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Personas and the SIGMA® Millieus

What do SIGMA milieus have to do with personas? Our text reveals.


Who buys where, when, what, why or why not? What is the best location for which business? This question has always preoccupied marketers, trend researchers and anyone who wants to sell something. Since the advent of online shopping, the question of design, wording, appearance and findability has arisen in addition to the question of location.
The answer to all these questions is: "It depends...". It depends on WHO the CUSTOMERS are and what makes them tick: which milieu they belong to. A milieu is a social group with "objective" (income, neighborhood, profession...) and "subjective" (preferences, values, goals, habits...) similarities.

The SIGMA milieus are a model that depicts society as if on a map. It is very similar to the SINUS milieus, but covers the whole of Europe and a number of countries outside Europe. Research has shown that milieus with similar values in different countries are more similar to each other than different milieus in the same country. There were originally eight SIGMA milieus and today there are eleven:

Pragmatic working class environment

Members of this milieu often have little formal education and a correspondingly low income. They find themselves pushed to the margins of society by increasing crises, but also by digitalization, which makes them replaceable, and react to this with resignation or aggression. A satisfactory standard of living, recognition from neighbors and friends and solidarity are important to them.

Precarious environment

This is where people find themselves in the deregulated labor market, often with several mini-jobs or without a job. Their precarious situation has led to alienation from the state and "those at the top". Making ends meet economically is the top priority; the children should be better off one day. The standard of living of socially higher milieus is a desirable role model.

Hedonistic milieu (Sensation Seekers)

People in this milieu are united by the search for fun and kicks. Fun, action and pleasure are desirable, everything else is a means to this end. All financial resources are invested in fun and consumption. Their own peer group is important to them. This milieu is predominantly made up of people under 40.

Traditional mainstream

People in this milieu belong to the middle class in terms of income and have a low to medium level of formal education. They are oriented towards traditional values and traditional aesthetics, and religion also plays a role, especially in Southern Europe. There are many people over 60 with adult children. They see their financial security threatened by increasing crises. Family and a "middle-class life" are important to them.

Conventional mainstream

This milieu is "THE" middle class: middle-educated, middle-income, middle-aged, often with children. The purchasing power of this group has difficulty keeping up with the diverse demands of the modern family and inflation rates. People in this milieu have a modern attitude within bourgeois conventions; individualism is important where it can be lived out within a conventional framework. A good livelihood, community and family are important values.

Progressive mainstream

This is where the digital natives, i.e. young people with medium to higher levels of education, congregate. They use modern technologies for work (often in tech professions or modern services), leisure and private life, are well connected online and enjoy outdoor activities as a "contrasting program", so to speak. Advancement is welcome, but is not a priority. Work-life balance, individualized and sustainable consumption, flexibility and mobility are important to them.

Established conservative milieu (Upper Conservatives)

This milieu is home to highly educated people, high incomes and the "old money": Elites who have been around for a long time and attach importance to preserving it. A sense of responsibility, motivation and good manners are important values, while financial independence and discretion are highly valued.
Despite their conservative values, these people are quite open to new technologies.

Upwardly mobile milieu (Entrepreneurial Achievers)

The desire for social advancement is the be-all and end-all and comes before family and leisure. Everything else is subordinated to advancement and achievement is highly valued. People in this milieu define success as high income, which allows the acquisition of status symbols and a privileged lifestyle. When success is achieved, it is gladly displayed ("nouveau riche"). Owning and using the latest technologies is part of this.

Cosmopolitan-Liberal milieu

People in this milieu have high to very high educational qualifications (or are on their way to achieving them), and therefore also higher incomes. They have usually already seen a lot of the world, not on package tours, but through study visits, business trips, individual and educational trips. They are therefore cosmopolitan, tolerant, progressive and cultured, and many are interested in art and culture and/or social issues. An ethically responsible lifestyle, sustainability and meaningful work are important to them.

Socially critical milieu (Green Disruptors)

This is the milieu of activists: be it for environmental protection (also "climate stickers"), in refugee aid, or as opponents of globalization. The political orientation is mostly left-wing to anti-capitalist; the education is often, but not always, academic, the income quite high. Social commitment, a sustainable lifestyle, human rights and social justice are at the top of the scale of values, while luxury goods and status symbols are not valued (post-materialism).

Postmodern milieu (pioneering elite)

This is where the start-up founders, the creatives, the out-of-the-box thinkers, the avant-gardists are to be found. A high level of education prevails, often in creative professions. They are very digitally savvy and look for smart solutions to their own and society's problems. They generate trends, both in terms of style and appearance as well as behavior and consumption. Sustainability as a lifestyle, personalization and creativity are important to them

Did you find yourself in one or the other milieu? As you read through, you probably found that you liked one or the other milieu more than others, or you recognized yourself in parts, but also partly in another or a third. We can all roughly locate our point of view on a "social map" such as the SIGMA milieus. However, it is very difficult to pinpoint it precisely, because we are all influenced by our parents, who perhaps belonged to a completely different milieu than we do today, our expectations, wishes and problems, which cannot be pigeonholed with the best will in the world. Many people also change milieu when priorities shift, e.g. when starting a family, when success or sudden failure occurs. And even if we feel that we belong to exactly one milieu, our personality traits still differentiate us from other members of the same milieu: one is extroverted, the other shy, one is adventurous, the other conscientious, yet another rather anxious, and so on.

Milieus are a very good first classification and localization of potential customers or applicants. So are personality traits. Personas combine both and complement the classification precisely. They represent real people based on real data and provide everything that makes categorization difficult: pain points, wishes, expectations, fears, income, family members, interests, hobbies, a job, a place of residence and much more: the information that marketers and HR managers need to answer the question posed at the beginning: Who buys where when what why or why not this or that? And who applies where and why and where not?

Just as people evolve over the course of their lives and perhaps leave their birth environment and change priorities later on, we also continue to develop our data-based personas and update them regularly. The personas therefore not only reflect a desired customer or candidate, but evolve with him or her. This ensures that you always address exactly the right person on the right channel with the right wording and design.

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