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An internalization theory perspective on the Bottom of the Pyramid

International Business and Sustainable Development

ISBN: 978-1-78190-989-8, eISBN: 978-1-78190-990-4

Publication date: 4 January 2014



The purpose of this chapter is to demonstrate that sound, mainstream international business (IB) thinking should be applied when assessing the economic opportunities available to multinational enterprises (MNEs) in Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP) markets.


We describe and evaluate critically the key points made in the BOP literature about the alleged attractiveness of BOP markets, and the alleged strengths of MNEs to penetrate these markets successfully. We revisit the managerial implications from the BOP literature using an internalization theory lens.


We demonstrate the weak conceptual grounding of conventional BOP thinking, which suggests that MNEs from developed economies should be very entrepreneurial and should systematically serve BOP markets with new products and business models. We also show the fallacy of the idea that a “success template” in one BOP market would be easily replicable in other BOP markets and would allow the MNE to earn economies of scale and scope.

Research implications

IB researchers should start conducting serious studies on the attractiveness of BOP markets for MNEs. They should also analyze seriously the micro-foundations of successful knowledge recombination in BOP markets and the limits to the transferability of success templates. Mainstream IB theory, namely internalization theory, is particularly well equipped to analyze the costs and benefits of entering BOP markets, building upon a comparative institutional logic.

Practical implications

Senior MNE managers should not allow themselves to be blinded by BOP gurus, advocating the alleged great benefits of penetrating BOP markets. BOP markets may be especially challenging international expansion targets for MNEs because of large institutional voids, high uncertainty, high “distance” vis-à-vis the home country market and the difficulties of transferring relevant knowledge from one BOP market to another.


This chapter is the first to show that mainstream IB research can be usefully applied to analyze the “real” attractiveness of BOP markets for MNEs. Comparative institutional analysis is proven to provide substantially more insight to make BOP market penetration work than past guru-talk on BOP markets.



Hillemann, J. and Verbeke, A. (2014), "An internalization theory perspective on the Bottom of the Pyramid", International Business and Sustainable Development (Progress in International Business Research, Vol. 8), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 69-90.



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