Orangetheory Fitness Lessons About Human Behavior and Entrepreneurial Success

Orangetheory proves that behavior science can create thousands of loyal, delighted consumers of burpees and hill sprints, so surely, the rest of us can learn from it.
Orangetheory Fitness Lessons About Human Behavior and Entrepreneurial Success
Image credit: Orangetheory Fitness
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I've got to be honest: I'm an Orangetheory Fitness junkie.

Orangetheory is a science-backed group fitness model that focuses on monitoring participants' heart rate during high-intensity interval training exercises to achieve the ideal metabolic workout. According to Fox News Health, sessions increase energy, tone the body and burn up to 1,000 calories.

Orangetheory has exploded in popularity over the past three years, the Huffington Post reports, and is practiced more than two million times per month. There are 400 Orangetheory U.S.-based locations alone, and many more in the works worldwide.

Related: Arizona Couple Helps Hundreds Burn Calories at Their 7 Orangetheory Fitness Studios

The Orangetheory workouts seem to me, as a member, to be incredibly effective, but their appeal goes beyond my dream of achieving arms comparable to Michelle Obama's. No, the real reason for my Orangetheory addiction stems from how well its mechanisms “hooked” me on an immediate, unconscious level and how they might be applied to business.

In fact, I believe entrepreneurs can learn from Orangetheory’s approach -- leveraging similar psychological drivers to lift their customers, and their companies, to the next level.

How Orangetheory can enhance the entrepreneurial experience

An obvious reason Orangetheory has become so popular is the intense, novel workout experience of each class. Another is its unique approach to selling an age-old product (fitness) by appealing to human behavioral motivators. The tactics keep customers of every body shape and fitness level engaged, satisfied and thirsting for more.

Understanding, in this way, how to play to the human psyche is a valuable goal for any business leader, especially in the early stages of business development. After all, determining what motivates customers and employees is a major contributor to business success.

That’s why entrepreneurs in every industry should take a page from Orangetheory’s behavior science book, considering business strategies such as:

1. Embrace the "Medium Effect." Orangetheory has become a phenomenon because it masterfully gamifies the workout experience. In each high-intensity interval workout, participants wear heart-rate monitors and track their stats on overhead screens.

Their goal is to reach the desired “orange zone” for at least 12 minutes, each one represented by a “splat point.” Earning 12 splat points “unlocks” up to 36 hours of post-workout metabolism “after burn.” Free calorie-burn! To me, all the fast-turning points, rounds and rewards make an Orangetheory class feel like an intense 53-minute video game (minus the luxury of sitting on my couch).

One explanation for why these point-based gamification systems are such powerful motivators could be the “Medium Effect.” In their research at the University of Chicago, Christopher Hsee and his associates demonstrated that when there’s a medium point between our effort and our goal, we have a bias toward maximizing the medium itself.

Related: Effectively Manage a Remote Team via Gamification

In this way, the “splat points” serve as a medium between our effort (panting on the treadmill) and our goal (fitness). “Fitness” is an ambiguous concept, so we focus on earning points and trust that have a linear relationship to fitness. Hitting our 12 points each day is a satisfying proxy for reaching our fitness goals.

Companies struggling with customer engagement should employ mediums such as points, badges or tokens that customers can accrue when they make a purchase or complete a task -- thereby motivating them to engage with the business. This is, in fact, the basic underlying mechanism of point-based loyalty programs, but the Medium Effect can also be applied inward, to motivate employees to engage with initiatives.

At Deloitte, for example, senior executives were failing to engage with a leadership training program, so the company introduced gamification into the mix, which measured how many execs were engaging in and finishing the courses. Within weeks,  an increase of almost 50 percent occurred in the number of daily users, according to Enterprise Gamification Consultancy.

2. Anchor your offering to a higher purpose. Most Orangetheory locations feature a glass partition that reads, “I burn for . . . ” -- prompting customers to scrawl colorful responses such as “Hawaii,” “class reunion” and (my personal favorite) “revenge.”

The invitation to write down a goal provokes something different in each person, but it universally transforms a dreaded workout session into an experience driven by a higher purpose. Another phrase printed above the treadmills encourages runners sweating their hearts out to “remember why you started” -- which returns our focus to our future dream body and away from the strain of the present.

As the leader of your company, you’re responsible for not only understanding what your customers need, but also why they need it. The best way to do this is to go straight to the source. Ask your customers to identify their current goals and pain points through ethnographic interviews and customer service calls. If they’re struggling to express their needs, challenges and general thoughts, consider utilizing attitudinal surveys to gauge their lifestyles and expectations.

In every touchpoint, link your product or service to a higher-order benefit that rings true to your customers’ goals and values. If you have an opportunity to customize messaging on an individual basis, all the better. According to the Harvard Business Review, research has shown that those emotionally  connected customers will be twice as valuable to your company as even their “highly satisfied” counterparts.

3. Create a tribe. “Orangetheory orange” isn’t just a brand signifier. It’s a team color. The blazing orange “splat” logo represents a tribal flag for the Orangetheory community. And when we see the logo on a bumper sticker or a hoodie, we know that that person is in our group -- a signal that taps in to our innate need to belong.

Consider a social psychology study that was published in a SAGE Publishing journal. It found that Manchester United fans were vastly more likely to offer helping hands to strangers who tripped and fell while wearing Manchester United T-shirts, versus unbranded ones. We are a tribal species, and we like to feel like we’re part of a team.

Orangetheory cultivates this same kind of tribal bond through a strong shared brand identity and an aggressive merchandise strategy. Each location has an extensive collection of attractive branded workout gear that rotates frequently and compels us to wear our group affiliation on our sleeve.

Focus on creating a community of your own to encourage brand evangelism. Founder Ellen Latham created a “specific language” to include the walkers, runners and joggers within the Orangetheory community. She knew this “eliminated that fear people have when they walk in, like, ‘Oh no, I’m not going to fit in here.’”

Related: Finding Employee Brand Evangelists

Similarly, Starbucks uses its own language to differentiate its brand experience and engender its cult-like tribal community. How might a “tribal language” approach bring your customers together in your brand environment?

In sum, Orangetheory isn’t popular because it’s novel and fun; it’s successful because it has been thoughtfully designed with our core behavioral motivators in mind. If such behavioral science tenets can create thousands of loyal, delighted gym members, what could they do for your business?

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