The Internet and International Marketing

  • John A. Quelch and Lisa R. Klein
  • April 15, 1996

Is the Internet just another marketing channel like direct mail or home shopping? Or will it revolutionize global marketing? Will large multinationals lose the advantages of size, while small start-ups leverage the technology and be-come big players internationally? The authors discuss the different opportunities and chal-lenges that the Internet offers to large and small companies worldwide. They examine the impact on global markets and new product development, the advantages of an intranet for large corporations, and the need for foreign government support and cooperation.

The Internet promises to revolutionize the dynamics of international commerce and, like the telephone and fax machine, may be a major force in the democratization of capitalism. Small companies will be able to compete more easily in the global marketplace, and consumers in emerging markets, in particular, will benefit from the expanded range of products, services, and information to which the Internet will give them access. As a recent Forrester industry report explains, the Internet removes many barriers to communication with customers and employees by eliminating the obstacles created by geography, time zones, and location, creating a “frictionless” business environment.1 Much of the current expansion in Internet use, accelerated by the emergence of the World Wide Web (WWW), is driven by marketing initiatives —providing products and product information to potential customers. However, in the future, many companies, especially those operating globally, will realize a much broader range of benefits from this medium’s potential as both a communication and a transaction vehicle.

Currently, the Internet is mainly a U.S. phenomenon, due to the later start and historically slower growth of Internet access in other countries. More than half the Internet’s nearly 7 million host computers are located in the United States, with the remainder spread across 100 other countries.2 In 1995, 22 countries came on-line.3 In 1994, there was wide variation in the number of Internet hosts per 1,000 people, ranging from more than 14 in Finland to fewer than 0.5 in South Korea (see Table 1).

With fewer non-U.S. businesses on line, fewer access nodes, higher telecommunications rates, and lower rates of personal computer ownership, consumer use of the Internet internationally is currently much lower than in the United States, where commercial on-line services like CompuServe and America Online (AOL) have also facilitated Internet use. But CompuServe and AOL have only recently begun to aggressively market their services in other countries. CompuServe first began global expansion in 1987 with entry into Japan through collaboration with Japanese partners.