Data dilemma: What’s the best way for digital marketers to gather in-depth data?

by Georgia Alexandrou on Sep 3, 2021

The Nominal Group Technique is a viable market research alternative to surveys and focus groups, according to PhD neuroscientist and data expert Georgia Alexandrou.

Marketing 6 min read
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Central to the role of the modern-day marketer is the need to collect customer-based data such as attitudes to a particular brand, product, or service. As marketers, being able to influence a company’s decision-making process by providing in-depth insight into consumer behaviour and market trends is crucial.

Traditionally, such data collection might have typically involved a survey that would ask clients to indicate their preferences on a specific scale. The most common quantifiable way companies use to collect data from clients is with the use of traditional survey questionnaires.

A richer understanding of customer data

The design and distribution of questionnaires can be more cost effective and will provide data that can be easily analysed. Larger sample sizes can be used as it is easier to collect data online through emails. Additionally, you can send reminders and follow up emails to remind individuals to complete the questionnaire. Such ease does come with a price-surveys are less personal and less interactive, therefore data might not be in-depth.      

If you are interested in understanding what your clients and consumers think and feel about products and services, then a focus group would be a more suitable way of research. Focus groups provide the opportunity of capturing rich data and might even uncover ideas that would have been missed if questionnaires had been used. Here a representative group of clients is brought into a room and a discussion about a particular topic is facilitated in a semi structured fashion. The clear advantage of this approach is that it is easy to collect very rich data that will enable the development of an approach that can be generalised to real-world settings.

Time and money: the downside of customer focus groups

Focus groups do come with several limitations, one of which is how time consuming the analysis stage can be. Generally, transcripts of discussions need to be considered on a word for word basis and then some form of analysis strategy carried out. 

NOTE: A full discussion of the various types of analytic strategies is not the purpose of this blog and readers are more than free to interrogate additional material should they so desire. The reader should, however, bear in mind: The most significant issue arising from the use of focus groups is the fact that all interactions with participants should be transcribed verbatim. 

Despite transcription software there is still a need for a human operator to put significant effort into transcriptions – which can take anything up to several weeks and beyond. Clearly dedicating such a block of time to a single task is not conducive to an agile, responsive organisation.

However, it is possible to collect a rich qualitative data set from a diverse set of clients in a relatively short period of time and this technique is called the Nominal Group Technique (NGT).

A third way: How the Nominal Group Technique works

Originally developed in the early seventies, NGT is a structured alternative for facilitating small group discussions in order to achieve a consensus or plan a set of activities. Due to the discursive and democratic nature of the NGT technique, participation creates an effective balance between a friendly environment and the group members staying focused on the task at hand (Gallagher et al, 1993). 

Some scholars have argued that NGT is a more efficient means of analysing focus group data compared to more conventional qualitative techniques. It is also extremely time efficient as most sessions are completed within an hour and a half:

‘’Compared to the traditional focus group technique, NGT uses a more structured format to allow participants to analyse problems and arrive at solutions in a democratic manner.‘’ (Senior et al, 2018)

It also avoids making prior assumptions by avoiding using guided questions. Participants within each of the focus groups are presented with a single nominal prompt that is written down on a white board in the room e.g. “What are the top factors that will enable you to enjoy product X more?” They are then guided through their understanding of a particular prompt in a step-by-step process which begins with the participants being given 10 minutes to write down their ideas in response to the prompt (See below for a step by step procedure on how to carry out an NGT focus group). 

The facilitator then invites each of the participants to provide the rest of the group with their responses, which are recorded by the facilitator. This process allows each group member the chance to participate equally in a “round-robin” fashion. 

The facilitator then asks each participant to rank the importance of each of the responses. A shortlist of the most appropriate and relevant answers are then developed. This process is carried out by collating and removing any duplications. Participants are then asked to pick their top five as an individual. 

These ranking scores (a score of five for the highest ranked, and one for the lowest) are then collated by the facilitator while the participants have a short break. These collated scores are then gathered and the pattern of voting is discussed. This democratically driven process continues until the list cannot be reduced any further and all participants agree that responses are ranked in order of importance.

Table outlining the steps of the Nominal Group Technique.

Step

Mins

Activity

Greetings and scene setting

 

5

Group members are greeted and any questions they have addressed. Consenting carried out here. 

Nominal question is posed

 

10

The nominal question is presented to all participants, and each has an opportunity to clarify their understanding. 

Brainstorming 

10

Participants brainstorm all possible ideas and record  all ideas on sticky notes. This stage is completed silently by each participant. 

Sharing of ideas 

10

Each participant is invited to share their ideas to the rest of the group by the facilitator who records each on the white board. 

Clarification and clustering of ideas 

10

Each statement is read out by the facilitator and participants are invited to question any of the statements. If the group feels that statements are duplicated, then redundant statements are removed. 

Prioritisation 

5

Each of the participants are asked to prioritise the remaining statements in silence and then the facilitator records each statement on the white board. 

Voting

 

5

The facilitator secures the agreement of each participant with regards to the ranking of importance to each of the remaining statements. 

Ranking and agreement

 

5

The facilitator ensures each of the participants agrees with the final ranking of the statements, including the ranking of the top three. 

 

So, which method is best?

Although focus groups provide rich datasets, that does not mean that they are always the solution to a research question.

The research method should be carefully chosen to provide the most accurate and meaningful data that will answer the question of interest. If you are looking to get rich feedback about the thoughts consumers have about products, brands and services, then a focus group would be most valuable.

If you are looking to collect a large amount of data that are easier to analyse and are less personal and interactive, then questionnaires would be the most suitable research method.

Remember: Always keep in mind the question of interest and make sure to choose the most appropriate research method.

If you would like to understand how your customers think, feel and act and would like to talk to our experts about the best way to gather your data, get in touch at hello@cognitionagency.co.uk.

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Georgia Alexandrou

by Georgia Alexandrou
Sep 3, 2021

Georgia is completing her PhD in Sports Neuroscience at the University of Stirling. The focus of the PhD lies in utilising a mobile neuroimaging technique (Electroencephalography) to study sporting behaviour in real-world settings.