About Unite

Unite the Union is one of the UK’s biggest and most established trade unions, representing over 1.4 million members, across 20 diverse industry sectors.

Operating across the UK and Northern Ireland, Unite campaign to improve the lives of members, and protect their employment rights.

Homepage design.

Challenge

Reading Room has been working with Unite for over 8 years. Initially, we were approached to architect, build, and deliver a sustainable and secure enterprise-level CMS website. Unite needed a system that would allow over 100 content editors to manage different parts of the site and maintain its sector-leading content.

During a Discovery phase, we gained an excellent understanding of the organisation and in-depth insight into their short, medium, and long-term objectives. Our relationship expanded during the project and we soon moved on to working in partnership with the communications and campaigns team. Together, we worked to analyse the performance of the Unite website, and in a process of continual optimisation, recommended and implemented changes that help Unite deliver against its objectives and improve the experience for its site users.  

More recently, a review of Unite’s digital requirements highlighted the need to replace its legacy CMS. Having supported the digital team for many years, we were well placed to advise and help Unite plan a new digital strategy for the future.  

We know that big membership organisations have large and vocal stakeholder groups, which often presents challenges when managing change. We helped the digital team present a considered case for the change in strategy, allowing them to promote the benefits of this strategic shift to the wider organisation. 

The major challenges at that time were: 

  • The websites features, content, and language had become too internally focused 
  • Its proposition had grown overly complex while trying to cater to the needs of several stakeholder and user groups
  • Membership registration had become a complex and cumbersome process 
  • Siloed teams prevented or slowed decision making  
  • Key technology, such as the CMS at time of review, was not fit for purpose 
  • The Unite team felt they didn’t have enough resources to reach their goals or prioritise future effort 
  • The legacy website lacked a consistent focus, making it hard to capture and measure a holistic view of progress
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Approach

We worked with the digital team to build a strong case for a renewed focus on users, and a wider forward-thinking digital strategy.

Our objective was to achieve organisation-wide consensus for the new website, which had a contemporary look and feel, a streamlined user journey, clearer calls to actions, and a greater purpose for the user. 

Our recommendations needed to be based upon sound evidence if they were to be widely accepted and adopted. To build a data-driven case we conducted user and stakeholder research to prove the need for change. 

We interviewed over 40 members of the Unite staff from a broad range of roles and engaged Unite’s regional teams in workshop sessions to capture their frustrations and pain points. The workshops further helped to inform our recommendations and align stakeholders around clear actions.  

We quickly identified a need to start the user journey much earlier than had been thought previously.   

We created personas to help illustrate the different stages of both union and Unite brand awareness, and we identified challenges that existed in ongoing engagement with existing members.  

A thorough review of both the information architecture and the content enabled us to recommend a much cleaner UX and UI, with streamlined navigation, minimising internal jargon which was perceived as confusing to potential members. 

Following a CMS section process, we recommended Umbraco as a perfect fit for Unite’s requirements. Umbraco provided an open-source solution with all of the content editor experience Unite required, and the flexibility and scalability required to adapt and grow with the future needs of the organisation.   

Ensuring maximum stakeholder buy-in for the new platform, during development we attended the Unite Conference. Together with the digital team, we demonstrated prototypes and user journeys to key regional champions and super users. 

Our findings were presented back in a report which recommended a new focus and direction that supported the aims and objectives of the regional and national teams while reiterating Unite’s overarching aim; to attract new members.

Our ongoing work with Unite has seen us develop a clear strategy for membership using digital as its primary platform for growth – a huge internal shift for the organisation.  

Mobile view of member benefits.

Outcomes

Over the years we have developed a deep understanding of the challenges the Union faces at an organisational level. By introducing a user-centric approach, informed by data and research, we have been able to win over the hearts and minds of internal stakeholders. 

This alignment enabled us to deliver a digital platform, built on insight, starting from the very beginning of the user journey, and answering the key question: ‘why join a union?’ with a clear proposition and message. 

We saw a 33% increase in online membership applications following the launch of the new platform and continue to see month-on-month increases to Unite’s sign-up rate.  

We are retained as Unite’s digital consultancy and continue to iterate and enhance features, delivering ongoing development and search optimisation. We also provide specialist marketing support for the communication and campaign teams with monthly reporting, search optimisation, and PPC campaigns. 

Right now, we’re working on projects that include moving toward a more streamlined membership joining process, integrating systems with a third-party CRM provider, as well as ongoing technical support, cloud hosting, and continued digital design direction.   

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