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Personas and the Sinus Milieus

What are Sinus Milieus and what do they have to do with personas? Here it is.


Gucci, Versace and Prada have - unsurprisingly - flagship stores in close proximity to each other, for example on Fifth Avenue in New York, where there are also many other stores of high-priced brands. We also find them at international airports and in the shopping malls of the world's upmarket districts. This is where Lieschen Müller goes to flatten her nose, if she has ever made it to such an area, and Mrs. "Von-und-Zu", "Altes-Geld" or "Neureich" go shopping there.

However, you won't find H&M, Walmart or Zara there because they belong to a different "milieu".

Milieu - a term from sociology

A milieu is a term used in sociology. It refers to the social, cultural and physical environment in which people live, work or spend time. In short: the social environment that influences the behavior, attitudes and lifestyle of a particular group of people.

A milieu is made up of many elements, the interplay of which defines it and helps to determine the lives of the people in this milieu:

  • Social structures: These include families, communities, social classes, organizations and institutions that form the social fabric of a society.
  • Cultural norms and values: The shared beliefs, values, customs, traditions, language and behaviors of a particular group or community.
  • Physical environment: The geographical location, the architectural design, the living and working environment and the natural landscape that influence people's lives.
  • Economic conditions: The financial status, employment opportunities, access to resources and economic conditions that affect people's lives and opportunities.
  • Religious and spiritual beliefs: The religion and spirituality of a community can be an important part of the milieu and influence behavior, values and social norms.
  • Ethnic and cultural diversity: The diversity of ethnic and cultural backgrounds within a community can shape the milieu.
  • Political and legal framework: The political orientation of a community as well as the existing legal framework can influence the milieu and have an impact on behavior, attitudes and social interaction.
  • Education and healthcare systems: The quality and availability of education and health services can shape the environment and influence people's quality of life and future prospects.
  • Media and communication: The media landscape, the communication infrastructure and the available sources of information have an influence on how people communicate with each other, exchange information and form opinions.

The milieu can vary greatly from place to place and from group to group and has a significant impact on people's quality of life, lifestyle and opportunities. It also influences their identity, social interactions, attitudes and values.

Sinus milieus: bubble-shaped drawers

The Sinus Milieus are a typology used to categorize people. The method was developed in the 1970s and is now one of the best-known methods for categorizing target groups and society in Germany.
People who are similar in their lifestyles are grouped together (milieus) and placed along two axes on a coordinate system. One axis shows the social situation and the other the basic orientation (tradition, modernization, reorientation). Since not all people within a group are the same, the groups are not placed in rigid categories, but rather in bubbles that can overlap. Attitudes towards work, family, media consumption and other issues are also surveyed and taken into account. The result is an image of our society on a coordinate system: everyone in their bubble.

Source: Sinus Institute

In brief, the groups in the bubbles can be described as follows:

As society is constantly changing, the Sinus Institute must regularly collect and update the data.

Collect data? Update regularly? Image? Does that sound familiar? Not without reason, because in principle the milieus depict an entire society in the same way that a persona depicts a desired target group. Sinus Milieus are the social science equivalent of personas. Since personas are not real people, but represent real people based on real data, each of our personas can also be assigned to a Sinus Milieu. And with this information, it is not only possible to plan precisely WHERE a brand should or should not open its flagship store and on which channels it should advertise with which wording and color scheme. But also where their customers' pain threshold lies in terms of price, how long they will use a product and whether they are more interested in the function of the product, the design or the brand printed on it, etc.

The same applies to recruiting: anyone offering a traditional face-to-face job with conventional working hours and a company canteen should place job advertisements that appeal to people from the traditional milieu or perhaps the pragmatic middle, and in places where these people are "on the move". Advertisements for such a position in media that are only seen by the expeditive milieu are unlikely to lead to a rush of applicants - and vice versa.

The data-based personas from the Persona Institute are the representation of real people who buy products, look for work - and belong to a milieu, just like all of us. They are updated regularly and can be compared with the Sinus-Milieus. Personas from the Persona Institute therefore not only reflect a desired customer or candidate, but also their place in society, with all the indications that this entails.

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