A Zebra by Any Other Name

Disclaimer: I am not an attorney, but I have hired lots of them and sent their children to school.

I am , sadly, no stranger to stupid lawsuits. I’ve even written about how colossally stupid many of them were, but I am now watching a lawsuit that brings ill-considered to a whole new level.

It seems that a woman in Washington state named Denise Lones decided that Daniel Rothamel (known for years as the Real Estate Zebra by virtue of his avocation as a basketball ref )  was damaging her business, which involves “branding, marketing, training, and product development” for real estate  professionals, because she used the term Zebra in some of her products. She decided that the damage was sufficient to begin a law suit against Daniel and his mother-in-law, REALTORS in Virginia.

I’m prejudiced from the start because I know Daniel and his family, and all of my observations and interactions with them have been great. Daniel is a friend and I am distressed that he is under attack. I don’t know Denise Lones, and have never had any dealings with her. She may be a wonderful person, but she attacked my friend and that makes me feel less than friendly towards her.

I don’t want to talk about the legal issues here. I read the complaint, and it seems silly and without basis to me, but hey, I’m just a real estate guy (sorry Jay Thompson , but I’ve been using that term for 40 years – guess I own the trademark). What I do want to talk about here is reputation management.

Ms. Lones styles herself as a marketing expert who “started the real estate revolution” and yet she seems to have missed the Web 2.0 and social media thing. It has been showing us, for some years now, that reputations are not crafted carefully in a board room and then presented for the public to digest. Reputation is formed by our actions on and off line and the perceptions and the conversations that take place in public. All of that is then amplified by the rapid transmittal of thought and speech through the internet.

Denise Lones is having her brand impacted by the very  public and  permanent conversation taking place around her litigation. In the last 24 hours I have seen lots of very high profile people, many of whom are national speakers and educators, write about this conflict. I have not seen one where she or her firm have been positioned in a positive manner. Certainly she will become a case study of what not to do , or at least a cautionary tale , in my own classes and presentations. How can this be good for her?

Jeff Turner wrote a post about brands in which he points out that a brand “.. is what people think of you when they hear your name. It is not your name.” I could not agree with him more, and that speaks to the issues involved here more clearly than any litigation can.

Daniel doesn’t need a logo or a nickname to be recognized – he already has a national presence and a national group of supporters. If he decides to abandon the Zebra logo and become the “real estate ref” , chances are it won;t slow him down a bit. He’ll still sell as much, list as much, and be sough after as frequently for speaking and teaching opportunities because he is an exceptional human being, not a catch phrase.

(Oh, I did mention that Daniel was a friend of mine, so if you decide that you would like to help him out, here is a link to his defense fund. You don’t have to give until it hurts, but a little something would be nice)

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