Our office is in Center City Philadelphia. If you’ve spent time in any city, you know that you’re often faced with the question of whether or not to give money to homeless people.

Many people say no, for reasons like this and this and this. (Check out the National Coalition for the Homeless to find out how you can help the homeless in your area.)

But sometimes I do it anyway – and I’m often more likely to give money or go buy a coffee for someone who’s not asking. Why? I can see that they’re bad off – they don’t need to tell me. I’m inclined to help, so I do.

The other day, the content marketing wheels in my mind were turning when I decided to take a break and pop across the street to grab a cup of coffee. There was a homeless man sitting outside of Dunkin’ Donuts. Just sitting there. I asked him if I could buy him a doughnut. He said something cool to drink would be better, so I bought him an orange juice and a banana.

Walking back to the office, half thinking about this guy and half thinking about an article I was writing on conversions, my brain sort of melded the two topics.

What prompted me to go buy something for this guy without him even asking me? And why do I never give money to the homeless people who stand outside the convenience store and open the door for customers? Those people are performing a “service,” right? Why do I not feel compelled to buy them an orange juice?

Content Marketing Sheds Some Light

After the Dunkin’ Donuts Incident (or DDI), I came back to my desk and ended up reading this piece from Litmus on calls to action. It talks about the importance of making the right offer in the right way to the right audience … and how using the wrong approach can really turn off your perspective clients.

And I realized that article answered my homeless person question.

Why do I not give money to the people who open doors for me? Because I feel like they’re guilting me. They’re not providing a service I need, nor that I asked for. I don’t like being pushed into doing things – even things that I’m naturally inclined to want to do.

It’s All How You Ask – Or Don’t

So let’s apply this to content marketing.

Think about  how you interact with your audience. Do you ask them to buy, click, share, purchase, retweet, signup, etc.?

The Litmus piece states that people were more likely to respond to low pressure language, e.g., “read more,” than high-pressure language, e.g., “buy now.”

What that means: Those few words could make or break your relationship with that person (who is, presumably, in your target audience or they wouldn’t be on your website).

What about slapping a “Please RT” on the end of a Tweet? Hubspot says in this article that doing so can actually get you more social media traction – and has numbers to back that up.

But in that same piece, they also quote marketing strategist and bestselling author David Meerman Scott, who says “It’s desperate.” His claim? He says please RT is a turnoff. If your content is good, you should trust that people will naturally retweet it.

Ultimately, I think it depends on who your audience is and what you’re asking them to do.

The takeway: If you’re reaching the right people, you won’t need to pretend to be useful or informative or helpful.  Just be those things and trust that your audience will respond.