So we started on an ambitious campaign to completely reinvent membership of Essex SU and the solution came from our members - something that could be handed down between generations of students - the SU heirloom.
The heirloom is a revolutionary, tangible way of showing membership and increasing engagement.
It's a unique, customisable symbol of belonging to the Students’ Union family at Essex, something that you can keep, hold and wear.
It may look like a bracelet but it’s way more powerful than that.
Here's what happened when our members visited the heirloom house to get theirs...
Every single SU Heirloom has been commissioned especially for students and hand-crafted by an artisan jeweller.
You can't get them from anywhere else, and they're exclusively for Essex students.
Each heirloom has a unique number. This number is a unique membership number for the SU and shows our members that they have an equal stake in everything we do together.
Heirlooms are totally customisable. You choose what your heirloom looks like, what charm you get and what you want it attached to - customise it to suit your personality.
We don't have a big box already made and waiting to go, every single heirloom is put together by hand as it's requested so it's extra special.
Here's the really cool bit - when our members graduate, they keep their heirloom but pass the number down to a student that’s starting at Essex as they’re leaving.
They get the chance to share their stories, tips and advice with this student - whatever will help them succeed at Essex.
Over time we’re building generations of past and present Essex students, a network that can help each other get jobs, start businesses, lead research or change the world.
Because we believe that together we can achieve amazing things.
After months of work creating the heirloom, we didn't want to simply hand them out - we wanted to make the point of becoming a member of the SU special, even magical.
So we built a huge heirloom house, right in the middle of campus. It was deliberately mysterious, with no way of seeing what happened inside.
Once through the front door we took students on a journey through three distinct rooms, immersing them in our story and exciting them about the incredible potential of what we can achieve together.
Then, in the final room came the emotional bit - we chose to start our relationship with members in the same way that we'd start a relationship with anyone we care about, by listening, getting to know what mattered to them and seeing how we could help - that's 3,700 heartfelt conversations between members and the SU, complete with laughter, tears and inspiration.
And then the magic - from a secret hole in the wall appeared each students' heirloom, made to their exact specifications, ending the journey through the house with a childlike sense of wonder.
Over 150 SU staff and volunteers worked in the house. In eleven days 3,700 students journeyed through the heirloom house. 3,700 students immersed themselves in the SU story. 3,700 students customised their heirloom to provide a treasured, personal connection to the SU.
In our key target audience of first years, membership awareness rose by 106%, international students' awareness rose by 77%, and in Postgraduate Research students (traditionally one of our hard-to-reach groups) awareness went up by an incredible 83%.
The heirloom had a direct impact on the SU's key benchmark measure; their overall Net Promoter Score rose by an unprecedented 43 points (or 57%) for students that collected an heirloom. For EU students the impact was even more pronounced, rising by 54 points (67%).