The Zebra Brand in Real Estate

I won’t say I have stayed out of the Zebra Debate surrounding The Lones Group and The Real Estate Zebra – Daniel Rothamel, however I haven’t blogged about it so far.  Mainly because there have been enough blogs and commentary now relative to the merits and non-merits of the case for a reasonable person to understand the debate and the confusion.

What I find interesting is how brand has been established through Social Media over the last few days.

While I am one of the few people that has received the Zebra Report for a number of years from the Lones Group, I really thought of it as a clever name for a Constant Contact Newsletter piece.  Certainly Denise has worn zebra clothing in the past and has used Zebra imagery on her website for a number of years.  That really isn’t up for debate.  It is what it is.  However I never associated the Zebra imagery as being anything more then the idea of standing out from a crowd.  In fact the zebra imagery that comes to mind the most is the idea of a zebra with colors standing among a group of zebras similar to Seth Godin’s Purple Cow book.  The idea of standing out.  Agents in the local community don’t refer to Denise’s company as “The Zebra Company” or Zebra anything as far as I can remember other then Denise talking in a continuing education class about how much she liked Zebras and maybe referring to her Zebra Report.  In the real estate community she has been referred to just as her website suggest “The Lones Group”.

Interestingly I had seen Daniel a few years ago at Inman Connect in San Francisco and had sat down with him and he referred to himself and others have referred to him consistently as “The Real Estate Zebra”.  He has used the Twitter ID, Website address and personally used the term in blog posts and even introduced on stage as “The Real Estate Zebra”.  He has used it as a Trademark even though not registered his use of the term has been consistent as long as I have known him.

If someone was to have asked me about the term Zebra in the real estate space it is quite likely that I would have mentioned both the Zebra Report that I have received every Thursday since like 2008 and I would have also mentioned an agent I knew in Virginia The Real Estate Zebra.  I would have been able to tell you that the Zebra Report was published by The Lones Group and I may have had to take a look to remember the Daniel’s name, however I would have easily been able to find him because of his branding around the term “Real Estate Zebra”.

In my mind there was never a conflict.  Both uses seemed to be able to coexist without any confusion on my part.

What I find interesting now is really the perceived rightful heir to the term Zebra and this last week has really established on a National basis among anyone in the real estate space that without a doubt even those who have brought some balance into the discussion that in everyone’s mind if you say “The Real Estate Zebra” you are referring to Daniel Rothamel.  This might not have been the case a week ago, however for at least the foreseeable future the term Zebra in the real estate space will be looked at favorably in terms of Daniel and negatively in terms of the Lones Group.

In essence Zebra has become both an asset (Daniel) and a liability (Lones Group) in terms of association with at least a significant portion of the real agent community at large.

This is not to say that The Lones Group may not win some sort of stay causing Daniel to have to abandon his use of the term Zebra, however even in winning Daniel will be for again the foreseeable future the true “Zebra” in the minds of socially connected agents.  In fact I would suggest that when The Lones Group does any sort of presentation whether continuing education or an attempt to generate new business, their association with the term Zebra will bring up thoughts of the legal suit which doesn’t seem to bode well long term.

So where do we go from here.  There has been a number of constructive thoughts on how to move forward and many of them are solid ideas.

It seems that an approach of coexistence would make the most sense.  It would seem that some sort of olive branch should be extended.  I think that both parties could in fact come out winners rather then losers in the exercise.  There is an opportunity to retract, regroup and move forward.  Whether it can be done will really be up to both parties.  It’s beyond the point of a unilateral decision by either party.  Daniel (again for the foreseeable future) is the rightful heir of the Zebra brand in the minds of most of the socially connected agents.  It seems that in order to establish credibility for the branding images The Lones Group will need to pursue a course of concession that the Zebra is big enough for the both of them and then use this episode as the basis of new energy in the area of social media and how it should be considered when developing a brand.

I have no idea how a Jury will look at this case.  I know that personally on a Jury given what I know about this case I would be casting my ballot in favor of the defendant as I believe that both parties have and should be able to coexist using the Zebra without any conflict.  I doubt that it would be able to be shown that because of the “Zebra” imaging that there has been any financial harm done to the plaintiff.  If I am right then it seems that the expense of litigation in order to get a non-win is a lose lose proposition and at the end of the day we will have two parties which don’t like each other and a continual polarizing and confusion in the minds of agents.

I remember years ago hearing the phrase, “A confused mind won’t buy.”  It seems to me that without concession and a game plan to move past this many of the clients of The Lones Group will be confused.  It will be an uphill battle to get clients because you will have to “Sell” rather then “Market” your services.  Selling is tough work.  Marketing however pays off for a lifetime.

In my continued rambling, a thought or idea…

Let’s say concession was a possibility, what could that look like?

Coexisting of brands…  Yes

Onstage presentations together…  Yes…  Big win for both

Co-support of each others individual businesses…  Maybe – This could be a major win for both.

Both Daniel and The Lones Group have the national spotlight right now.  You can’t buy the media that is currently focused on this issue.

Think proactive, prosperously, and creatively.  There is a solution that should work here…

1 Comment

  1. Lucia Nolan
    Nov 10, 2013

    While The Lones Group mounts their attack on the Real Estate Zebra, the social media world is abuzz with the news. Too bad for The Lones Group that it has mostly been negative. Knowing when your social capital is worth more than your trademark is the key in this one. Even if they were to win the lawsuit against Daniel, would it be worth the damage to their social capital? I know I won’t be using their services anytime soon (in all fairness, I probably wouldn’t anyway). Now, when I hear the name The Lones Group, I will forever be reminded of the day my friend, Daniel Rothamel, was sued. That’s not an image I would want as a company. They might think it’s no big deal, as I am just one person, but this sentiment is being echoed over and over again across the internet. Even a Google search for “lones group” is starting to be filled with posts like this one. Would you want that as your only search result? I wouldn’t.

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