Frequent travelers don’t need boarding passes or mobile alerts to know they’re at Portland International Airport.

Just look down. PDX’s welcome sign is all in the carpet.

Only here do you find shoe selfies where the carpet is the social-media star.

I treaded for years on the PDX carpet with nary a desire to photobomb my shoes.

Then, about 10 years ago, airport officials announced they were going to give the 20-year-old, teal-infused carpet a makeover.

Only in Portland does a millennial (carpet) get forced into retirement.

Nostalgia ensued. Social media chronicled the carpeteering. And Everett Rogers’ innovation diffusion model kicked in, proving again that the iconic Iowa State professor should be credited with defining hipster consumerism.

Google “PDX carpet” and you’ll now find matching pillows, throws and, yes, socks. Portland’s evolving identity has become ubiquitous, and it was under our noses … make that shoes.

Talk about high-touch experience.

It’s a lesson for journalists.

The airline industry generates more than $700 billion annually, according to the International Air Transport Association. Net profit margins are in the single digits, though, because competition is intense and technological challenges remain constant.

Travelers know they have options. They can go online for best airline rates, search for nonstop flights, or decide which airport they’d rather wait for a connecting flight.

The result is savvy airport executives focus on the traveler experience because ongoing perceptions matter. It’s why you can get barbecue rub at Austin-Bergstrom, see championship sports banners hanging at Boston’s Logan, or order Stumptown Coffee in Portland (instead of from that Seattle-based corporation).

Ask yourself:

  • What do visitors search for when they come to your community? (It’s worth asking: Does your news site show up in that search?)
  • How do locals and newcomers respond when asked, “Why do you live here?”
  • What are your community’s high-touch experiences?

Define “high touch” as content that creates close relationships with your audience. Think of it like a sports jersey. What would your community’s jersey look like? And would you wear it to the grocery store?

In places like Gainesville and Tuscaloosa, home to nationally known universities, town-and-gown relationships are significant to each community’s identity. In Peoria, headquarters for Caterpillar Inc., the global company gets constant attention from the Journal Star.

catIf you designed Peoria’s community jersey, it would be Caterpillar yellow and black … and with a logo on the sleeve.

Understanding the unique aspects that define your audience, i.e. what makes them tick, is critical to figuring out high-touch experiences and becoming essential in their lives.

In 2017, we will ask newsroom leaders to focus on two priorities:

  1. Do Journalism with impact.
  2. Embrace our future.

To get there, we need to align our coverage, expertise and thinking. We need to ask ourselves how do we remain incessantly intelligent, interesting and iconic.

You will need to think like a community historian, behave like readers, and explore like a Yelp-obsessed tourist.

Oh, we’ll have advice on how to define your high-touch experiences. More to come.

But you don’t need to wait for a flurry of emails from Austin.

Just get on the carpet and ride.

Bill Church is GateHouse Media’s senior vice president of news. He owns a pair of socks inspired by the PDX carpet. Follow him on Twitter at @BillChurchMedia.

Carpet image by Another Believer, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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