Orangetheory: Driving Loyalty Through Gamification

Nov 1, 2019

When you ask people to list the loyalty programs they are part of, their gym membership is not likely to be top-of-mind. For many, gym memberships are personal money pits fueled by hopeless optimism and unreliable discipline. There is, however, a crop of new gym and fitness studio models that have transcended the money pit- falls for their members. These new models are driving cult-like levels of loyalty and Orangetheory Fitness (OTF) is one of them.

Founded in 2010, OTF has grown to 1,000+ locations worldwide and has over 600,000 members. These members pay between $99 and $300 per month to run, row and lift their way to better physical and mental health. If you didn’t know better, you would think that the founders of OTF were loyalty veterans. They tap into many, if not most, of the effective practices used in some of the best loyalty programs out there.


It all starts with a heart rate monitor… This one mechanism starts the member on their way. In all OTF classes, your monitor is connected to large TVs around the studio, reminding you, and others, of how hard you are working towards your goals. It is the perfect combination of gamification and leader boarding.

There are five color-coded heart rate zones (think tiers). The orange zone is key. If you leave a class with 12 minutes in the orange zone (84-92 percent of your maximum heart rate), you tap into a physiological phenomenon that will keep you burning calories for up to 36 hours post-workout. These orange zone minutes are called splat points and 12 splats per class is the first goal of each member. OTF has an app that is embedded in the experience. The app contains the outcome of all your workouts in one place and helps you create your workout schedule. Immediately after every class you are emailed with the summary of your workout.


  • Every good loyalty program should be clear about the goals and rewards for its members.
  • The display of progress towards goals should permeate all communications and the member should be enticed to want to earn the next level of reward.
  • Emails should focus on progress towards goals and should be sent immediately after every interaction with the program.


The visual reminder of where you stand throughout the workout is powerful. A member can’t fool themselves into thinking they are doing better than they are, as the heart rate monitor doesn’t lie. But, what makes OTF even more aspirational is that as you become more conditioned, getting those splat points becomes harder and harder, creating a never- ending fitness journey. This system appeals to people at every level of fitness. There are newcomers who haven’t worked out in years working out right next to the person who is in the best shape of their life.

OTF takes aspirational goals even further than the heart rate monitor itself. Throughout the year, OTF will have what they call Benchmark Days. These benchmarks show how you are doing versus your prior benchmark and help you understand how you compare to others in your age range. Examples of benchmarks are 100-, 200- and 1,000-meter rows or how fast you can run a mile.

More than Benchmark Days, Orangetheory has an ongoing set of promotions to keep the average member interested and pushing for more. Hell Week is a yearly promotion where members have to make it through five out of eight workouts that are designed to be more difficult than all the others. Members get a t-shirt for completion and those t-shirts are worn with pride throughout the year. Bi-annual marathon challenges encourage members to sign up to run a marathon over a series of classes. Each time a member completes their run during a class, they track how far they ran and try to reach a marathon distance over the promotional period. Trick is—the classes are designed to make it so that members have to go to more sessions to reach the target.


  • Have goals for members to achieve; make them aspirational and time-based
  • Use leaderboards to drive increased behavior
  • Send out promotions and deliver tangible rewards to show achievement


One of the most surprising aspects of OTF is the community it creates. With six to eight classes per day and four to six coaches teaching, you wouldn’t think the average member would know anyone well… but they do. Partner workouts, where people can be paired with other members, happen regularly. There are group bike rides that you can sign up for, happy hours to attend, auctions held for charity and a vibrant social media page with posts about member accomplishments. In total these all create connections to other members in meaningful ways.

OTF understands that their members are like-minded people who care about fitness, and they exploit that connection in the best ways. Engaging members outside of the activity that made them a member is what makes the community meaningful.


  • Create emotional community bonds among members through benchmarking and leaderboards
  • Deliver content and experience to like-minded members that bond them to a bigger group
  • Social media with interesting content keeps members engaged

As loyalty programs move from being programmatic to experiential, looking at tangential programs allow loyalty marketers to envision opportunities beyond the traditional methods of engagement. As we move throughout our busy days, notating brands that capture our attention allows us to think through the fundamentals of engagement in this digital world.

Learn more about non-traditional ways to enhance your loyalty program in our Kobie Review: Non-Traditional Loyalty Programs.