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These are bourbon ball makers. It makes four ice cubes. Four huge, whiskey-loving ice cubes, just one needed per glass.

These are bourbon ball ice cube makers. It makes four ice cubes. Four enormously huge, whiskey-loving ice cubes.

It’s simple. Give away exclusive cool stuff, for free.

That’s one way how Maker’s Mark puts the customer first. This short video blog shows three cool gifts I’ve received just by signing up for the Maker’s Mark Ambassador Club about five years ago. It’s a really cool loyalty program that rewards customers with exclusive perks. The letter that came with the gift this year encourages folks to go to the Maker’s Mark Facebook page to “share the laughs.” (Although it doesn’t look like a lot of folks did.)

Word of Mouth.org calls it one of the best fan clubs of all time in this great story. They’re right. Maker’s Mark is making a huge number of fans feel special just by doing things a little differently. This disruptive tactic goes a long way to build not just long-term customers, but long-term fanatics. And hey, volume was up 16% for the first half of 2011 according to Nielsen. (See their entry into the Ogilvy Research Awards.)

Here’s Maker’s Mark website where people can sign up for the Ambassador program. And here are some neat photos from Maker’s Mark fans over at Flickr.

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Instagram, you rascal. You come out swinging, bury Hipstamatic and a lot of other photo sharing wannabes, but golly, you’re an organizational frowny face. Flickr has got you beat in spades as a place to share photos. And today, Twitter offers the fancy filters and ease that made you unique. How can you possibly win?

As more and more people and pros get into Instagram (here’s FlakPhoto.com‘s Instagram page for photographers, created by the ultimate curator’s curator Andy Adams), the need for people to manage, organize and display their work has got to improve. That’s where Instagram could win. It could grow even more by offering functionality that benefits not just consumers of photography, but creators of it. Flickr simply doesn’t have the sex appeal that Instagram’s got right now, which is unfortunate, because it’s a fantastic tool for slightly-serious-to-serious creators of photos.

Now Twitter is offering filters and Instagram-like functionality. You gotta be feeling nervous about that one, Instagram. But way back in 2011, Instagram got $7 million from Twitter, so it’s not like they’re sworn to each other’s demise. Then Facebook bought Instagram for a cool billion dollars, so it’s not like its beatable, unorganized platform is a great big hobo out there.

Most likely, Instagram is already on this in their secret underground laboratories, ready to out Flickr Flickr and stave off Twitter. Otherwise, right next to Hipstamatic in the digiphoto graveyard, Instagram runs the risk of having “We Were Hot Once” on it’s tombstone, which Mashable says is totally possible. So I’ll just relax and wait for the email that tells me when Instagram will take slightly more serious photographers slightly more seriously.

(Here’s my Instagram, and my Flickr.)