Orangetheory and Mirror Execs Compare Notes on Marketing Fitness’ Buzziest Brands

Kevin Keith and Eric Mandell share insights on everything from personalization to striking the perfect tone

Keith (l.), chief brand officer for Orangetheory Fitness, and Mandell, vp of marketing for Mirror, interviewed each other ahead of Brandweek: Challenger Brands. Orrangetheory, Mirror
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Orangetheory and Mirror are two of the buzziest brands working to shake up the roughly $32 billion U.S. fitness industry, per Statista. Ahead of our inaugural Brandweek: Challenger Brands summit in New York, we asked Eric Mandell, vp of marketing for Mirror (a futuristic, interactive workout experience using, you guessed it, a mirror that you can hang in your home), and Kevin Keith, chief brand officer of Orangetheory (a fresh take on class workouts), to interview each other. The two marketers discussed what it’s like to be challenger brands in the fitness space, how they approach technology, why personalization is key and more. The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Eric Mandell, Mirror: [Let’s talk about] different approaches to technology. With Mirror, it’s very straightforward. How have you thought about integrating technology to date and what your plans are for the future?

Kevin Keith, Orangetheory: With so much technology and connectivity in the world, at Orangetheory—with almost a million members strong—we have found success through a real, live experience. That being said, technology plays a crucial role in making that live experience that much richer. [We use] technology to enable greater personalization.

When you come into an Orangetheory studio, it’s a one-hour group personal training session. You’re going to have an Orangetheory [wearable device] attached to you, and it’s tracking your heart rate the whole time during the workout. Technology is tracking your level of effort. It’s a tool used to help coach you [in] real time while you’re in the studio.

We’ve [also] just released what we call OT Connect. It enables the member to come in and be able to have all their stats measured without them having to touch anything. We consider ourselves the Apple of fitness, where it’s just simple and easy to go in, get your workout done in an hour—it’s effective and you’re out of there. Technology is about ease and being able to coach the member that much more effectively.

Eric, we have a Mirror downstairs at our studio here in our corporate office.

Mandell: Nice!

Keith: This is a mutual challenge: You try an Orangetheory class, and I promise to do the Mirror.

Mandell: That’s fair!

Keith: With Orangetheory, we take pride in the relationships and the communities we build through our in-studio experience. How do you envision Mirror doing that virtually?

Mandell: Being in the fitness space, community is obviously really important. It’s a way to create shared accountability, motivation. Our live classes are a great way that we build community. When you’re in a live class, you can see the avatars and the usernames of the people that are in the class with you. The instructors will ask people throughout the class to send in emojis. So there’s this live emoji sending that happens to say, “Is this too hard? Are you liking this exercise?” You’ll see the feedback from the other people in the class on your screen. That’s a great way to get that community feeling while having the convenience of the workout right in your home.

One of the other awesome things that we’re seeing today is a lot of Mirror members are already using the Mirror with multiple people. That’s something else that is on our minds from a product-development perspective: How do we continue to build out the functionality to support that?

With the brick-and-mortar component, there are potentially a lot of different challenges there as you launch in new markets. How do you think about tackling those?

Keith: Brand awareness plays a key role—particularly in our new markets. We know there has to be a pretty significant level of not only advertising but marketing, event marketing and presales. We’re always trying to increase our level of awareness, increase our investment and get our story out.

We look at a lot of digital attributes to understand and ascertain how well we’re performing from a marketing KPI perspective. We look at the conversion rate of people who take their first introductory class. Once we get them into our studio, we have a tremendously successful rate of converting them to a member because they love the experience so much.

Mandell: Something that we’re both aware of, especially for these decisions, are longer consideration cycles. Generally, people need to be exposed to the brand multiple times and need to be educated more along the way.

Keith: Absolutely. We’re both relatively new brands. We’ve experienced a lot of growing pains and challenges as a new brand growing fast. I’m curious to know what kind of challenges Mirror has dealt with.

Mandell: There’s been so much interest in the product, and that’s placed a lot of pressure on the company overall at an early stage to ramp up to support that. From a marketing perspective, I feel like I wake up every morning to 20 emails with people reaching out trying to get us to use their new staff tool or advertise with them in this network or that network. There are so many opportunities to sift through. A lot of people are interested in partnering with us, collaborations of different types, and so it can sometimes be a bit much—it’s just a lot to work to figure out: “OK, what are the most important things for us to prioritize? What are the things—as we were talking about earlier—what are our key KPIs that we’re driving toward?” Then evaluating all these opportunities to say, “OK, what’s really going to push us toward those KPIs?” It can be very easy to get sucked into very high-profile [opportunities that] might not necessarily be the highest impact.

What I try to do with my team is make sure we all know there are tons of opportunities out there and there are tons of things that we want to do down the line both from a product and from a marketing perspective, but we’re making sure we’re prioritizing the highest-impact things and the things that will ultimately give our members the best experiences early. Our members are the most important asset.

Keith: One hundred percent.

Mandell: There’s no better endorsement for your product than your friend or your sibling or whoever it might be that’s telling you about it.

Keith: So true. Today, we get 60 percent of our new members from existing members who refer Orangetheory to their friends and family. That number is actually growing a little bit. It’s absolutely essential in modern marketing that you cultivate fans.

Mandell: You’ve been around for nine years, so at this point, you’ve built up a big user base. How do you think about talking to your existing users, or potentially people that used to be Orangetheory users that aren’t anymore, versus acquiring new customers?

Keith: We’ve got to keep [members] engaged. If they’re a new member or they’ve been a member for just a few months, a lot of the communication we send to them is really how to learn how to do Orangetheory better, how to be better at it. As that member becomes more tenured, then we shift gears and look at how do we send communication and encouragement to them to keep them going. We never do the same workout twice. Every day is something different, so the experience is also a way we keep the member engaged.

As that member has been around longer, we try to give them the data, the technology and access to that insight about their fitness performance … showing them they’re making an improvement.

Then, we are always looking at recapturing those members who might have terminated. We get a high return rate because a lot of those members who cancel learn just how easy Orangetheory is and how it keeps them accountable, and they end up coming back to us. Oftentimes they’ll tell us directly, “I needed the accountability. I don’t trust myself with myself when it comes to fitness.”

Mandell: That’s the biggest challenge.

Keith: Frankly, Eric, I don’t trust myself. I need Orangetheory to hold me accountable and I need my friends to hold me accountable because I would just as soon go out and get a cocktail many times than go to the gym.

Mandell: That makes sense. Obviously, we’re different businesses, but I feel like they’ve attacked that exact problem in slightly different ways. On the Mirror side, we’re saying OK, we’re going to make it as convenient for you as possible. We’ve tried to say OK, we have a 15-minute class that you can jump right in front of in your own home when your kid is down for a nap. It’s a slightly different solution to a similar problem.

Keith: With technology, we’re able to create this personalized workout experience. Mirror provides that at-home experience. Are you able to provide a customized experience for a Mirror subscriber, or how do you guys try and drive more personalization with your subscriber base?

Mandell: Personalization is one of the crucial aspects of the studio experience, [and we] needed to replicate it in an at-home experience. When you onboard to Mirror, we ask you about any injuries or limitations that you might have. That includes prenatal and postnatal as a limitation. When you open the Mirror app and you’re looking at workouts, we have a recommended workout section. Those workouts recommended to you are based on your limitations, but then also your age, your level of experience that you say, your fitness goals, your fitness interests—everything related to your profile.

Then, during a class, we’ll personalize specific exercises based on injuries that you might have. [For example, if you have an injury,] on the left side of the screen it would say do squats with a video of the same trainer doing the exercise that you should be doing because of your injury. So we’re actually able to account for injuries in real time based on that functionality.

Keith: That’s cool.

Mandell: It’s super cool. We’ve been able to incorporate a lot of that personalization, and it’s something we’re going to continue to build out.

Mandell: Being in the fitness space, how do you think about tone overall in all of your communications? Some people are like, as your trainer, I need to be hard on you to motivate you. Others want to be aspirational or your friend.

Keith: One of the biggest efforts we make for prospective members or people trying out Orangetheory or existing members is to make them feel comfortable. Intimidation is our biggest enemy when it comes to people coming to our studios. Words are our secret weapon to help make them feel at ease. In general, we are an elite premium product and experience, but we’re not elitists. We are challenging, but we’re not competing against other people. The biggest misconception is Orangetheory is all about competing against other people, and it’s not. We want them to feel like they’re going to be successful.

Mandell: That’s definitely the angle we’ve taken at Mirror as well, that ultimately if people feel good about themselves and feel happy with the experience, it’s something they’re more likely to return to and be successful with. We always take a very positive tone of voice and try to be encouraging, I would say, as opposed to intimidating.

Keith: Yes, we are the opposite of Barry’s Bootcamp in terms of our tone.

Mandell: Exactly.

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This story first appeared in the Feb. 4, 2019, issue of Brandweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@KristinaMonllos Kristina Monllos is a senior editor for Adweek.