China is currently a hotbed of technical creativity, with a growing number of “young and hungry engineers” working hard to develop the next big thing in consumer tech and digital communication.

So it’s hardly surprising that it is making significant headway when it comes to the West’s latest pet innovation – wearables.

While the wearables market is still more or less in its infancy in the U.S. and the U.K., China has taken significant steps toward developing its own industry. Backed by the likes of Intel, which recently pledged to invest $100 million in smart devices and wearables in the territory, it is a burgeoning area for innovation.

For example, WeChat is committed to becoming the chosen platform for wearables, providing the plethora of devices currently available with a single, centralized, easy-to-access operating system. Starting with the health and fitness market (a number of newly launched wearables including iHealth and Lifesense work with WeChat’s API), it has big plans to eventually “connect everything.” Indeed, the Nabu, a smartband developed by gaming hardware specialists Razer, is the world’s first wearable to be fully integrated with WeChat.

Billed as “all-seeing and all-knowing” and bridging the gap between smartwatch and fitness band, it offers notifications and a range of social activities alongside the more familiar fitness metrics – including the ability to exchange personal data through a band-to-band handshake.

Xiaomi’s foray into wearable devices has seen the launch of Go Pro rival the Yi action camera. Based on an entry-level GoPro Hero, it offers comparable (and arguably better) photo and video capabilities for around half the price of its U.S. counterpart.

And, just a couple of weeks ago at the Mobile World Congress, Huawei muscled in on Apple’s territory with the launch of its own smartwatch, neatly pre-empting the arrival of the Apple Watch.

What This Means for Brands

This rapid development of wearables opens up a whole new range of digital promotional opportunities for brands looking to make a mark – here are just a few possibilities:

  • Innovative campaigns using personal cameras and other wearables – for example, live streaming of Shanghai fashion week on a clothing brand’s app, from the point of view of the model. 360Fashion Network and Misfit wearables have already collaborated on a striking tech/fashion crossover show.
  • WeChat competitions and ads based on integrated fitness metrics – lifestyle brands can encourage users to submit how many steps they do in a day, or use the data to take a snapshot of customers’ daily activity and develop this into an overall profile.
  • User-generated content – wearables provide a unique opportunity to give insight into users’ lives. Brands can exploit this to build recognition with “day in the life” movies and images.
  • Event-based social sharing – the evidence suggests that smartband users (Fitbit, Nabu, and others) naturally form communities united by common goals. Like flashmobs and crowd-based events in the past, there’s a new opportunity to ask users to get involved in a brand-based collective experience and post comments/share content about it. A mass yogathon or aerobics event will not only bring people together, it will also generate cross-media interest as well as showcasing both brand and wearable capabilities/synergies.
  • Promotional items developed specifically with wearables in mind – with the range and style of wearables available, there’s scope for brands to develop their own items of clothing, badges, wallets, etc. specifically designed to support them. The wearables themselves and any linked apps can then supply brand-specific messages and recognition/rewards for supporting activity – achieving a goal, sharing a video, posting a comment and so on.

There’s no doubt that it’s an exciting time in China for brands willing to work with wearables developers. As digital increasingly becomes part of the fabric of life in the Far East – both figuratively and literally – there’s huge potential for brands to “own” this space.