Birth of a Brand: The Story of Sonnet

18 Months from Zero to Revolution

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Friday, January 26, 2024, Pixel Dreams HQ was host to a very special presentation. Michael Shostak, one of our wizardly advisors, dropped by to deliver the latest edition of our FRIducation speaker series. Michael presented Birth of a Brand: The Story of Sonnet in which he shared key insights and groundbreaking strategies based on his experience as Sonnet Insurance’s first Chief Marketing Officer. Pixel Dreamers and members of our extended family got an unparalleled look under the hood of a multi-million dollar brand launch, followed by the rare opportunity to ask questions of one of the country’s most brilliant marketing minds.

Michael Shostak


The Genesis of Sonnet

Definity Financial (formerly known as Economical Insurance), a 150-year-old titan in the industry, was ready to set the stage for a revolution in the insurance sector with their first foray into the direct-to-consumer market. Michael Shostak, the company’s new Chief Marketing Officer, was on the team charged with the monumental task of creating a fully automated personal insurance platform. Guided by principles of clarity, boldness, and transparency, Michael and his team lived by the mantra “build the plane while flying it” as they stepped up to the challenge of introducing this revolutionary product to the market in just 18 months.


Sonnet Instagram Posts


Building the Brand

Michael and the team’s approach to brand building was holistic and visionary. Inspired by the best across industries, they aimed to emulate the customer experience of giants like Apple. Every detail mattered, and they would hire the very best at every step to achieve this vision. From the user interface to the customer service ethos, they maintained a passion for excellence and a deep respect for the customer experience. This approach was revolutionary in an industry often criticized for its opacity and complexity.


Sonnet TTC streetcar wrap


Key Strategies and Initiatives


You’ve got to know what you’re going to measure before you start building.

The strategic approach was multifaceted, targeting visibility and engagement through high-profile sponsorships with the Toronto Blue Jays, the World Cup of Hockey, Toronto FC and the Osheaga Music and Arts Festival, among others. A particularly bold move was the decision to avoid the word ‘insurance’ in early brand marketing materials, giving the brand an accessible and friendly voice. Each brand touchpoint emphasized customer delight over cost-saving, such as highly customized Instagrammable packaging for policy statements (despite the higher than normal cost). Michael emphasized the importance of establishing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) early on, developing a marketing analytics dashboard before creating the product, and enabling a culture of relentless measurement and optimization.


Sonnet bubblegum billboard


The Results (Year 1)

The results of these strategies in the first year were remarkable:

  • Sonnet achieved significantly higher than average ad awareness.
  • Aided brand awareness stood at 90%, a testament to the effectiveness of their advertising spend.
  • The brand was recognized as #1 in uniqueness within the industry.
  • Conversion rates from website visits to sales were nearly double industry norms.
  • Customer satisfaction scores were in the 70s, well above an average in the 50s and significantly higher than the 20s typical for banks and financial institutions.
  • Social monitoring revealed high levels of social media mentions.
  • National news coverage of the brand’s launch further amplified its reach and impact.
  • Remarkably, Sonnet became the fastest growing insurance brand in Canada in its first year, a testament to the success of its strategic initiatives.


Sonnet elephant billboard


Lessons Learned

The journey of Sonnet’s brand development and market entry offers invaluable lessons:

  • Have a Clear Vision
  • Keep culture in check
  • Surround yourself with greatness. Hire the best.
  • Be data obsessed
  • Take the long view
  • Sweat all the details
  • Be nimble on your feet
  • Test, measure, rinse, repeat

Sonnet’s first year is a case study in how clarity of purpose, strategic innovation, and a data-driven approach can disrupt traditional markets and set new standards for customer engagement and satisfaction. We at Pixel Dreams thank Michael for taking us step by step through such an inspirational journey. We look forward to implementing our learnings from this event in helping our clients reach their marketing goals.

The Author

Sean Ward
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