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Ethnographies: Diving Deeper into our “Personas”

Last year, we introduced our 10 personas – the visitors who read online obituaries – and explained why they visit. The research has proved invaluable as we work to understand our users better and enhance our products to suit their needs. We wanted to take it a step further, however, and meet the people who identify with those personas. So, we’ve embarked on a study of personas called ethnographies. Ethnographies, or ethnos for short, are defined as “the study and systematic recording of human cultures.”

Ethnos are observations or interviews done in context, at the time of natural behavior. To perform our ethnos, we visited with real people who matched each of our 10 personas in their homes, to catch them in their normal environment. Before coming to their home for the interview, we asked them to keep a weeklong journal to track which websites they visit, when they visit them, how they visit them, and their mood while visiting them.

During the interviews, we started off with general questions about how they were feeling, what they did for fun, and so on; then we discussed their relationships with the people and the communities with which they are connected. Next, we focused on their experience with loss and then zoned in on their Internet usage. Lastly, we asked specific questions relating to Legacy.com and their experience with online obituaries.

Persona Research: Rosemary, the Family Glue 

Rosemary is the first of the 10 personas we will feature in our Persona Spotlight series. Based on our persona research, she is a 54- to 57-year-old female browser, defined as someone who checks recent obituaries on a regular basis. Rosemary is the family glue; she keeps her family and friends together. When she hears of a death, she checks local newspaper obituaries and is quick to share her condolences in person or in the online Guest Book for anyone she knows – and sometimes even for a few people whom she just wishes well. She’s likely to buy flowers for out-of-town friends or to deliver soup or a casserole to people nearby who may need a hand.

Rosemary Ethnographies Takeaways

We met with six women to do ethnographies based off of this Rosemary persona. Here are the key takeaways from the six interviews:

Search is hard for Rosemary. We asked each woman to show us how she had searched for an obituary for someone whom she knew had died recently, and it was neither an easy nor quick task for any of them. They are aware that they are not digital natives and had to stumble around a bit before locating the obituary that they were seeking – if they even found it at all. Rosemary started by thinking about the town where the deceased had lived; next she tried to identify the newspaper that was likely to have published the obituary. She then accessed the newspaper’s online obituary section, and may or may not have been successful on how to proceed from that point. Keeping the search process easy and intuitive is incredibly important to help Rosemary find the obituary she seeks.

rosemary ipadRosemary loves Facebook. While searching for obituaries online is somewhat challenging for the Rosemarys we interviewed, they were as a group familiar and comfortable with Facebook as a way to connect with relatives and friends, and to play games like Candy Crush and Farmtown. It is not uncommon for Rosemary to learn about a death via Facebook, and she shares that news mostly via email to friends and relatives who do not maintain Facebook accounts.

Advertising is in the eye of the beholder. Many of the women we interviewed had strong opinions about the kinds of advertising on obituary pages. They didn’t view useful services like flowers and charities as advertising, but broader categories were not as welcome.

Rosemary’s favorite device is her iPad. While some of our younger personas – Lindsey, for example – view their iPads as belonging to their children, Rosemary’s iPad is all hers. She uses it to play Scrabble with friends, check her Facebook page, and tend to the rest of her online needs. It is a convenient way to access the Web, much easier than using her cellphone. Her iPad also is not as clunky as a desktop, and she doesn’t use a laptop.

Rosemary values family as the core. Rosemary’s sense of self is tied intimately to her role as a connecting point for her family and friends. Each of the women we met with has a very strong sense of family and values her social connections. The women are at the centers of their family circles and the people to whom their relatives and friends turn for information and planning. All of the women we interviewed said they try to offer some sort of support when they know someone is experiencing a death: attending funeral services, sharing condolences, sending flowers, providing food, or just giving a hug.