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Building Rich WeChat Experiences: Speak English Fluently
Building Rich WeChat Experiences: Speak English Fluently
How does 英语流利说 utilize AI technology to offer a superior experience to its 5.9 million monthly active users?
International businesses looking to enter the Chinese market often mistake WeChat for a messaging app. Well, indeed it is. But it can be so much more. Our team recently worked with XNode – a Startup & Corporate Accelerator based in Shanghai - to showcase how edtech platforms are utilizing WeChat to build rich experiences that provide a natural lead-in to platform onboarding.
INTRO TO CHINA’S EDUCATION MARKET
The edtech space is buzzing in China. There are four key trends converging to drive growth for demand in education-based services, resulting in a market that is expected to exceed 714 billion yuan ($104 billion) by 2025. These trends include:
Demand driven by hyper competition between parents wanting to get their children into the best schools. The private education market is driving diversification, resulting in the emergence of new categories of service including early immersion programs and “baby MBAs”. 93% of parents send their children to “private enrichment” sessions.
Online recruitment platform Zhaopin.com publishes an annual job competition index which suggests that the ratio of CVs recruiters receive to the number of vacancies available stands at around 31 nationwide (as of Q3 2018). Beijing has the fiercest competition, with an index of 82 CVs per open position. Individuals are under pressure to better themselves to remain competitive and the internationalization of Chinese businesses is placing increased import on the ability to function well in foreign markets.
Over 600,000 Chinese students enroll in Western universities each year, over half of whom study in the United States. We anticipate a cooling effect induced by the tensions between the US and China however there are plentiful opportunities in other markets and an increasing savvy among top universities to cater to the needs of Chinese students.
120 million mainland Chinese now have passports, with as many as 30 million more being issued in 2019. The desire to travel and consume abroad is largely unabated despite the slowing economy, with Japan once again coming back into vogue as a popular destination.
As a result of these trends, a variety of offerings have emerged in the form of online courses, apps, VR experiences, digitally-enabled offline classes and more. A general survey of the edtech market suggests that most offerings are positioned according to the following matrix:
One of the early issues with edtech was that there was little understanding of how a series of games, or a flashcard app, could meaningfully contribute toward language mastery – or an explicit outcome beyond memorization. Furthermore, as everyone has his or her own preferences and learning style, it seems that early digital services were fundamentally limited in their capacity to learn and evolve with the user.
AI (in theory and partially in practice) is positioned to solve some of these issues by bringing in that capacity to learn about the learner and grow with his or her needs over time. It enables content customizability and micro moment-based feedback that can steer learning outcomes in real-time. It remains to be seen how effective AI (without support from a human teacher) can really make language learning more outcome oriented, but this is an ongoing trajectory for development and competition in the market.
EDTECH CASE: 英语流利说
英语流利说 (Speak English Fluently) is the market leader in the category of AI-enabled education platforms, with a monthly active user base of around 5.9 million users. The company was founded in 2012 and is positioned as an artificial intelligence-driven educational technology company. The company rebranded in 2018 to “LAIX” which stands for Learning + AI, with "X" being the unknown or the infinite possibilities that can be unlocked with language.
Speak English Fluently effectively partitions elements of the service offering onto WeChat to drive lead-in to the platform. It offers a balance between value proposition experience, and actual conversion from WeChat, and does so in the following ways:
WeChat Menu1 练英语 (Practice English)
The 练英语 menu is packed full of features to get visitors immersed without requiring any commitment or form submissions. It features three mini program-based experiences, a web-hosted proficiency test, and a tab converting to the download page of an app geared towards training for the IELTS English qualification.
Teacher Tony Mini Bot
The Teacher Tony Mini Bot allows students to converse in English or Chinese. Finding a friend to practice with is a key pain point for language learners. An always-on bot, however, offers a way to cram a quick chat in between Metro stations. It is unclear how sophisticated the NLP system as an initial test proved somewhat disappointing.
Daily Practice Flashcards
This mini program serves the user daily vocabulary accompanied with imagery, audio and example sentences. Each card is sharable so friends can get involved. As a standalone mini program, it offers a lot of value as a tool in the learner’s toolbox.
The user is presented with a short phrase which he or she must translate in the provided text box. Key vocabulary is highlighted and tips are granted if you get stuck.
English Proficiency Test
While the mini programs provide a fun entry into the language learning experience, the proficiency test is a crucial conversion goal for the platform. Almost any educational offering begins with benchmarking through a 1:1 interview, test, or a combination of the two. Here then we have our first example of how WeChat can be used to begin the onboarding journey.
The user initiates the test and completes questions in rounds that get progressively more difficult. Questions include identifying images, filling in the blanks and other common formats.
The results page feels like a missed opportunity. It displays the learner’s score and time, but isn’t particularly attractive. With a more impressive design, the learner may be more willing to share the result to their social feel, encouraging others in their network to try the test.
WeChat Menu 2 懂你英语 (Understand Your English)
The centerpiece of this menu is the WeChat store, powered by Youzan. Learning packages start at 45RMB and go up to full-feature courses priced at 4298RMB ($640). When the user enters the account a promotion is embedded in the welcome message.
WeChat Menu 3 服务 (Service)
The service menu is where the main app download call-to-action is displayed. Another key feature is the user centre, which once the user binds his/her ID shows the learner their progress – average points, days, content studied and time.
International businesses and startups are becoming increasingly familiar with China’s digital ecosystem. WeChat in particular attracts a lot of coverage. However, what is often missing is the understanding that WeChat offers the opportunity to deliver value with zero commitment to end users. This increases the chance of successful onboarding – and even monetization.
WeChat is not just a communications channel – it is an experience channel. By drawing on a mix of web-hosted content and mini programs, platforms can unbundle some of their killer features or services. This applies to all kinds of industries and businesses beyond content-based offerings. When building a strategy for WeChat, take time to think about the onboarding journey and how to lower the barrier to getting that app download or first purchase.