Ukulele Marketing

As the ukulele market has exploded, competition for sales has got fiercer. It’s interesting to see how various companies have attempted to spread the word. There has been quite a variety of tactics.

Disclaimer: These are my idle musings. Any resemblance to reality is purely coincidental.

Product Lines – Kala

Kala have really pumped out new models. But it’s impressive how they’ve managed to keep an overall identity and, even more importantly, have each new model distinctive and targeted on a specific type of player.

They’re very much lead by what is being demanded. For example, the Acacia tenors are perfect for those who want to be Jake but don’t have the wallet.

They also did a great job of spotting the potential of the Road Toad bass and turning it into a more affordable U-Bass.

It makes life really easy for me because when people ask for a recommendation it’s easy to match their requirements to a specific Kala.

Upside: It’s easy to sell people something they already want.
Downside: You have to keep up with the scene and keep innovating.

Community Building – Mainland

Mainland have done a great job building up passionate followers via their participation in Ukulele Underground and UWC. Those of us outside the gang might be left scratching our heads but why worry about that when there are a bunch of people singing your praises at every opportunity?

Upside: Fiercely loyal customers.
Downside: Takes a long of time and commitment.

Storytelling – KoAloha

How could you not love Alvin Okami? He’s a ripping good storyteller. These stories give the instruments an extra dimension. They give you a much better idea of what the instruments are about and what the makers value. Without the story it would still be the same instrument but it wouldn’t feel so special.

Upside: Cheap and effective way to spread your message. Attracts people that are going to like what you do.
Downside: You have to be an Alvin and really believe in what you’re doing.

Brand Recognition – Fender

With a number of guitarists picking up ukes, Fender have taken advantage of their exceptional good standing in the guitar world to sell some rather less exceptional ukuleles. It’s no coincidence that guitarists like Rivers Cuomo and Baldie off of Train play/smash Fenders.

Upside: Instant trust.
Downside: Takes about 50 years to build up.

Competitions – Bushman and EleUke

Bushman’s ukulele contest has become such an institution that it’s easy to forget they actually make ukuleles. And it certainly helped that they through quality considerationns to the curb and picked Julia Nunes as a winner. She seems to have moved onto Kala but they got plenty of mileage of her.

And having two contests in a row has certainly brought EleUke to the fore. And they need to do some damage control because their ukes certainly used to be crappy (I don’t like mine at all) and ugly (a problem they haven’t entirely overcome: the a 90s throwback and the semi-acoustics are nasty). And I do think the winner of the last contest had a nice performance marred by the sound of the EleUke.

Upside: Cheap and quick.
Downside: Little last effect. The rules you’re supposed to abide by for international competitions are massively complex and regularly broken.

Endorsements – Mya-Moe and aNueNue

Both Mya-Moe and aNueNue have spread their names by getting their instruments in the hands of players. Mya-Moe with the likes of Mumford and Sons and Victoria Vox and aNueNue with The Re-entrants and U900. Both have used this tactic to quickly establish themselves and it’s worked pretty well for them.

A smart move by Moe-Moe is having headstocks that are instantly recognisable a mile off. Even in a video like this you can tell he’s playing a Mya-Moe.

Upside: Quick way to get your name out there.
Downside: Cost and possibly not that effective.

View Comments


  1. Howlin' Hobbit November 19th, 2010 6:47 pm

    love how the eBayer who’s selling the used UBass says it’s perfect for “‘UNPLUGGED’ GIGS. THOUGH… YOU WILL NEED AN AMP.”


  2. Graymalkin November 19th, 2010 7:02 pm

    No Ohana-musing? In my experience the all-round niceness and expertise of Ken Middleton single-handedly counteracts the dodgy finishing they seem to be cursed with (at least the one I own & several in my local music shop).

    Wish they’d do a cedar/rosewood soprano…

  3. Woodshed November 19th, 2010 9:20 pm

    Hobbit: I think MTV “Unplugged” forever changed the definition of the word.

    Graymalkin: This post actually grew out of an email exchange with Ken. I’d definitely agree he’s a huge asset.

    Last time I wrote about Ohana’s marketing I got myself in trouble, so I kept out of it this time.

  4. Ron Hale November 19th, 2010 10:49 pm

    Fender, of course, has celebrated entertainer and
    singer/songwriter Ukulele Ray to push their ukes.
    Which reminds me…Ray has gazillions of videos out and about, so why haven’t I ever seen one on
    any ukulele blog. People are falling down on the job of keeping readers up on what’s happening in Ukulele Land.

    Gordon and Char Mayer of Mya-Moe spread their ukes all over their Gorge Ukulele Festival. Hard to find a video from the event without seeing one or more of the instruments. Yes, a distinctive look, but one that I’m not fond of.

    Are UUers really passionate about the Mainland
    plastic pastel gecko polka-dot ukes? I hope not.
    Now, Tricity Vogue, I could see (being fond of the ukes, not UUers being fond of her)…

    Bushman’s ukulele contest is such an established
    institution that it seems like it’s always running. Search YT for videos and you’re pretty certain to run into some of the contest entries with their annoying opening announcements – I’m …and this is my entry…Yes, Al, jaaaaaaa was gold for Bushman. How could they let her get away? Whatever she wanted, they should have lavished it on her. If she were really nasty, she could pull all of her videos with Bushman ukes, since she’s still selling Bushman by leaving those videos up. Perhaps Kala should sweeten her deal so that only videos with their ukes remain on YouTube. But maybe her ego is too huge to remove any evidence of herself from YT.

    I’ll bet Victoria Vox playing ‘Piney’ sells more
    KoAlohas than all the stories Alvin Okami has or ever will tell combined. But yes, he tells good stories.

  5. Woodshed November 20th, 2010 11:51 am

    Ron: I don’t think the lack of Ukulele Ray has to do with ignorance.

    Mainland fans are very passionate. They were quick to defend the plastic ukes when I mentioned them on here.

    Yeah, I can’t stand videos with jaw-flapping at the beginning. Particularly when it comes to contests. If ‘Contest’ is in the title of the video, I’m less likely to check it out.

  6. byjimini November 21st, 2010 10:28 am

    TBH, regarding the Mainland, I was just happy to receive a uke that was “as-advertised”, as in incredible value for money. The warm and friendly emails from Mike were a lovely bonus.

    This is one of the problems I have with playing an instrument, in that a lot of people prefer to sit on forums arguing about which uke is the best, rather than just playing the bloody thing. I often wonder if most people buy an Apple computer just so they can sit around moaning about Microsoft and scoffing at Linux.

    *wipes chip from shoulder*

  7. Woodshed November 21st, 2010 12:05 pm

    byjimini: I don’t make a big deal about it, but Apples are better than PCs.

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