Once considered a novel product feature or merely a marketing tactic, “sustainability” has become a mission upon which entire companies are founded. Instagram is brimming with successful sustainability-first brands and last year the fashion search engine Lyst tracked more than 100 million searches to find a 47% increase in shoppers looking for items that have ethical and style credentials—with several sustainable brands ranking in the top 10 most searched categories for the first time ever.

With green marketing inundating our social feeds, why do some brands connect while others get lost in the shuffle? We recently explored our own sustainable brand choices to uncover what made them stick. A few themes emerged.

Comfy Basics with a Mission

Examples: Allbirds sneakers, Girlfriend Collective activewear, Rothy’s shoes

The Offering: Stylish, comfortable apparel made from recycled or all-natural materials

Marketing Challenge: Minus a buzzy designer, these startup fashion lines have no intrinsic cache and they aren’t priced to compete with quantity-focused fast fashion, so the marketing has to do a lot of work.

Why it Works: There’s always a quirky, fun, cool factor—but far from trendy (and wasteful) fast-fashion lines, these brands are more like the casual-fine-dining of the fashion world. The aesthetic is all about everyday comfort and a laid-back attitude, but delivers a high-quality product that’ll pay for itself in time—and it just happens to benefit the planet. It feels good in every sense of the word.

Why We Buy It: “I was searching for the perfect “non-sneaker” sneaker. Allbirds fit the bill and then some. They are incredibly comfortable, machine washable (I have an 18 month old), and the recycled materials story sealed the deal.”—Melissa, on her new honey colored runners

Pure, Safe, and Sometimes Tasty

Examples: Primally Pure deodorant, Tom’s of Maine natural personal care, and Grove Collaborative cleaning products

The Offering: Healthy products that are gentle on you and the Earth, with natural ingredients you can trust in your home, and a mission of giving back

Marketing Challenge: There has long been a stigma about the efficacy of natural products when it comes to cleaning or personal hygiene, but as consumer concern for safety increases, so does the market share for natural products. Assuming it’s a quality product, the challenge is to convince that first-time customer that a product is worth trying. Often times a single, star product can make a devotee of skeptical buyers, so the more buzz the better.

Why it Works: An inexpensive, buzzy entry point (like Primally Pure’s deodorant or Tom’s toothpaste) is a low risk way for consumers to test drive a brand. If it’s an impressive product, they’ve earned trust and customers are more comfortable forgoing research before purchasing from them the next time—making it safer AND easier. Bada bing bada boom—customer for life.

Why We Buy It: “I buy my toiletries (specifically deodorant and toothpaste) from them. I initially liked that they, allegedly, don’t have as many nasty chemicals. For the most part, I now buy the toothpaste because I prefer the taste. All the other major brands are cloyingly sweet.”—Jonathan, on how he became a Tom’s of Maine lifer

Corporate with a Conscience

Examples: Outdoor gear and apparel brands Patagonia, and REI Co-Op

The Offering: Craftsmanship, great design, and a quality-over-quantity attitude with corporate responsibility baked into the brand DNA

Marketing Challenge: The outdoor adventure market is notoriously difficult to please, with quality, authenticity, and conscientious business practices high on their list of shopping considerations. They want the best quality, doing the most good, and they don’t want a lot of it.

Why it Works: These brands were created by people who shared the same passions as their customers and they built their companies from the ground up on principles of environmental and social responsibility—not an afterthought, so customers trust what’s on offer. Both Patagonia and REI embrace an anti-consumerism attitude, respectively having luck with their campaigns “Don’t Buy This Jacket” and “#OptOutside”, and they’re renowned for their extremely laid-back company cultures. They don’t just walk the walk, they invented a better way of walking.

Why We Buy It: “I’m a very loyal customer of REI because of their stewardship practices, diversity policy, green practices, great products, and kick-ass return policy. I’ve purchased many outdoor items from them—clothing, gear, shoes, gifts.”—Carrie, on her REI devotion

Eating Your Green

Examples: Trader Joe’s and grocery deliverers Thrive Market and Imperfect Produce

The Offering: Affordable groceries with an emphasis on organic, minimizing food waste and plastic packaging, and making healthy food accessible to all

Marketing Challenge: There’s a perception that grocery delivery is a luxury and more expensive than brick-and-mortar retail. And since delivered groceries come with a delivery fee their products need to be priced competitively. Furthermore, ecommerce is associated with creating more waste—not less—so delivery grocers need to carry the sustainable thread throughout every touchpoint to not come off disingenuous with customers. The Trader Joe’s challenge is to maintain they’re legendary low pricing whether they’re in Topeka or NYC. Their strict pricing model puts a firm cap on price per square foot they can pay for their retail spaces, which can limit their options when opening new stores.

Why it Works: They all make you feel like you’re getting something special, high-quality, and at a discount. Even more, you feel good about shopping with them. Imperfect Produce highlights the absurdity of grocery store beauty standards imposed on produce, which lets consumers feel like they’ve outsmarted the system and reduced food waste. When you buy an annual membership to Thrive Market for $60, you get access to their healthy goods at 25-50% off grocery store prices and a family in need gets a membership for free. Trader Joe’s makes eating healthy affordable, while consistently rolling out new sustainability initiatives from food donations to packaging improvements. Their products are unique, 80% house-branded, and the stores are fun, which helps people justify going out of their way to shop there.

Why We Buy It: “Access and affordability are deeply important to the conversation around sustainability. Having conservation options at every geographic, income, and socio-economic level helps to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to do their part no matter the limitations they face.” —Nicole O’Neal on why it’s important to support accessibility

Green marketing isn’t about inundating your audience with a laundry list of your good deeds. It’s about providing a great product with a mission that resonates with your customers. “We’ve found that the more data you give, the more you alienate and overwhelm,” Lily Cole explained of sustainability marketing in fashion at last year’s Copenhagen Fashion Summit.

By meeting consumers where they are with a clear, concise message and a simple course of action (buy this product), conscientious consumption becomes a fun and easy perk of shopping. And it gives customers a story to tell that not only spreads the word about the brand they support, but the brand’s mission.

We can help communicate your brand’s mission to consumers in a way that’s intriguing, simple to understand, and resonates with your audience. Drop us a line to find out how Pivot can progress your brand and your mission.