Email Etiquette for Message Importance – When “Importance: High” = “Don’t Waste Your Time”

Quick, Read This Email… Now!

Today I received another in a long line of email messages from a certain vendor touting their newest and greatest product improvement. This email, like all of its predecessors, arrived in my Outlook inbox as a message of High Importance. Because I receive just one in five hundred messages marked “Importance: High,” I generally give these more than a quick glance when they arrive.

Imagine my surprise when I noticed a subject line this morning that read **Special Sneak Peek: (Vendor Name Omitted) New Guided Search**. I thought, “Wow, this is big news! You made an enhancement to your website that will have little to no effect on me or my business, and you sent me the details in a message marked High Importance. Congratulations! I now like you even less than I did five minutes ago.”

The Email Who Cried Wolf

No need to rehash this as a new millennium version of the famous fable attributed to Aesop, except to say that with each email of miniscule importance sent by this vendor that masquerades as a critical Top Secret UMBRA message, I lose more interest in reading anything they send… anything.

In fact, it’s become so bad that I now treat all of their messages akin to how one would treat the proclamations of a ten-year old who brags about what a big boy he is every time he makes “doody in the toy-toy.” We get it, congratulations; you pooped.

It’s not just egocentric vendors who misuse the High Importance selection in Outlook, though it does seem to be solely the province of the unintelligent and unsophisticated. Ever get the High Importance email on Tuesday afternoon sent to everyone at your company reminding you that the office refrigerator will be cleaned out promptly at 5:00 PM on Friday? Chances are your CEO didn’t send it.

You Don’t Sell Plasma

Out of every 500 High Importance emails I receive, about ten truly require my immediate attention – and none of these ten ever originates from a vendor. Here’s a quick email etiquette tip: if you’re a vendor who does not sell plasma, stop acting like you sell plasma. The more you try to make your customers care about your (fill in the blank), the less they care.

High Importance status should exist solely for those emails that require both immediate attention and for which there will be negative consequences if they do not receive immediate attention. If your email merely requires that the recipients read and respond, write “RESPONSE REQUIRED” in the subject line. Likewise, if your message requires that recipients take an action based on the email, try placing “ACTION REQUIRED” in the subject line.

What About Tagging Something “Low Importance?”

Here’s a bonus to those vendors who don’t understand basic email marketing rules, and who mark their outbound sales messages as “Importance: Low.” Likely you tagged these emails as having Low Importance out of some misguided consideration for your recipient. Congratulations, your emails are ending up in SPAM filters all across the Web. Quick tip: never mark any email as having Low Importance. If the email is truly of Low Importance, don’t send it.

For that matter, if the message only highlights some unimportant feature enhancement of your website, don’t send that email either.