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What does my target group want? This is the eternal question in the business world. It is difficult enough to correctly identify the target marketing group, but identifying their wishes, needs, and concerns often presents both start-ups and experienced entrepreneurs with problems. In many cases you use personas – and often with good results. Another option is offered by Sinus-Milieus – a typology of different target marketing groups based on scientific research.
Sinus-Milieus: a definition
The German market and social research institute “The Sinus Institute” developed the model of the Sinus-Milieus back in the 1980s, and has since offered consulting services for all aspects of target group research. The milieus themselves are a division of society, and depending on social status and way of life, people are assigned to a certain Sinus-Milieu. Two axes are used here.
Firstly, we look at social status. In what social environment do they live? What is their background? For example, income and education level play a role here. The Sinus-Milieus are split into three class groups.
- Lower-middle class/lower-class
- Upper-middle class/upper-class
Secondly, their so-called basic values are also important, namely: what values are people guided by? The Sinus Institute differentiates between two directions for the individual points:
- Tradition: A distinction is made between people who want to keep tradition without change (clinging on to) and those who are willing to adapt traditional values to modern ideas (preserving).
- Modernization: The spectrum within modernization ranges from people for whom status and possessions are very important (having and enjoying) to people who see success more in self-realization and authenticity (being and changing).
- Re-orientation: People within this group differ in part in that they are either very pragmatic and fast moving (doing and experiencing) or have a stronger focus on getting to know new things (overcoming limitations).
In this way, a person can be placed on the chart, and groups of people can also be identified as clusters in the coordinate system. These are, of course, statistical surveys which can only represent an approximation. The system of the Sinus-Milieus takes this into account by starting from the overlapping of the different milieus and presenting them in pictorial presentations.
Sinus-Milieus are coined by the market and social research institute The Sinus institute. Based on the two factors “social status” and “basic values,” it is possible to define and identify 10 different groups which aren’t necessarily entirely distinct from one another. Sinus-Milieus can be very helpful in the analysis of target groups. The term is a registered trademark.
The Sinus Institute publishes new values every year. The institute's researchers regularly survey thousands of test participants about their lifestyle. Test subjects (nothing serious – just different people in society) have to answer an interview lasting several hours (qualitative examination) and fill in a detailed questionnaire (quantitative examination). In this way, the Sinus Institute can publish new values for how society is made up every year.
The Sinus Institute regularly publishes an updated version of its “potato graphic.” Within the coordinate system of social situation and basic orientation, the graph shows the social distribution of the different sinus milieus. The resulting lumpy figures look a bit like potatoes, hence the name. You can find the current graphic on the Sinus Institute’s
The different Sinus-Milieus – with examples
A total of ten different groups – the Sinus-Milieus – can be identified. These milieus are essentially groups of like-minded people, who share more or less the same social status and/or have similar values. People give similar answers to questions about their beliefs to a group and they also express similar opinions on topics such as everyday life, work, family, leisure, and consumption. The Sinus-Milieu research was predominantly based on German, Austrian, and Swiss data, but has since expanded to an international level, including over 40 countries. These are known as Sinus-Meta-Milieus, which are milieus designed just for multinational marketing. The meta-milieu spans across many countries, whereas the typical Sinus-Milieu marketing groups will just look at individual countries.
Of course, people within each Sinus milieus are not all the same. The properties result from statistical values, which is why the typical examples to follow are more stereotypes than realistic descriptions.
Take a look at the following Sinus-Milieus which are typically found within one country. Note that the names of each group will change according to the data found each year, and that the demographic shifts will affect the results of the research carried out. Some groups listed here may only be present in analysis graphs sometimes – the following groups are just examples of the possibilities of Sinus-Milieu research.
This group is the typical establishment. Socially separated from other milieus, they see themselves as a leading elite. Etiquette and order are important. This milieu is characterized by high income or property. People in this group are mostly part of the upper-class but some are also middle-class. They are oriented towards traditional values, yet are still willing to modernize, but attach importance to living standards and status.
An example of a of a person in the established milieu would be born into a wealthy family, attending a private school, and then studying at a prestigious university – finally finding a job in the family business.
The liberal-intellectual Sinus-Milieu sees itself as an educational elite, but having an enlightened world view and liberal roots. Wealth and status play a subordinate role, although members of this milieu generally belong to the upper-class and have a high income. Self-realization is very important. Liberal intellectuals also have a high level of interest in art and culture.
A typical member of this milieu will have studied, probably a humanities or social sciences subject, and works either in the academic field or in a cultural or artistic field.
The Sinus-Milieu of the performers finds fulfilment through extraordinary achievements. Especially at work, these people see themselves in constant competition with their colleagues. Performers also achieve success through their good networking skills, and they build a network of people around them to help them climb the career ladder. Performers live an extremely speedy life, but their efforts pay off. Their high income enables performers to spend big, and gives them the freedom to do as they please in their free time.
In general, these people are very interested in new technology and modern design. An example of a performer is one that would work in the financial sector or as a manager in another field, has little time for family or founding a family, and likes to spend free time with new gadgets.
The cosmopolitan avant-garde milieu can be found in both the upper and middle-classes. They are very interested in pushing boundaries, and changing traditional systems. To do this, they increasingly rely on the internet to network globally. Creativity and individualism are important to the cosmopolitan avant-garde, as well as travelling and other “new experiences.” Young people in particular can be attributed to this Sinus-Milieu, which explains why the group is currently growing quickly.
A typical representative of this milieu would work in the new economy, and also expresses their creativity in the form of their own blog or podcast. They have probably already moved from their home town to their university town, to a large city for professional reasons. Spending time abroad is also not uncommon, which is why many digital nomads are likely to be in this Sinus-Milieu.
The adaptive navigators milieu is the counterpart to the cosmopolitan avant-garde milieu in the middle-class. What both groups have in common is their young age and modern perspectives. In contrast to the hip cosmopolitan avant-garde, however, the adaptive navigator is much more rooted in their homeland and committed to passive pragmatism. Instead of breaking down boundaries and being experimental, adaptive navigators are happy to adapt to changing requirements. In general, conventional values are important.
According to the Sinus Institute, this is why the typical member of this milieu will feel happy and fulfilled in a stable family, and may have built a home of their own. Despite the enthusiasm for practical things, recreational activities play an important role, which is why the adaptive navigator is most likely a member of a sports club or has a close circle of friends with whom they regularly spend their free time.
The modern mainstream Sinus-Milieu is part of the middle class. As one of the largest Sinus-Milieus, this marketing group is located exactly in the middle of the chart. Mainly located in the middle class and characterized by the basic values of “modernization/individualization,” people within this milieu attach great importance to harmony. Political and private disturbances are to be avoided at all costs. Instead, security and stability is sought after.
In general, however, the modern mainstream are more than willing to work hard, and are proud of the success they have achieved. A typical candidate for the modern mainstream has earned a certain wealth, founded a family, and enjoys life - in a cottage with a well-kept garden, for example.
Opponents to the middle class can be found in the socio-ecological sinus milieu. Instead of wanting to maintain the status quo, this group mainly expresses criticism of society. Thoughtless consumption, as well as the exploitation of nature and human beings are criticized. This milieu has high ethical values by which they also measure their peers – multiculturalism, political correctness, and diversity are regarded with esteem.
Many socio-ecologicals have a high level of education, but a job that goes against their morals is unthinkable. They are often involved in social and ecological projects and are active in their neighborhoods.
The traditional Sinus-Milieu is dominated by conservatism. Particularly influenced by the post-war period, members of this group are committed to tradition and order. They are attached to the classic working-class culture: down-to-earth and thrifty. Similar to the middle class, traditional people tend to behave in a conformist manner, and believe that there is no reason to change society, and instead they adapt (sometimes more, sometimes less) to new requirements. However, the traditional milieu is not as homogeneous as you might think, as members of this group can be found in both the middle- and lower-middle-classes.
In addition, the basic values range from a belief in tradition to a willingness to modernize. The typical traditional is already at retirement age, has a family, and has probably lived in the same apartment or house for several decades. The traditional likes to enforce order in their neighborhood.
The precarious Sinus-Milieu is at the lower edge of the social spectrum – lower-middle-class and lower-class. According to the Sinus Institute, this also explains the prevailing fears about the future and poor self-image. They tend to compare themselves with the financially better-off and strive not to get left behind. This also determines their consumer behavior, as members of this category try to emulate other milieus. Social exclusion and discrimination determine the daily lives of precarious people, which inevitably leads to bitterness.
Prototypes of this sinus milieu have a basic level of education, and may have been seeking work for a long time. Besides a small apartment, the typical precarious person can afford little or nothing. Electronic devices are the big spends in this milieu, as well as the main pastime.
The majority of the hedonistic milieu (currently the largest Sinus-Milieu) includes many people of low social status, but some of whom are also in the middle-middle-class. In general, hedonists are younger people: students, apprentices, and young professionals who have a low income but like to spend it on leisure activities. They think little about the future and prefer to enjoy the present. A hedonist’s everyday life may be restrictive, but this is made up for in their free time: excessive partying is alive within this sinus milieu.
As an example, a hedonist has a secondary school leaving certificate, is in education and has not yet started a family. The person may live with a partner or alone in a small but well-equipped apartment. On weekends, hedonists like to go out with friends before their daily routine restarts on Monday.
Even more Sinus-Milieus
Besides the presented milieus, the Sinus Institute also publishes studies on other groups – as mentioned above, the groups constantly shift and change as the research shows different trends within society, and will change depending on which target marketing group you are looking for.
- Digital Sinus-Milieus: Digital Sinus-Milieus are particularly suitable for online campaigns. With the characteristics entered there, it is possible to classify online users into a milieu.
- Sinus-Youth-Milieus: The market research institute has developed youth milieus especially for measuring young target marketing groups aged 14 to 17 years. Since young people generally have different demands, values, and lifestyles than older generations, it makes sense to develop special milieus for young people.
- Sinus-Migrant-Milieus: Since 2007, the Sinus Institute has also been investigating the standard of immigrants living in Germany – the same may apply to research in the USA and Canada. Among other things, the survey sheds light on the extent to which migrants surveyed still feel that they belong to their country of origin.
- Sinus-Geo-Milieus: The geo-milieus make the Sinus-Milieus applicable for looking at geographical regions and areas. This makes it possible to identify milieus within streets and neighborhoods.
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For entrepreneurs: why Sinus-Milieus are important
People with similar values and buying habits can be found grouped in the Sinus-Milieus, which is why the system is so important for target marketing group research. It is assumed that people from the same social standing and with similar values share the same desires, needs, and concerns.
There are many marketing benefits to be gained from the Sinus-Milieu model. The descriptions of the individual groups help to find the best possible approach to marketing to a group, depending on their basic values and social status. A member of the conservatively established milieu, for example, would need to be addressed differently than someone who could be assigned to the hedonist – even if both are interested in the same product. This applies both to the language and to the presentation of an advert.
Meanwhile Sinus-Milieus can also be used for programmatic advertising. For example, the milieus are linked with geodata from apps and users are thus assigned to one of the groups. Even one step earlier – in product development – Sinus-Milieus can be used profitably. If you know which values the target group has, then an object or service can be tailored more appropriately to this group. Entrepreneurs generally benefit from more precise insight into the target group that the Sinus-Milieus enable them to reach.
But the model also has its critics. For many founders or start-ups that are not yet generating high profits, the price for getting these insights, in particular, is likely to be a problem. The characteristics of the different milieus presented here are only superficial insights, and in order to use the full scope of Sinus-Milieus for your company, you have to spend a fair amount for the basic package. Focus analyses – for example on media use – are also subject to a fee. But if you are willing to make this investment, you will receive important information about your company's target marketing group.