Orangetheory Could Dig Deeper

With their onboarding emails...

When I was at the Club Industry event in Chicago this past October, I had one vendor I wanted to see above all: Emma. They’re the only low-cost Email Service Provider (ESP) I know that specifically markets itself to gyms. As such, they live in the crosshairs of my world.

After some chit-chat about how gym owners are slow to understand email marketing, the Emma team recommended I check out Orangetheory’s email game. I’d already submitted my testing email addy to one of their clubs so I followed up by testing another club. This is what I found from those two tests...

Orange Theory is doing a few things well, starting with one particular bone of contention.


Not one single phone call came to me from either Orangetheory after signing up for trials via their online portals.

Not. A. One.

Slow tear of joy forms on Damon’s cheek.

I’ve never experienced that before. Gyms always call. A lot. 

They did other things right, which I’ll get into in a minute, but they’re still leaving money on the table. It has to do with missed on-boarding opportunities and the inevitable attrition that comes with running a recurring dues-based business. Email could be their hero. 

Let’s put a pin in that and dig into the Orange a bit.

Orangetheory Fitness

Orangetheory is a darling of two impassioned industries, the wearables market, and the fitness biz. They built their group-focused, less-aggressive alternative to Crossfit around a wearable heart rate technology. It looks like the idea is maturing with the technology too.

Just this week, I read that Orangetheory has started partnering with another goliath brand: Apple. They’re incorporating the Apple Watch into their program next so lookout wearables fans. Orangetheory is on pace to maintain dominance in its niche.

As of this writing, Orangetheory is #415 in Inc. Magazines “Fastest-Growing Private Companies” list and they are #255 in Entrepreneur magazine’s 2016 “Franchise 500” worldwide list. Started only 9 years ago, they already have 1,260 worldwide locations and several pro-athlete spokespersons. 

Needless to say, it’s a brilliant concept and a great brand. 

Getting into the Orange

To get in the Orangetheory game, these days, you navigate to their site and follow the prompts. The site will ask for your zip code and suggest the nearest club options.

You’ll get a list of classes to pick from, including instructor names in case you’re looking for a particular referral, and you pick what works best for you.

To get into the class, you’ll need to enter your deets. In this case, we’re talking more than your name, number, and email. Orangetheory also wants to know your birthdate and gender. Smart. They’re segmenting from the very beginning, which led me to expect more from their emails... but hang tight.

You have to agree to a liability release, certify that you’re a local, and opt-in to receive emails and texts for transactions and marketing. Great. More expectations.

This is where the progression gets a little tense.

You have to give them your credit card, even though there will be no charge. It’s because if you leave without returning the loaner heart rate monitor, they’ll charge you for it. Adding your card also reserves your spot in the class so you’re either in or you’re not.

It’s a digital hard-close.

What Comes (Came) Next

There were two facilities I tested: Sanford, FL, and Roseville, MN. I did not book a class for either as that would be mean since I live in Mexico. As such, there may be a more aggressive lead follow-up with bookers, but I’m unable to test for it.

Regardless, in both cases, I received a welcome email. Lovely.

This is where it seems that individual clubs have some autonomy. The two welcome emails looked wildly different from each other.

From the Sanford club, I received two welcome emails, one from Ashtyn, and another from Melanie. The Roseville club welcome email came from nobody. Sadly, there was no person identified in the tone or the closing, making it an impersonal message. [think: billboard-messaging]

With the Sanford emails, I wished that Ashtyn and Melanie would’ve identified their respective roles at their facility. They could’ve been members for all I could tell. Still, when and if I met them in person, I would’ve felt like we had a thin history.

Compared to the Roseville email, Sanford’s were less professional and definitely broke every rule of email marketing (too many links, mismatched fonts, colors, and generally a mess) but at least they were personalized.

This bit of copywriting detail, making the email from someone and to someone (me), is what makes an email... well, an email and not a billboard. 

The email from Roseville was much prettier, but I skimmed it. There was no sender; no willing suspension of disbelief as they call it in the movie biz.

That’s the condition in movies where the audience knows it’s an act, but they choose to go along with it because otherwise why bother sitting there?

As in, why care about an email from nobody? We know that welcome emails aren’t really from someone, scribed one-by-one, but we want to suspend our disbelief. We want the act. It makes us feel connected like we know someone over there now.

It may seem like small potatoes, but writing a welcome message (as well as many onboarding emails) as if they are from someone is everything in the email game. 

Squeezing out more opportunity

As fast as things started to get good with Orangetheory, they came to a bizarre and botty ending. Somewhere in the OT funnel, I was entered into a general newsletter flow. It was weird.

Now, semi-monthly, I receive a newsletter from Orangetheory. It’s beautiful, branded, and completely lost on me at this point.

After the initial welcome message, a few emails on the following would have helped make this newsletter more relevant:

  • The facility’s history
  • The brand’s story
  • Background on the club leadership
  • Team-member introductions
  • A member success story
  • Facility details
  • Social media follow invite*
  • Class Schedules

A few emails from someone at the club telling me about those services would’ve gone a long way to pulling me in tighter. *For a recluse such as myself, a pathway into virtual groups where I could meet people online before braving the actual facility would’ve abated many of my social anxieties.

The most common logic is that all of that info is on the site, which is true. Sorry, but I have some bad news for you... People don’t spend as much time on your beautifully designed site as you had hoped they would. They just don’t.

Websites are like digital welcome mats. We expect them, but they just sit there. Folks expect to find information about your business on your (super exciting but static) site. They just don’t expect to actually go looking for it there.

When presented to folks via their inboxes, however, that information suddenly seems more relevant. Aaand, it’s more relevant when it comes from a person at the business, indicated by the copy and the closing. 

Theory becomes a stronger practice

If you follow my standard commiserations, one of my biggest critiques of the fitness industry is the automatic barrage of phone calls made to any lead. That is to say, any lead foolish enough to hand over their real number. I have gyms that call me from a year ago. Really.

As mentioned in the beginning, Orangetheory passed my test on this. But, still... money on table. Prolly. It’s all about enrollment and attrition. Better email onboarding sequences could do some phenomenal work in this regard. We only need to look at the SaaS industry to see how emails can curb what they refer to as churn.

SaaS brands spend tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars on email marketing to reduce churn for one reason: it friggen works.

That’s nothing to say of Orangetheory’s re-engagement efforts, which I’ve not tested. I’d have to join and demonstrate high-risk behaviors to trigger any such emails. Based on what I’ve seen so far, I’m skeptical they have this in place or that it would even work if they did.

If a business hasn’t established a culture of email communication from the outset, any efforts to save a member in danger of attrition (like one who is not showing up to the gym) with win-back emails will be overlooked in the member’s inbox. It’s too late at that point.

And call me cynical, but part of me believes they didn’t call me for other reasons, not because it was strategic.

Due to their meteoric rise, Orangetheory might simply have not had the resources to call me. But, maybe they do get it. Maybe it was all done by design. If that was the case, I would’ve expected a more robust email onboarding sequence. 

If you’re gonna live in the post-phone-blow-up world, then you’ve gotta go all-in on the email marketing one.

I’m so pulling for the email route across the fitness industry. Ecommerce and SaaS are already there. Time to catch up. Orangetheory is already ahead of you.

 Damon Re Mitchell © 2021