Facing an increasingly fractured and fast-changing marketplace, companies are showcasing their social innovation credentials as a way to engage their customer communities and demonstrate the meaning and value they add to their lives. Strategically this is effective because the one thing that remains timeless in an timely marketplace is the story that a brand tells that serves as a compass to the company and its customers. Lets examine three powerful examples, each taking a different approach, and how they build awareness and profit for the brand.

In December of 2012 Google announced a new program called the “Global Impact Awards” to help jumpstart technology innovation in the nonprofit sector. Here’s how Jacquelline Fuller, Director of Giving at Google described it:

Today we’re launching the Global Impact Awards to support organizations using technology and innovative approaches to tackle some of the toughest human challenges. From real-time sensors that monitor clean water to DNA barcoding that stops wildlife trafficking, our first round of awards provides $23 million to seven organizations changing the world.

This program serves as an extension of a long standing brand narrative that started with Google’s ‘Do No Evil’ policy and was complemented by Google.org initiatives whose projects include Crisis Maps (used in the prediction of natural disasters).

In contrast, Dell’s Social Innovation Challenge announced last week is the world’s largest student social entrepreneurship competition. With over $350,000 in Prizes this year, it’s a platform and global community that catalyzes, trains and supports students to create solutions to some of the world’s biggest challenges. Yet like Googles Global Impact awards, Dell’s Challenge extends the core narrative of its brand, ‘The Power To Do More.’

Different again, is the latest initiative from Richard Branson and Virgin. Dubbed, B Team (B for Branson, perhaps), it’s a plan with a single purpose: to make business work better by shifting the focus from just financial gains, towards environmental and social gains as well. This is Richard Branson’s vision for a better version of capitalism and looks to large, private sector companies to do a better job of global stewardship.

No matter how the core narrative of a brand is brought to life – be it through the private sector, students or non-profits – all three companies are using social innovation to build their reputation, employee productivity and consumer engagement. Here’s how.

1. Each brand claims ownership of a core human property at the heart of the brand story Other examples include Coca-Cola – ‘Happiness’, Pepsi – ‘Refreshment’, Starbuck’s – ‘Shared Planet’, IBM – ‘Smarter Planet’ and so on.

2. In each case the contribution is framed around this core brand property to demonstrate the authenticity of their commitment and make the company meaningful to its customer lives.

3. Each social innovation efforts is framed as yet another chapter in a far longer brand narrative that drives customer loyalty and engagement over time.

4. That meaning drives loyalty in customers, encourages them to buy products and most importantly inspires them to talk about the brand using their own social media channels.

5. In doing so the more selfless strategy of giving reinforces the more selfish for-profit narrative of the brand so that ultimately both serve to build its bottom line.

6. Additionally, each commitment serves to re-earn trust lost since the global economic meltdown and shore up the company’s social license to operate in a world plagued by multiple global social crises.

By becoming a global steward that assumes responsibility for the well-being of its customers and their community, a brand can elevate itself above being merely yet another commercial enterprise to an important part of the fabric of society. The growing popularity of brand messaging framed around a company’s benefit to the community, the rise of sustainable practices and the growth of contribution strategies of all types demonstrate the private sector’s response to new consumer expectations for exactly detailed at length in Edelman’s 2012 GoodPurpose Report).

By identifying shared values with their customers, companies can not only inspire them to buy and promote their brand but also motivate them to co-create their services, products and marketing to achieve a common goal. This is when companies truly unlock the power of social technologies to connect and mobilize their customer community around the company’s mission and to serve as brand ambassadors that ensure the company’s future.