With agencies getting more project-based work than ever, it’s increasingly important for strategists to be writing more robust creative briefs that get creative teams up-to-speed quickly.

Strategists today are moving more swiftly from brand-to-brand and category-to-category, so data and research is exceptionally critical to educate yourself the right way.

We spoke to 10 agency creatives to better understand how they felt about the role of data in the creative briefing process today, and how best to approach it.

Here, we’ll outline the key steps to being more data-driven with your creative briefs, with a downloadable template for you to do it yourself.

Why write data-driven creative briefs

Beyond the accepted reality that data helps to give you a more accurate picture of your consumer, which leads to better insights, here’s why you should incorporate more data into your briefs:

1. Your creatives actually want you to use data.

There’s a common misconception that creatives are allergic to data. While they don’t want numbers for numbers sake, having well-crafted, data-driven insights within your brief shows them that you’ve done your homework.

Matt Tarulli, Creative Director at mcgarrybowen, explains why incomplete briefs put the creative team’s process on hold: “When creative briefs come without data, it forces us to go digging for information on our own. And frankly, that’s a waste of time.”

“It’s best to have the data upfront so we can shape it into an idea.”

2. Ideas supported by data are easier to sell to clients.

While many creative presentations include data to justify the big idea, this data is often pulled after the development of the idea as a means of supporting it.

Isvel Rodriguez-Nerey, Executive Creative Director & Principal at VIVO360 believes leveraging data correctly within the creative briefing process can help to sell work through later down the line.

In his words, “Great, insightful research could always help drive whatever the big idea is from a creative perspective. Not to mention that data can also help you validate your creative recommendation.”

3. Ideas supported by data win awards.

Having creative ideas driven and supported by data doesn’t just improve the process of developing a campaign.

This strong foundation often leads to great ideas that are easier for your agency to shop around on the awards circuit.

Lucy Downs, Senior Art Director at Big Spaceship speaks from experience when she says the research part should be enjoyable.

“I’m not saying that I represent the majority of creatives but I actually love data, and I think a lot of young creatives feel the same way”, she says. “A lot of the time what makes an idea or an insight much stronger is a compelling data point – it’s something I’m constantly searching for.”

“A strong stat rationalizes all good creative and it’s something we see time and time again picking up the top awards at Cannes and D&AD.”

Tips for using data in creative briefs

In talking with creatives, they provided a few pieces of advice for strategists as they’re developing data-driven creative briefs:

1. Use data to inspire, not dictate.

Ensure that you’re using data as a means of discovering new opportunities, not limiting them.

Creating small fenced-in areas for your creatives will hurt both the work and the working relationship.

Daniel Asulin, Associate Creative Director at Drumroll cautions against this: “If the data is comprehensive and results in some open-ended territory, that’s awesome. We prefer that to whims and assumptions made by the strategist that aren’t based on anything.”

“But let it set the tone, not trap thinking. After all, there’s no data on what’s yet to be done.”

2. Make data the supporting character, not the hero.

While data and research are largely welcome by your creatives and expected by your clients, they should never be the focus.

Insights should be the protagonist of your briefs, data is simply there to help tell the story. Zoe Bell, VP, Group Creative Director at Digitas reinforces that insights should be the focus not data.

“I’m happy if the brief has data that reveals an actual insight”, she says.

“If it’s just the data, then it’s not helpful for creatives. We have to be able to understand what the data means.”

3. Allow creatives to co-create your research plan.

Meet with your creative team prior to the brief writing process to understand what questions they have.

This will ensure you’re not spinning your wheels on information that won’t be helpful, and focusing on territories that can really help to guide them.

Matt Tarulli, Creative Director at mcgarrybowen agrees: “I’d rather be involved in the creation of the brief earlier on so that I can ensure the data and insights provide more fertile ground for ideas.”

A guide to writing data-driven briefs

We’ve designed a ready-made, data-driven creative brief template for you to download. Here are some tips and tricks on how to gather the data and research to fill it out:

Identifying the challenge

Client briefs often come from an idealistic place, lacking the challenging realities of the landscape and the consumer tension necessary to create truly meaningful work. Data can be helpful in filling this gap between what the brand is trying to do and external factors.

Using GlobalWebIndex to identify the challenge

Uncover insights about the consumers’ attitudes and preferences that present a conflict for your client.

  • Use Audience Builder in the platform to develop an audience that reflects the target.
  • In Chart Builder, select your audience and start looking through the data, searching for data points where your audience has both a high ‘audience %’ and a high ‘index.’
  • Under ‘attitudes’ explore what beliefs your consumer has that may not align with your client’s business, brand or product.
  • Under ‘marketing touchpoints’, explore their drivers of ‘brand advocacy’ and ‘brand role in consumer’s life’ to identify things they look for in brands that your client does not necessarily deliver on.

Other ways to do it

Leverage social listening to identify how consumers talk about the brand or category currently in ways that don’t align with the client brief. If you don’t have a social listening tool, go to Reddit and search for threads and communities that are having in-depth discussions around this topic area.

Tap into third-party published research on the category. If you don’t have access to these resources, try Googling the name of your category followed by ‘research PDF’ to find academic papers and industry white papers on the topic.

Ask the client. Often, they have data and research on brand perception or category behaviors they haven’t shared with you because they didn’t necessarily know you needed it. We won’t repeat this over and over again, but it’s a critically helpful step in fleshing out all components of the brief.

Learning the brand and product

While the client may provide you with background on the brand, the product, and the key messages, often this only reflects the side of the story they want to tell.

It’s important to take into account the reality of how the product and brand is received within the marketplace, and what the consumer cares about most.

Using GlobalWebIndex to shape brand and product insights

Prioritize your client’s benefits and potentially uncover who’s engaging with their brand currently. Data within the ‘marketing touchpoints’ section of Chart Builder can be helpful in prioritizing the key benefits that the brand or product provides.

  • Within ‘brand discovery / engagement’, explore the benefits that your target consumer looks for from brands, then identify how this aligns with the benefits of your client’s brand or product.
  • If there’s an ecommerce component of the brief or your client’s business, the ‘online purchase drivers’ data underneath ‘online purchase journey’ can be helpful in prioritizing lower funnel benefits.
  • If your brand is available within the ‘brand’ data set, you can create an audience of individuals that are aware of or engage with your brand, and identify their demographics and psychographics. This can help create an understanding of who the brand is reaching currently as a baseline for whether this is aligned or misaligned with the target. 

Other ways to do it

Identify review sites where people are discussing your client and look at what’s driving two and four star reviews. One and five star reviews are often too polarizing, and this middle ground will provide more balanced insight into what people like and don’t like.

Use search analytics tools like Answer the Public to identify what terms or questions consumers are using surrounding your client. Understanding the questions consumers are hoping to answer may provide insight into the important messages to convey.

If your client has given you access to their owned social media channels, use this to identify the types of content and messaging that is working and not working for them.

Even if the brief isn’t social-specific, this will provide great insight into how consumers connect with the brand. If you don’t have access to their social channels, tools such as FanPageKarma provide this data at low prices, and typically have free trials.

Contextualizing the category

Providing a snapshot of the competitive landscape within your creative brief helps contextualize your client’s brand in terms of industry trends and overall performance. This allows you to properly help them fill whitespaces through differentiation and gain relevance through cultural significance.

Using GlobalWebIndex to contextualize the category

Analyze awareness, engagement, and behaviors within your category. Begin by assessing what information in the platform is relevant to your category. Here are some key places to look for information about various categories:

  • Identify whether or not your brand is available within GWI Brand.
  • If your client has a website or app, the ‘web brands visited’ and ‘apps’ sections will respectively act as a source of competitive benchmarking.
  • Within ‘attitudes & lifestyles’, many of these subsections will help to illuminate behaviors within particular categories.
  • ‘Purchase behavior and intention’, may help you illuminate purchase behavior surrounding various categories.

You can analyze this data, both as an input (e.g., build an audience that has an affinity for your brand, competitors, and/or category), or to understand how your target and/or the general population respond to questions about your brand or category.

Other ways to do it

Consider implementing an RSS reader within your organization such as Feedly, which will allow you to collect blog posts and articles from various firms into organized boards.

To understand the growth of various brands and category trends, Google Trends allows you to plot the rise and fall of various search trends over time. This can help you contextualize the direction of the industry and the performance of various competitors in the space where no other data is available.

Understanding the target

It’s critical for a strategist to paint a picture of who the target consumer is, what they care about, and what motivates them––both inside and outside the category.

Often, audience targets from the client can be too broad, too vague, or simply uninspiring. Using data to get a deeper understanding of your target can help you to arrive at strong consumer insights that can drive a brief.

Using GlobalWebIndex to understand the target

Paint a picture of your target consumer while sharpening the point on the driving insight.

  • Having a full picture of a target’s demographics and psychographics will help you to introduce this group to your creative teams in a meaningful (and accurate) way.
  • Dive into the audience you’ve built out that reflects your client’s target and begin to fill in the holes. While not all of this will end up in the brief, it can help inform everything from how you shape your insights to the images you choose to include within your presentation.
  • Once you feel like you have a good understanding of who they are and what their lives look like, begin to build out the story that leads to your driving insight. There is no magic bullet way to go about this, and the approach to getting here will look different for every brief.
  • I recommend grabbing a stack of sticky notes and writing down all of the interesting findings about this audience and moving them around, crumbling some up, and combing others in order build out a data-driven narrative.

Other ways to do it

Other passive research methods and tools can complement your more robust survey data. Social audience data is one of them. If you have access to your clients’ owned social media channels, you can get high-level insight into who their existing followers are.

If you don’t have access, freemium tools such as Followerwonk (Twitter) and HypeAuditor (Instagram/YouTube) will give you some insight.

While most published research will often be too general for a brand’s specific target audience, there is an opportunity to use third-party research to supplement your findings.

GlobalWebIndex publishes over 100 reports and infographics a year with the latest insight into a huge number of audiences, markets and industries to get you trained up fast.

Websites like Pew Research also offer data free of charge on a wide variety of consumer groups.

Defining deliverables and guidelines

While defining set deliverables and developing too many guidelines early on in the process can be constraining to the big idea, it’s helpful to define an ecosystem of reality that your creatives can play within to be set up for success.

Using GlobalWebIndex to define deliverables and guidelines

Identify the media behaviors and channels more prominent to your consumer:

  • If you don’t have access to the client’s media plan, exploring the ‘media consumption’ section may lend insight into where your client might ultimately spend their money. Understanding whether your ads are on MTV or Discovery Channel, The New York Times or BuzzFeed, will help create a more illustrative media ecosystem for your creatives than simply dictating that you need a TV spot and banner ads.
  • If the client hasn’t yet built out a media plan and is looking to you for a communications strategy, this is your opportunity to understand where the consumer spends the most time and develop a deliverables list. Throughout ‘media consumption,’ ‘social media,’ and ‘online activities & behaviors’ you can capture insight into where they are specifically spending time to decide where you want to capture them.
  • Lastly, the ‘brand’ section can help lend insight into the types of brands they have an affinity for in other categories. With some deeper exploration, you can unpack what’s driving effectiveness for the brands they love the most, which can allow you to create some guidelines for your creatives.

Other ways to do it

If there are digital or social components of the brief, review the resources provided by the specific platforms your ads will be running on.

For example, Facebook has extensive resources available for marketers to constantly stay on top of the most effective ways to be advertising on their platform.

Begin an initiative within your strategy team to collect a database of best practices, guidelines, and case studies for various platforms or industries. If your company uses a messaging platform such as Slack, create channels specifically dedicated to collecting these learnings.

The big takeaways for small agencies

  1. Carve out more time within the process to develop more in-depth and robust creative briefs that give teams a better in-depth understanding of the category.


  2. Invite your creative team to participate in the development of your brief, asking them what questions you can help to answer for them, filling gaps in understanding.


  3. Show the research and rigor that went into the development of the creative brief. Great data can help improve the trust of both your creative teams, the clients, and awards judges.


  4. Use your data-driven creative brief as an opportunity to unlock opportunities, not dictate or put your creative teams into a box.


  5. Educate yourself on the tools at your disposal and how they can work together to tell a meaningful story. Take the time to understand the methodology so you can get the most out of them.
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Written by

Devon is the Founder and CEO of First & First Consulting, a boutique strategy and analytics consultancy. Her firm helps brands such as Facebook, Netflix, Estée Lauder, and Nike uncover data-driven insights that inform brand, marketing, and product innovation strategies. She founded the firm in 2016 with the vision of leveraging innovative techniques and best-in-class technology to streamline the path to insights. Prior to starting the firm, Devon spent 10 years in the advertising industry as both a strategist and analyst at agencies such as BBDO and Ogilvy. First & First Consulting is a WBENC-Certified Women's Business Enterprise.

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