How the RoadNinja iPhone app makes interstate driving more fun

Oct 27, 2011

RoadNinja is a free app that helps drivers and travelers when they’re on a road trip. By tapping into a huge database of services like restaurants, lodging and gas stations located near to interstate exits, RoadNinja combines new technology with old-school billboards and signs to bring users the best of both worlds. In this edition […]

RoadNinja is a free app that helps drivers and travelers when they’re on a road trip. By tapping into a huge database of services like restaurants, lodging and gas stations located near to interstate exits, RoadNinja combines new technology with old-school billboards and signs to bring users the best of both worlds.

In this edition of Meet the Makers, Tommy Teepell, Chief Marketing Officer of Lamar Advertising, discusses the inspiration behind the RoadNinja app, how billboards influenced its development and the challenges and learning experiences the team encountered along the way.

APPOLICIOUS: What was the inspiration for RoadNinja?

TOMMY TEEPELL: The inspiration behind the RoadNinja branding came after Trammie Anderson, Lamar’s Director of Marketing Strategy, watched Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill. Uma Thurman’s character Black Mamba wore a black and yellow catsuit in one scene, and the black stripes coming down the sleeves made her think of a road. While Black Mamba was taking on a number of ninjas with her Hattori Hanzo sword, the name RoadNinja came to mind. The black and yellow color scheme ties in with colors of the road, and who doesn’t like ninjas? Overall, our team had a lot of fun with developing our campaign message around the RoadNinja brand. The inspiration for the app itself came from one of our tech-savvy board of directors who challenged our marketing team to play in the mobile space. After countless hours of research and a lot of Red Bull, an interstate travel application was a logical extension of our interstate logo and directional billboard business.

APPO: In 50 words or less, tell us what the app is all about.

TT: RoadNinja is a free iPhone travel app that helps road trippers and travelers plan ahead with an interstate directory, save money with mobile promotions and find out what’s available (restaurants, lodging, gas, etc.) at any exit as they drive on the interstate. Users can share promotions/reviews on Facebook, check-in on Foursquare and view Twitter feeds from businesses nearby.

APPO: RoadNinja was developed by Lamar Advertising Company, which specializes in billboards and visual displays. Walk us through how RoadNinja integrates strategically with other facets of the business.

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TT: We wanted to find a way to connect traditional media (our directional billboard inventory) with new technology. Directional billboards along the interstate make up a significant part of Lamar’s product offering. Our target audience is the driving public. RoadNinja is designed for interstate travel and complements our interstate logo and directional billboard business. It combines old and new media to engage consumers and create the ultimate advertising experience.

For the U.S. road traveller, directional billboards have always served as a helpful guide. With RoadNinja, Lamar is bringing online technology directly to the driving public. RoadNinja gives the consumer an opportunity to plan ahead with an interstate directory and choose among the various options presented to consumers as they travel down the highway (food, gas, retail, lodging, and so on).

We are offering our clients added value in the form of mobile promotions and logo placement in the app. The digital promotions give Lamar’s local and national clients the opportunity to make fresh contact with consumers at no extra charge. Whether a client is using billboards for directional or branding purposes, RoadNinja can take their campaign a step further and initiate a call to action with promotions. We now have another channel of media distribution to offer advertisers considering adding billboards to their campaign strategy.

We are pleased – but not surprised – that we have already recorded over 46,000 downloads since the app launched on October 13.

APPO: Is there a RoadNinja Android app and/or do you have plans creating versions for other mobile platforms?

TT: We are working on the RoadNinja Android version now, and it is expected to launch in November or December.

APPO: What were the biggest challenges and learning experiences involved in creating the app?

TT: This was Lamar’s first app, so the whole process was a learning experience. Some of the biggest challenges were dealing with unforeseen setbacks in the development process; learning when to spend time and effort automating processes versus completing them manually; determining the accuracy of the automation process; and staying focused on the main scope of the app and not adding features that would deviate from the purpose.

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APPO: Walk us through your launch strategy and what you did to create visibility.

TT: We are doing a nationwide outdoor advertising campaign to support the launch, utilizing Lamar’s media space on over 1,000 static and digital billboards across 200 markets. The advertising campaign started on October 13 and will run through the end of the year. We are also doing a PR campaign to generate coverage in national and regional press outlets, and connecting with users on Facebook, Twitter and the RoadNinja website. We believe that the advertising and PR behind RoadNinja will help us build a strong user base, increase visibility for our customers on the app and strengthen brand awareness for RoadNinja and Lamar.

APPO: How do you plan to drive downloads over time?

TT: We believe that putting the user experience first will drive downloads over time, so we plan to constantly make improvements to the app. We want RoadNinja to be the most useful interstate travel app out there. We have been fortunate to receive tons of emails from users with valuable feedback and suggestions on added features. We’re listening to our users and will continue to work on improving performance, exit data, accuracy of POI data pulled from Foursquare and enhancing the features on the app. If RoadNinja continues to generate a lot of downloads, we will also consider adding non-interstate highways in future versions.

APPO: What are the three biggest things in the mobile media space currently keeping you up at night?

TT: 1) A large established software company becoming a direct competitor overnight. Especially in the case of a Mobile OS Manufacturer (Google, Apple) implementing competitive features directly into their respective system.

2) The ever-expanding mobile platform arena. Efficiently choosing which platforms to be on to cover the most media space.

3) Keeping up with the pace of mobile technology and taking advantage of new advancements. You actually have to be ahead of the game just to stay current. Otherwise, by the time you assess a new technology and decide to implement it, you’re already playing catch-up.

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Brad Spirrison

Brad Spirrison is the managing editor of appoLearning and Appolicious Inc. In this capacity, he has sampled and evaluated thousands of iOS and Android applications. He also holds an M.A. in Education and Media Ecology from New York University.

Spirrison worked in concert with appoLearning Expert and Instructional Technology Specialist Leslie Morris while curating and evaluating educational applications.

A longtime media and technology commentator and executive, Spirrison is also a regular contributor to ABC News, The Huffington Post, TechCrunch, Bloomberg West and The Christopher Gabriel Program.

Spirrison is married and lives with his wife and young son in Chicago. As his son was born just weeks before the debut of the iPad, Spirrison takes his work home with him and regularly samples and enjoys a variety of educational applications for young children.

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