Kassel. A company can only achieve lasting success if it knows its customers' needs. That goes for the new products it rolls out, as well as its reputation and brand image. But what exactly do consumers want and can an energy provider address them selectively and efficiently? A tried-and-proven method of target group segmentation is the Sinus Milieus. In an interview with WINGAS, Manfred Tautscher, Managing Director of the Sinus Institute, explains how energy providers can leverage the Sinus Milieus and what services customers want.
Mr. Tautscher, what are Sinus Milieus?
The Sinus Milieus are a model that groups persons with a similar lifestyle and outlook on life, i.e. they divide them into groups of like-minded people. That is a holistic approach that relates people to the things that are important in their life – i.e. is very strongly geared to real lifeworlds.
What parameters are used in defining the Sinus Milieus?
Sinus Milieus relate to the social situation of people, their general value orientation and their lifestyle. However, there are numerous individual components concealed behind them. We have a series of indicator questions we use to define the Sinus Milieus. They deal with, for example, attitude to religion, job, family, upbringing, education, leisure time or topics like visions or aesthetics. All that is included in creating a milieu and gives a true-to-life picture of what people are bothered about. We currently have ten different milieus in Germany, ranging from the group of conservative/established persons to what is termed the expeditious milieu, i.e. the digital avant-garde.
What defined target groups are there in relation to energy?
Energy products like natural gas or electricity are basically used by all milieu groups. In that respect, municipal utilities have to deal with a broad spectrum of target groups that sometimes have completely different interests. Energy providers should therefore precisely analyze what their strategic target groups are and how they can best be addressed. That helps understand the milieu, i.e. the lifeworld. You can only inspire your target group if you know what they are concerned about.
What requirements do these groups have of energy providers?
To start with, the requirements are similar for all target groups. The vital aspect is that customers – whatever their milieu – trust the energy provider and can rely on the brand. That is a crucial point because energy-related subjects are usually very complex and you need specialist know-how to understand them. Most customers don't have that. Trust is built up mainly by transparent and competent service. In this connection, clear public communication plays a great role, especially over different social media channels.
How can energy providers use the Sinus Milieu model and the related target group segmentation?
First of all, dividing your customers into Sinus Milieus gives you a very good understanding of their diversity. It lets energy providers see the best way to enter into a dialog with them. That's because if I know the milieu customers come from, I can address them more selectively. That's an advantage in particular when it comes to winning new customers, as well as retaining and strengthening the loyalty of existing ones. We can see quite clearly that aspects like convenience and service are shared by all target groups. They are services every municipal utility simply has to provide to be successful in future. However, there is a raft of points that are rated differently by the individual milieus: Price, flexibility, personal freedom or sustainability. In particular groups like the digital avant-garde or the modern young center have to be very flexible in their job, for example. They then likewise demand that flexibility in the infrastructure, i.e. from their energy provider.
What influence does knowing that have on product development, sales and marketing by municipal utilities?
At the end of the day, it's always about knowing exactly what the customer needs. In principle, a brand is successful if it develops products that make people's life easier. That's the core message. Sinus Milieus can help identify what group "jumps at" what product and how it can best be communicated.
What might implementing the findings from the Sinus Milieu model look like, for example?
If, for instance, a municipal utility wishes to put a greater focus on the subject of sustainability and possibly roll out a particularly eco-friendly technology, you should address the liberal/intellectual and the social/ecological milieu. These two groups are the lead milieus for this issue. Their opinion carries weight and also rubs off on other milieus. In today's age, you have to think in a cross-media way when choosing means of communication. Only that ensures quick and easy access to services for the customer. In turn, the communication channels you focus on and the tonality you use to place content there depends greatly on the defined target group.
What Sinus target groups will the natural gas industry have to adapt to in future?
The social/ecological milieu can definitely serve as a multiplier. These people are a bit like the good conscience of society and are able to assume a role model for other milieus. Regardless of that, it's important for the natural gas industry to be clear about the good arguments in favor of this fuel. That's because natural gas has potential and a lot of advantages in competition with other fuels. But they have to be communicated clearly and directly.
What do you believe that might look like?
I really believe there is a need for advertising pressure in the media so that natural gas can survive alongside alternative forms of energy in future. It will be key to shift the product natural gas more in the direction of a lifestyle and charge it with greater emotion. However, that's a 10-year project and can't be achieved short term. The wonderful thing is that natural gas is acknowledged in society as an ecological and efficient source of energy. And people want to heat their homes and drive cars in a climate-friendly way – and not at the expense of their quality of life. Consequently, a crucial criterion for a future with natural gas is that this product remains free of ideological power struggles.