2020: A Year of Corporate Purpose

While companies have slowly begun to embrace corporate purpose over the last several decades, the events of 2020 dramatically accelerated this transition. In 2019, the Business Roundtable updated their definition of a corporation’s purpose to include doing right by all stakeholders rather than just shareholders. This new definition suggests that companies should take into account not just profits when making a decision, but also the implications for their employees, their communities, and their customers.

The COVID-19 pandemic repeatedly put this new definition of corporate purpose to the test as brands were pushed to do right by each of these groups while navigating extreme uncertainty. As a result, we saw a large number of brands stepping up in entirely new ways from offering employee mental health resources to leveraging their products to support frontline workers.

This push towards value-driven action and embracing corporate purpose continued throughout the entirety of 2020 as new challenges emerged. In the spring, Black Lives Matter protests erupted across the nation and brands were again called on to not only speak out, but also be part of creating positive change through hiring reforms and shifting internal policies. In the fall, the US Presidential election and peaceful transfer of power again presented a moment where brands were pushed to both speak out and take clear action, in this case suspending political donations.

It is now 2021 and there is light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel as vaccinations are distributed around the globe, but our challenges are far from over. Already in 2021, we’ve encountered moments of immense tragedy and crisis including mass shootings,  escalating anti-Asian violence and the opening of the George Floyd trial. 2020 raised the bar for how corporations are expected to engage in these moments and our research suggests this trend will only continue. Brands must be prepared to act authentically and consistently according to their corporate purpose both on a day-to-day basis and when difficult events emerge.

To learn more about corporate purpose in 2020 and gain insights into how brands stepped up to respond to pressing issues please read through our research findings here.