Branding firm uses detailed consumer research to create campaigns that go beyond the status quo.

When Quantum Health approached Cult Marketing seeking help connecting with clients in the healthcare-navigation industry, Quantum's leadership team wondered if the concept of guardian angels might be appropriate for a sales and marketing campaign.

Researchers at Cult went to work finding out how clients and consumers perceived Quantum, a company that provides healthcare coordination services to self-funded public and private sector employers throughout the country.

What they uncovered surprised everyone. Healthcare consumers who used the company's services saw the Quantum employees as protectors fighting on their behalf.

Those insights shaped a marketing plan that has led to double-digit growth and created a brand story that penetrates the entire business. The success of the plan correlates to the quality of the information Cult Marketing gleaned during its research phase, says Quantum Health CEO Kara Trott.

Starting with the right information is the key to helping companies identify their brand and shape their message, says Cult CEO Doug McIntyre. That's why his company focuses on a method called enhanced ethnography-research that aims to interpret culture and behaviors-to gather information about consumers. The research produces scientifically based insights into consumers' subconscious minds, their decision-making processes and their emotional connections to a product or brand.

Armed with that information, Cult creates marketing and sales plans that will strike a chord with consumers. The process involves getting the right information, using that knowledge to tap into consumer motivators and delivering campaigns that resonate with them, says McIntyre, who founded the company in 2004.

"We like to mitigate the risk for our customers by going through a strategic development process," he says.

Clients turn to Cult when they are looking to grow business, launch a new product, learn more about their customers or have questions about their brand.

Cult Marketing's method of research involves talking to people in their own environments. They don't invite research subjects to participate in a focus group in a conference room. They visit with people in homes, offices, stores or wherever they interact with the product their client wants to know more about. While doing research for American Standard, company representatives talked to people in their bathrooms, he says.

"It's amazing what people will tell you," says McIntyre, who started his marketing career with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

Sometimes the research yields simple things that companies overlook. Among the reasons one company wasn't selling a lot of mattresses was an in-store sign telling shoppers to stay off the furniture.

Other times the consumers' mindset takes more work to figure out, adds Janie Linnick Weisman, vice president of strategy in Cult's Detroit office. Researchers who perform the work are trained to read body language and understand the importance of what the subjects are saying and what they are leaving unsaid.

"We get to the real root of what somebody's trying to say," she says.

When Cult representatives discovered that clients thought of Quantum Health employees as people who would fight for them, the marketing firm came up with the idea of the "Warrior Creed."

The creed helps employees understand their role in helping customers, making them feel empowered and valued. The principle has become a key element in employee training, Trott says. It also shapes the message employees share with customers.

"You're not alone," she says. "We will be with you every step of the way."

This message resonates with customers and it's exactly what Trott was looking for when she sought marketing help. She wanted an emotional connection.

"My experience is that-in spite of what people say-they make decisions with their hearts. And then, they rationalize them with their hearts."

Trott continues to rely on Cult Marketing to help her and her team stay on message. She believes the firm helped her get to the heart of what her message needed to be and that it will continue to work for Quantum Health. "This has a lot of legs," she says.

Cult has varying levels of relationships with clients. Sometimes clients rely on the Columbus-based company to implement the marketing plan. Cult's larger, national and international clients tend to have someone else put their suggested plans into action.

On its website, Cult promises to "disrupt" and develop "unexpected ideas."

McIntyre and Linnick Weisman acknowledge that the company's strategy may not be for everyone. "If you want the status quo, you probably don't want us to do this," he says.

Melissa Kossler Dutton is a freelance writer.