Linda Ong and Sarah Unger

Jul 7, 2021

 Data tells you the What, Culture tells you the Why with Linda Ong and Sarah Unger of Cultique


Episode Summary

The concept of culture and diversion is a burning question of today. And that’s because people are often unaware of what the culture is. Luckily, culture-oriented people, such as Linda Ong and Sarah Unger, are here to raise awareness about the importance of understanding culture and apply its principles to a world that never stops changing.

Linda Ong and Sarah Unger are Co-Founders of Cultique. Cultique is founded with a unique goal in mind – to analyze and translate culture in a world that constantly changes. They are particularly interested in cultural development in COVID-driven circumstances, especially contradictory yet completely reasonable opinions people tend to have now.

In this episode of Through Your Looking Glass, you will hear a remarkable conversation between Linda Ong, Sarah Unger, and our host Patrick Comer. They discuss the vital relationship between culture and data, why demographics are overly simplistic ways to analyze the audience, what opposed opinions people tend to have during the pandemic, and more insightful concepts about culture.



Headshot of a woman    Black and white headshot of a woman

Names: Linda Ong and Sarah Unger

What they do: Linda Ong and Sarah Unger are Co-Founders of Cultique

Company: Cultique

Key Quote: : “Identity is something you have to proclaim, own, and communicate. But more importantly, you have to understand the culture in which you’re putting forth messaging.”


Key Insights

  • Data tells you the what. Culture tells you the why. Linda and Sarah agree that data alone is not enough to obtain insights. It needs culture to be complete and provide valuable answers. “The world is information-rich and insights-poor. We have a lot of data, but a lot of our clients come to us and say, ‘We don’t know what this means.’ At a time like this in 2021, there’s so much information cycling through the news cycle. What is important is that if you hear somebody say something in a focus group, as the new idea, it’s too late to start developing on that because, by the time you do it, it will already be saturated.”
  • The demographics have been overly simplistic ways to look at audiences. Demographic segmentation has always been one of the most common ways to approach the right audience for marketing purposes. But is it the best and most appropriate method? “Demographics came from the government in terms of the census. But we all know adults 18 to 49 is a very wide swath of people. In the last election, all black voters didn’t vote the same. All women didn’t vote the same. Whereas if you look at a cultural segmentation, you have the ability to understand ideology.”
  • Culture is the atmosphere. Sarah and Linda tend to compare culture and data to rocket ships, NASA, and SpaceX. Why is that analogy so important? “SpaceX or NASA are building rockets. And a lot of that is based on data, past performance, understanding of what’s going on. But before anyone launches a rocket ship, they have to monitor the atmosphere. So, think of culture as the atmosphere around which your product or your brand lives. And for us, the products of a man-made civilization, including art, fashion, music, pop culture, government, politics, economic, climate, everything you can think of, are very meteorological in a way.”

“The desire to be a cultural explorer is very innate.”

Episode Highlights

Look at Cultural Segmentation if You Want to Understand Ideology

“The demographics have been overly simplistic ways to look at audiences. And in the last election, there were a lot of people exclaiming, ‘Wow. All black voters didn’t vote the same. All women didn’t vote the same.’ That’s like saying, ‘All white people didn’t vote the same.’ It can be overly reductive to say all black people like one thing.
Whereas if you look at a cultural segmentation, you have the ability to understand ideology. It’s interesting because if you look at Netflix’s algorithm today when it serves up your titles, it will tell you whether it is a reality show or a drama. But it will also tell you, ‘This is very uplifting. This is very progressive.’ Netflix doesn’t care if you’re 49. They want to know if you like the adventurous programs or you like safe, comfort food and that your moods could change, too. So the idea that people are static doesn’t work anymore.”

Culture Connects Two Unalike Ideas

“Humans are very complex beings, and they’re often very contradictory in their taste. And there’s a concept called integrated thinking. You can have two contradictory concepts; both are right. And that’s something that can often be confusing when you’re trying to understand and synthesize and make meaning.

But what is the cultural narrative that is connecting two opposing ideas? When we look at culture, we often look at it as a curve. And you can think about any given topic, whether it’s travel, mental health, etc. And there are many conversations happening. Some conversations around culture are “residual” and focus on the background of culture, in a traditional and conventional sense.

However, the more dominant conversations are the most “zeitgeisty” ones, which are things that you would talk about at a dinner party. There are also merchant conversations around culture, which are more forward-looking, innovative, and head of the curve.

And so, when you have a topic, and you have conversations that both sit at the residual and emergent end of the spectrum, those can often present as opposing narratives. But they both exist within a topic.”

You Cannot Spend 200 Million to Tell People What Your Brand Is

“We live in a world where, especially when it comes to advertising and marketing, you can’t just spend 200 million dollars and tell people what your brand is because they are going to tell you back. And ask Pepsi when they did the Kendall Jenner ad. That was a major miss. We didn’t work on that. If we’d worked on that, we would have told them how it was going to get received.

You gotta be okay with all the criticism because that is what culture is about right now. We like tearing things apart and building them, examining them from every angle. And if you want to be part of the conversation, you can’t just want love. You’re not going to get it by marketing that way.”

People Are Very Self-Determinant About Their Health and Their Freedom

“The University of Michigan – School of Public Health, where I managed to speak to two doctors who were researchers who had just fielded a study trying to understand why people were so hesitant to adopt masking. What they found was contradictory.

They saw that people who were most hesitant to adopt safe COVID practices had very high degrees of belief in their personal freedom. That was the most important thing to them. At the same time, they had an equally high ranking of their concern for their health.”

Feedback Is the Hardest and the Best Piece You Can Get

“I think feedback/advice was something I needed to learn early in my career. Somebody who was a mentor within my first post-graduate job was seeing the hours I was putting in work, and New York has an intense working culture, and said, ‘It’s important that you find meaning in your life outside of your work.’ And I did the head nod, but it stuck with me.

I am grateful for that advice. And I think it’s something that we talk about a lot in culture – it’s an effort to find the right balance. But I’m appreciative that somebody told me that early on, so I didn’t burn myself into the ground.”



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