest in risky innovations. Investments may fail to pay off or to do so within a predictable timeline, and investors may impose strict quarterly earnings targets and judge firms by their short-term performance. Michael Dell captured these pressures when he lamented that when striving to meet Wall Street’s quarterly demands, it is “not always possible to focus on innovating for customers.” Funding incremental innovation activities instead of bigger, breakthrough innovation is one way to secure the short-term performance demanded by the stock market. These pressures and this resulting strategy produce the well-documented post-IPO innovation slump, which we find affects approximately 70% of IPOs.

By examining a sample of 207 firms in the consumer-packaged goods industry that undergo an IPO over a thirty-year period, our Journal of Marketing article demonstrates that those IPOs that engage in innovation imprinting before they go public are able to beat this slump and keep innovating. We document that pre-IPO innovation imprinting occurs when firms establish product priorities and build market capabilities associated with breakthrough innovation in the years before they go public. This imprinting establishes aspirations and routines within the company that support its ability to resist potential stock market pressure to shift priorities and capabilities away from breakthrough innovation after going public. However, beyond maintaining innovation momentum, we show that innovation imprinting also serves an external signaling function that allows these companies to attract a segment of investors whose risk preferences are more supportive of innovation and more forgiving of short-term fluctuations in performance that can often accompany innovation. By contrast, firms that do not engage in innovation imprinting attract more investors who put short-term pressures on firms that reduces managers’ willingness to take on the risk associated with innovation. Importantly, we find that if they overcome this post-IPO innovation slump, publicly listed firms survive longer and experience stronger financial performance. 

Our findings challenge the idea that the stock market causes the inevitable death of breakthrough innovation. Instead, our results show that managers can help their firms remain innovative by planting the seeds of innovation before they go public. Our paper also challenges the pessimistic view of public firms’ ability to innovate by studying the firms that beat these pressures and offering managers concrete actions that can allow them to manage the transition to public status. By studying the exceptions to the generally pessimistic view about public firms’ innovation—not the averages—we offer insights to help managers prevent their firms from falling prey to this effect. Further, our research reminds managers to consider how segmentation also applies to investors. Investors, much like consumers, are not a homogenous group. Instead, there are segments among investors who have different preferences and propensities to purchase company stocks with varying types and levels of risk. Moreover, just as marketing-related actions can attract different segments of customers, we find that a firm’s marketing-related actions in the form of pre-IPO innovation imprinting attracts a segment of investors who share its values and support innovation. 

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From: Simone Weis, Christine Moorman, and Rajesh Chandy, “Innovation Imprinting: Why Some Firms Beat the Post-IPO Innovation Slump,” Journal of Marketing.

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Simone Wies is Professor of Marketing, Department of Marketing and Leibniz Institute for Financial Research SAFE, Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany.

Christine Moorman is T. Austin Finch Sr. Professor of Business Administration, Duke University, USA, AMA Irwin/McGraw-Hill Award recipient and AMA Fellow, founder and director of The CMO Survey, and former Journal of Marketing editor-in-chief.

Rajesh K. Chandy is Professor of Marketing and Tony and Maureen Wheeler Chair in Entrepreneurship, London Business School, and Academic Director, Wheeler Institute for Business and Development, UK.