Everywhere I look these days, people are talking about virtual reality and augmented reality marketing. It’s the shiny new toy in the marketing world and people get super excited when they talk about it. It’s cool and hip and, unlike a lot of marketing tactics, it sounds like great fun. Who wouldn’t want to be the first to reap the benefits of this technology as a marketing tool?

VR marketing came up this week in a meeting of non-marketing library professionals in my system. It’s been the subject of nearly a quarter of the tweets I see in my marketing list on Tweetdeck. And I read more than one article a day on the subject without even searching for it. It’s literally the talk of the town.

But I think we all need to take a step back and contain ourselves. VR and AR would be awesome but I’m going to burst your bubble. Your library is not ready to do VR or AR marketing. No library is ready. In fact, I want you to join me on the sidelines and watch for a bit as our for-profit brethren take this shiny new car for a spin a few times. Because that’s the best way to learn something about a new technology without having to put ourselves at risk.

I want to make sure we’re clear about what VR and AR really is. There is a lot of confusion and it can be hard to envision. Virtual Reality (VR) is the use of computer technology to create a simulated environment, one where the user is immersed and able to interact with 3D worlds. Augmented reality (AR) is a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented (or supplemented) by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics, or GPS data. VR and AR marketing is NOT a live event or scavenger hunt. It specifically involves the use of technology on both the customer and brand side.

Now, I’m sure your head is spinning with many thoughts about how to put this to use in a library marketing application. What if customers could go into a virtual library, browse shelves and items and borrow materials using a computer program without ever having to leave their home? What if we could show our customers how to use services without having to bring them into a branch? What if people could attend our programs in an immersive experience from the comfort of their own homes? A whole world of possibilities and challenges opens up before you like a vast, unexplored universe of library marketing potential.

Here’s the thing. Very few profit-driven companies are ready to implement VR and AR marketing successfully. Some of the big brands you know and love–Coca-Cola, GM, Kraft, Red Bull–companies that are on the forefront of other marketing practices like content marketing, have not yet jumped onto the VR and AR band wagons yet. Why?

It’s expensive. Software and hardware on the customer’s side can run into the thousands of dollars. How many library customers can afford that kind of dough? Development of the VR programs on the brand side run anywhere between $30,000 and $100,000. That’s a lot of money for libraries facing budget cuts.

It’s an uncertainty. No one, not even the greatest thought-leaders in the marketing world, knows yet how to tie it to strategy and how to correctly distribute VR products yet. No one really knows when consumers will be willing to purchase the technology or how long it will take them to adapt to using it.

If the big guns haven’t been able to get their strategy and budget around VR and AR yet, then neither can we. But that’s okay. Let’s take this opportunity to learn more about the practice. I’ve created a little online starter guide for you!

Here is a slideshow explaining how VR and AR marketing work and showing you some of the technology pieces now available.

Here is a great article from Forbes about the six best examples of VR marketing to date.

Here is an interesting take from Content Marketing Institute on how VR could change the marketing landscape.

And I particularly loved this article about the pitfalls of VR marketing as experienced by three well-known brands.

Libraries are notoriously behind the curve for embracing marketing trends. In this case, I think the Library industry is eager, but we lack the budget and the ability. And I feel that in the end, that lag may end up working to our advantage. We have a chance to watch the big guns try, fail, and succeed, and we can learn from their experience. So take this time to study and learn. And let’s meet again in 5-10 years when the library industry will be ready to embrace VR and AR. We’ll do it right.

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