Relevance; abstract, highly subjective... absolutely essential

We’re pre-programmed to filter out the noise. And that’s a god job, because there’s an awful lot of it. There always has been. The sum total of information being collected by all of our senses at any given waking moment is thought to be as much as 11 million bits per second. And yet a human brain engaged in “intelligent” and “conscious” activities is believed to be able to process only 50 bits per second (1). So up to 0.00000455% of the sensory data our senses are providing is being filtered out.

Little wonder then that one of the biggest challenges for your content and your message is making it through a selection mechanism that’s… shall we say…more than a bit picky. Statistically speaking, I think we can define it as closed, or indeed off. Neuroscience calls it sensory gating by the way.

It’s a provocative reminder that getting our marketing messages heard and noticed though all the noise and clutter is a tall order.

We are much more receptive to things that are relevant. This is an abstract concept; it isn’t inherent or in any way an objective quality. Our perception of whether something is relevant is the outcome of other qualities that interact to produce a subjective judgement. If we reduce them to an equation it might look like this:

Let’s look at these one by one.


Does the information trigger anything in the memory or provoke a cognitive response? Does it make any kind of impact? One of the first criteria information is scored with has a lot to do with familiarity and recognisability. Do we know what it is? Have we come across it before? Does it awaken any existing memories or thoughts and feelings that we have processed before? The greater the positive cognitive effects achieved by processing an input, the greater the relevance of the input to the individual at that time (2).