CX Insights

Guaranteed Success With Emotional Marketing In Only 5 Steps

8 min read

Any good marketing strategy is built on emotions. This is not a secret. What seems to be a secret at times is how we know which emotions to work with. It can be quite tricky to appeal to a target group and to actually reach the right people with a marketing campaign. Here are the good news: It doesn’t have to be that tricky. Most of you might not know about it, but there is a great way to turn your target group into real and tangible people to help you better understand what makes your customers tick: The so called Sinus Milieus.

In this article, I will briefly introduce the concept behind Sinus Milieus and then guide you through 5 steps towards effective emotional marketing. If you are in a position where you need to reach people, I really recommend you to read on.

Sinus Milieus: Bring your target group to life

Distribution of Sinus Milieus in the US by their social status and basic values.

Once you know someone’s values and attitudes towards life, you will be able to come up with the emotions that you need to invoke to get through to them. Sinus Milieus offer a great way to get familiar with your target group and find out what moves potential customers. They refer to target groups of like-minded people in a society, identifying human beings in a specific environment with very specific characteristics.

The concept has been developed by the Sinus Institute Heidelberg, Germany, and is based on very thorough scientific research. The institute has been concerned with the everyday lives of people, sociocultural change, the condition of society, and the application of Sinus research in connection with trends, target groups and brands for more than 30 years. So far the concept has been adapted to 18 countries worldwide.

Besides national Sinus Milieus, Sinus Meta Milieus describe target groups across country borders. For a growing global industry, this helps to identify and understand international consumers.

Step 1: Define your target group

As a marketer, you are most likely familiar with this first step. Before getting started on any marketing effort, it is essential to know your target. There are different ways to define your target group, most of them based on basic market research. Sinus Milieus, as introduced above, are one way to position your target group within a given framework. Depending on their social status and their basic values, your target group can be assigned to one or more of the defined Sinus Milieus.

Step 2: What makes your target group tick?

After you know the social status and basic values of your target group, Sinus Milieus help you to actually get to know the people. Every milieu is characterized based on thorough user research, which turns your target group into real people. In the US, Sinus Milieus can be grouped together into three categories; the ‘high social status’ milieus, the mainstream milieus, and the social underclass. Let’s have a brief look at all three of them.

‘High Social Status’ milieus

Sinus Milieus in the US with high social status.

Sovereigns.The Sovereigns have a high social status and they have both traditional and modern values. They are successful and at the same time aware of the responsibilities that come with their success. They reach for leadership and appreciate this secluded position.
Liberal Progressives. The Liberal Progressives can have either a high or middle social status, and their values are almost exclusively modern in a sense of consumer hedonism and post materialism. They are fundamentally liberal, sophisticated, and well-educated with a broad intellectual interest. Furthermore, they strive for self-determination and believe that they can shape their own lives.
Adaptive Achievers. The Adaptive Achievers can also be found in the high and middle social status, while they have modern values in a sense of a virtual society. They are flexible top performers with a high focus on efficiency. They are interested in global affairs and experts of the new media and information technologies. Besides, they like to experiment and push boundaries of what is accepted.

Mainstream milieus

Sinus Milieus in the US with average social status.

Old Guard. The Old Guards include all social statuses with traditional values. They love solid structures and order in their lives. They stick to what they know and what has proven to work, and would rather not come into contact with anything new or unfamiliar.
Modern Middle America. Modern Middle Americans either have a middle or low social status and modern values in a sense of consumer hedonism and post materialism. They are the modern mainstream with the ambition to establish themselves at a higher professional and social level. In order to live a secure and harmonious life, they don’t mind adapting to others.
Mavericks. The Mavericks form the ambitious young core of society. They can either have a middle or a low social status, and their values are modern reaching from consumer hedonism and post materialism to a virtual society. They see life with a pragmatic point of view, and they are flexible and prepared for challenges. They are willing to make compromises for success and security.

Social underclass

Sinus Milieus in the US with low social status

Materialists. The Materialists represent the lower class of society that is searching for orientation and social inclusion. They feel rejected by society and anxious about their future. They try to keep up with the consumer behavior of the middle class to compensate their social inferiority. As reaction to the social exclusion and their small chance of social advancement, they withdraw into their own, separate social environment.
Disenfranchised. The Disenfranchised are the modern lower class of society with mostly modern values in a sense of consumer hedonism and post materialism. With their fun and experience-driven performance, they challenge the conventions and expectations that are imposed upon them by society. They live in the here and now and refuse to take life too seriously.

Step 3: What appeals to your customers?

Based on the different Sinus Milieus, you can learn what makes your target group tick. What do they think and feel? What are their core values? And what is their attitude towards central aspects of life? Now it’s time to be creative. With the information you have, try to define concepts that appeal to your target group.

There is no universal guide to the right emotional concept, and of course, you should not lose sight of your product. The context of your marketing campaign influences the suitability of the emotions you use. To help you get started, here are a couple of concepts that I came up with for the different Sinus Milieus.

Sovereigns: exclusivity, luxury, quality, leadership, solitude, contentment, reliability
Liberal Progressives: expertise, success, equality, fairness, personal fulfilment, higher education.
Adaptive Achievers: success, performance, achievement, ambition, spontaneity, technology, the media
Old Guards: routines, familiarity, security, reliability, honesty, accuracy
Modern Middle American: possibilities, chances, ambition, social advancement, security, harmony
Mavericks: independence, innovation, challenge, change, quality, security
Materialists: a sense of belonging, security, self-confidence, conformity, popularity, trends
Disfranchised: fun, extravagance, provocation, individualism, otherness

Step 4: Implement your findings

Once you have a set of concepts that you believe appeal to your target group, go ahead and implement them in your marketing campaign. This can be an ad, a website, a workshop, or anything on your usual marketing schedule. For inspiration, you can always look at the wording and design of other marketing efforts that target the same people.

In order to reach your target group, it must be on the top of your mind the whole time. You have to make your campaign appeal to the right people in order to get their attention, their interest, awaken their desire, and motivate them to take action. Only then, you can effectively communicate your message.

Step 5: Test your campaign

Despite the best user research and theoretical base, there is still a fair chance of getting it wrong. To avoid this and the ultimate failure of your marketing campaign, make sure you test your concept.

You can, for example, invite prospective customers to user tests and ask them in person what they think of your concept. A less expensive alternative is to invite your customers to remote user tests. There are arguments for and against both methods and you can just choose the one that best suits your project.

You should also do several rounds of testing and start as early as possible. As soon as you have defined appealing concepts that you are planning on using in your campaign, you should do the first round of testing. If you find out that you have chosen the wrong concepts, after you have already implemented them, you will face not only angry colleagues, but also great costs and possible a big time delay.


Most of the times, effective marketing is very emotional. Successful campaigns work with concepts that appeal to their target group. With five simple steps, your next campaign can be a success, too. Start with defining your target group. With the help of Sinus Milieus, you can turn a general target group into real people and understand what makes them tick. This insight will help you to come up with appealing concepts and to create an emotional campaign that reaches and moves just the right people. With repetitive user testing, you can make sure you’ve got it right before spending both time and money on a concept that might not work.

Sabina Idler
Sabina was technical writer & UXer @Usabilla for 5 years before she started her own UX research and consultancy firm; UXkids. With UXkids, Sabina leverages her academic research expertise, know how in child development, and strategic vision to help companies build successful digital products for children. You can connect with Sabina on Linkedin or follow her on Twitter.