Startups often bring something superior to the market, be it a product or service that is cheaper, better or different. That's half the battle. But the next challenge is to make potential customers aware of your new offer. This can feel impossible when cash is tight. This is why customer reviews are so important. 

Customer reviews can make or break a startup. A great review from the right a credible superconsumer can drive hoards of new customers to your startup without any more investment on your part. Similarly a bad review from the same right customer can take your startup and render it dead on arrival.

But while so many startups can be so innovative on their products and services, their reviews often remain artifacts of the past. Reviews are mostly written text with a rating. Having strong written reviews and ratings on popular sites like Amazon have high value, but there are challenges with old school customer written reviews. Here are a few tips to ensure you are maximizing the most value out of your reviews. 

Beware of fake reviews muddying the waters.

Reviewmeta analyzed seven million reviews on Amazon last year and found that "incentivized reviews," where consumers are given the product for free or at a major discount, dramatically inflate reviews. The difference between an incentivized review and a genuine review elevated a product from the 54th percentile to the 94th percentile of ratings.

After Reviewmeta published this, two weeks later Amazon announced it was banning incentivized reviews. But the specter of bias remains an issue to worry about

Don't emphasize the rational at the expense of the emotional.

Objective data and facts about why your startup's product or service is superior is of course important. But only appealing to a consumer rationally has shortcomings and words tend to emphasize more the rational than emotional. Dr. Robert Heath, a professor at the University of Bath, notes that strong emotional resonance in marketing has a greater influence on brand preference and how likely a consumer will buy over the long-term. 

Of course, words certainly convey emotion. But why limit yourself to a traditional written customer review when there are better ways to do it? Remember that true category creators like  Elon Musk don't just innovate their products, they innovate how they marketing itself as well.

Complement written reviews with photo and video reviews.

Perky Jerky is a fast growing meat jerky brand that is winning thanks to a softer chew and diverse flavors to appeal to a millennial palate. But their success isn't just due to their product, but how they innovated their marketing as well. They have hundreds of folks they call "Super Jerk Fans," where they ask their fans to submit reviews via selfie.

The photo collage of their Super Jerk Fans feels far more personal than written text, because you can see the emotion on people's faces far easier than their words. Brian Levin, the founder of Perky Jerky, says he's learned far more about his superconsumers via the photo review than he would have than just text.

He observed most of his most rabid consumers were all active (e.g., body builders, endurance athletes) or aspired to be more active in some way (e.g., consumers who were trying to lose weight). He sees where his consumers are and how they use his product. 

Focus on the story, not selling.

Perhaps the greatest value you can get from a customer review is an authentic and powerful story that re-frames the problem in a new way and educates potential consumers on new ways to use a brand

Generac, the leading manufacturer of standby generators, saw a positive impact on their business by emphasizing testimonials versus technical specs. This was a huge shift for a company full of engineers.

One such testimonial talked about how when they lost power, they couldn't find a hotel to accommodate their family and their dog after Hurricane Sandy. Potential customers who were other dog lovers resonated with the inability to find refuge for their whole family in a storm and it was often the authenticity and emotion of these testimonials that pushed prospective customers over the edge to actually buy. 

Published on: Nov 2, 2017
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