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How email helps Car Talk drive incredible results

What does a beloved radio show about cars have to do with email? As it turns out, quite a bit.

Car Talk was hosted by brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi for nearly three decades on NPR. Though Tom and Ray retired in 2012 (and Tom passed away in 2014), the show continues in syndication as The Best of Car Talk, pulling the top moments from three decades of shows. The format each week is a familiar one to the show's more than three million listeners, some of whom called in with questions about car maintenance and repair, describing symptoms and demonstrating sounds of their ailing vehicle while the Magliozzis attempted to identify the problem.

Cars, though, were just the excuse to hang out and talk, as Tom and Ray peppered their conversation with jokes directed at both the caller and themselves. In time, the Magliozzis were usually able to arrive at a diagnosis and give something that approximated helpful advice.

The show continues on NPR affiliates and remains popular to this day. Ask anyone who knows the show, and they’ll most likely respond with a broad smile – that’s the kind of community they've built.


Car Talk continues into a new era

Car Talk continues to live on and connect with fans through digital channels that were established years ago: The website was established in 1995. Facebook came not long after the social media network started. Twitter and Instagram followed. And the podcast remains one of the most popular on iTunes. Car Talk's digital channels have grown substantially in recent years as the brand reinvents itself and enters a new era.

“It all began with the radio show,” said Car Talk Digital Producer Doug Mayer. “Starting before, and continuing after the brothers retired, we've set off in a variety of new directions."

“We’re constantly busy with the Car Talk website, our online forums, social media, and syndicated newspaper columns," He explained. "We have a great staff of bright people creating content with the same 'Car Talk' vibe everyone loved from Tom and Ray – off-beat, irreverent and entertaining but also useful, honest, and valuable."

Their efforts have paid off: As of today, Car Talk has over 600,000 followers on Facebook, over 40,000 on Twitter, and thousands of participants in their online forums.


Using email to kick their results into high gear

They also make a point to reach their fans in the inbox every week with two Car Talk newsletters. And they’re seeing some impressive results.

“We’re not a marketing company,” Doug said. “In our hearts, we’re a community that’s grown and developed over the years. Our newsletters are a great way to reach that community every week, highlight what's happening, and keep the relationship strong and the conversation going. In a very real way, we count the audience as lifelong friends."

Car Talk challenges its listeners each week with its “Puzzlers” – brain teasers that range from easily solvable to downright impossible to figure out. For nearly 20 years, the Puzzler newsletter has been one of Car Talk's most popular offerings. And so far, over 30,000 listeners have opted into receiving the Puzzler each week.

“Recently, we did a complete overhaul of our email template to make it more mobile-friendly. We went from promoting a bunch of different stories with a lot of different links to basically focusing on one call to action each week. It really streamlined the look and feel of the newsletter, and the mobile-friendly format helped us improve our engagement." The Puzzler redesign is a great example of how the brand maintains a beloved tradition while continuing to innovate and adapt to a changing digital space.

Here’s a look at what their old Puzzler email looked like:

And here’s the new one:

Sleek, huh? Mayer credits their design and development team with thinking through a smart approach to the new template. It’s much easier to navigate and includes true CTA buttons, but it still maintains that same Car Talk feel their audience knows and loves.

Thanks to the new design, plus the fact that it’s mobile-friendly, Car Talk has seen a lot of positive growth. The new template has increased their click rates by nearly 20%!

Overall, the current Puzzler template design averages about 40% opens and a 42-50% click rate. And their other weekly send, the Car Talk "Time Kill Weekly," averages 30% opens and 35% clicks across a group of nearly 60,000 subscribers! Those are the kind of results that really rev our engines here at Emma.


Moving forward: Adding new fans to an institution

“We’ve been with Emma for quite a while,” Doug said, "and that’s been a nice relationship. You've been really supportive as we've evolved throughout the years. Car Talk has great guidance from our Executive Producer Doug Berman – we've managed to stay true to our identity, even as how we deliver that content has shifted radically in recent years."

Their plans moving forward? “We'll improve the access to our signup form as part of a larger move to responsive design later this year. It needs to be more visible, and not just buried as part of site registration. To date, we’ve mostly capitalized on the audience that the show built through word-of-mouth. The new site will give visitors more opportunities to engage with the newsletter."

Car Talk continues to grow in new ways thanks to the efforts of Doug Berman, Doug Mayer and the rest of the crew – show producer David Greene, Managing Digital Producer Connie Brichford, and a wide array of freelancers. The team just returned from Cuba, where they launched their Instagram feed and produced a variety of blog and video content with their partners at Bestride.com. A growing vehicle donation program raises millions for NPR stations each year. And other ventures and new partnerships are in the works.

In the midst of all that growth, their audience keeps growing, too! Today’s fans share their appreciation for Tom and Ray with new visitors, and the helpful, irreverent fun of Car Talk carries on in an ever-changing world.


Sign up for the Car Talk newsletter here, and follow Car Talk on Facebook and Twitter