I have been considering joining a gym for a long time, but have been reluctant for a few reasons. Sure, the monthly cost is a consideration. As is the convenience of the dusty elliptical and treadmill in my basement. But mostly I’m turned off by the hard-sell approach used by gyms, and the fear of being locked into paying for something I may not end up using much. I know I’m not alone in that feeling, as this clip from “Friends” demonstrates when Chandler tries unsuccessfully to “quit the gym,”

I’m sure many of you have had similar concerns.

However, fear of monthly direct withdrawals aside, when my friend Jan shared a Facebook offer for a free session at OrangeTheory Fitness (OTF), I decided to give it a try. I heard good things about OTF from other people of similar age and fitness, and they all appear to enjoy it. So I checked my reservations at the door and stopped by to see what all the fuss was about.

In addition to being a guy who needs to lose a few pounds, I’m also a seasoned marketer, and I couldn’t help but be impressed by several things OTF did to improve my customer journey, such as:

  • Their entire system is based on monitoring my bio-metrics, and providing me real-time feedback on in-studio monitors
  • They also provide post-workout summaries via email and their mobile app, sharing my results from today, last week, last month, and all time
  • They have scripted, easy-to-follow workouts that are the same on a given day across the entire OTF network
  • The whole experience is a pleasant blend of high tech and high touch

For example, at my first session, I sat with OTF employee Emily, and she explained the whole OrangeTheory philosophy, as well as answered questions about what I can expect in the class. She also explained different membership options based on my goals and abilities. I was also impressed with the facility, with its rows of orange rowing machines and treadmills, lights and music. The whole place a vibrant feel. After Emily was finished with me, she personally introduced me to Kim, who was my first “coach”.

I then went into a class, and as the room filled up, I was pleasantly surprised to see my friend Jan there. As a newbie, I was slotted into “Station One” where it’s easier for the coach to observe and assist, and Jan was kind enough to stay by my side even though she was well beyond the beginners section. As I huffed and puffed through the class, Jan encouraged me, and her presence made the experience even better. I also recognized and said hi to a few other people I knew, enhancing the place’s sense of community and familiarity. They were all smiling and joking with each another, and the atmosphere was energizing. After my workout, Kim reviewed my metrics with me. Any feedback in the form of data makes me happy, so I left exhausted, but with a bit of a natural high.

Everyone I’ve spoken to about OTF has said “it’s great”. Jan has been a very vocal champion, telling me about how often she comes, and what to expect in the first couple of months.  The OTF studio, staff, and mobile app are all terrific, but the biggest factor that led to me joining was the advocacy of Jan. That’s how it usually works with cult brands. Many businesses have good value propositions, but cult brands always seem to benefit from above average word of mouth.

I’ve come to learn several aspects of OTF are engineered to get people talking –  such as a workout with instant feedback, rock star employees, a truly unique studio experience, and programs and pricing that are different than “the norm”.  Figuring out how to turn Dan’s into Jan’s is the real secret of cult-brand success. Cult brands spend less on mass media and markdowns, and spend more on exceeding specific expectations by consistently providing products, services, and customer experiences worthy of talking about.

I was impressed with my initial experience with OTF, and look forward to getting to know them better (assuming my sore muscles recover in time for my next workout.) Fortunately, all of you can experience their brand up close and personal at The Gathering this February when they are recognized as a Top Emerging Cult Brand of 2019. Their business performance has been unparalleled (one of the fastest brands to ever get to 1,000 locations) but I think you’ll be equally impressed by their culture and masterful marketing that seeks to convert customers into cult-like followers.