Brandon's Blog: Representing the Block M

March 23, 2014

University of Michigan director of athletics Dave Brandon will regularly offer his view on a variety of topics related to U-M and intercollegiate sports. All his posts, along with links to related content, will be available on his page,, and he is also on Twitter at @DaveBrandonAD.

The University of Michigan block M represents more than athletic teams working hard in an effort to win championships. It is more than just a logo worn by student-athletes on one of Michigan's varsity or club sports teams. It is the widely recognized symbol of the excellence that is known and respected throughout the academic and athletic world. It is a reflection of what the University of Michigan stands for in every way.

The often quoted definition of a brand is "the promise of consistency." Whenever you encounter any brand's mark or symbol, you have an immediate reaction that is a result of what you believe that product or organization stands for. If an organization has done a good job of building equity in the brand, it could show several different people its logo and receive similar responses in terms of what that organization stands for in their hearts and minds.

The block M stands for a preeminent academic institution. It represents excellence in everything we do at U-M, and we do a lot! The national rankings of our schools and colleges and the various departments we have on our campus, the quality of our students and faculty, the enormous amount of research we do, and the discoveries that come from that research, everything that is connected to our academic mission is of the highest quality -- and that is what the block M represents to those who follow the world of higher education.

As an example, U-M has a huge health system that is in a very competitive industry. We want the best doctors, the best patient care, the best research and researchers. We want to discover treatments and find solutions to health care problems to make for a better, healthier world. The block M makes that impression on people who follow the world of medicine.

In our little corner of the campus, we want to support this same level of excellence with everything we do, to be "Leaders and Best." To us, this term is more than just words in our fight song. This is the standard that we set for everything we do at the University of Michigan Athletic Department.

When people see the block M associated with athletics, we want to earn the same prestige and the same "Leaders and Best" mentality that you see throughout our campus.

In the world of sports, the most recognized global brand is international soccer's Manchester United. They are world renowned because of their excellence and their reach, the championships they win, the kinds of athletes they attract. They are considered by many as the most valuable sports franchise in the world.

The National Football League logo is widely known and respected as it represents the largest sport in America in terms of fan support, licensing and TV viewership. It's a huge industry, and it stands for something. It stands for the best in professional football.

One of the most recognized brands in the world is the symbol of the Red Cross. Why? It has been around for a long time. It is global because the Red Cross touches countries and people around the world. It touches those areas of the world where aid is most needed. They are the heroes who help in war-torn countries, countries devastated by nature disasters. They are the first ones on the scene to provide help. They have been doing this for so long that they have earned a strong brand equity, because the Red Cross stands for something that is extremely important and valuable in the world.

Over time, all brands and organizations must evolve and change. After all, people's needs, expectations and perspectives evolve, creating the need for organizations to adapt to the changing surroundings they will inevitably encounter. Great organizations respect their traditions while also believing that change is good.

As it relates to the block M, think of it this way: Nobody was thinking of network television 25 years ago the way we are used to it today. Nobody was thinking about social media and the involvement and interaction it has with college sports today. Nobody could have predicted the issues, challenges and changes that have occurred in college athletics over the past 25 years. Times and circumstances are changing, and we have to react to those changes.

The block M logo is not changing, but the University of Michigan and academic world continues to change. We must always remember, first and foremost, the block M needs to stand for excellence in education. And, as it relates to our small but important contribution to the block M brand, we want to stand for excellence in athletics. We want to be "Leaders and Best."

Now we are in the championship season for our winter sports. There is excitement surrounding March Madness. You will see the block M on the big stage in men's basketball, at the NCAA Championships in swimming and diving, and when our No. 1-ranked men's gymnastics team hosts the NCAA Championships at Crisler Center. We have several other teams competing for championships. These are just a few of the many ways our Wolverines will be seen throughout the United States and the world over the next several weeks.

And let us not forget how the Olympics help build the block M brand. We had more U-M students (eight) participating in Winter Olympic competition than at any time in our school's history, while the 2012 Summer Olympics had 23 U-M students at the London Games, competing in eight sports for eight national teams.

When our teams and students are on the big stage, whether it is gymnastics or basketball or any other sport, we are wearing the maize and blue, we are playing "The Victors," and any mention or visual of the Wolverines helps build the brand. The pep bands, the spirit squads and so many other touch points that exist are all brand building in terms of exporting the message of who we are, what we are about, and what we stand for.

With this comes a big responsibility. We are proud of what our block M represents in the academic world. Our student-athletes go on the road more than anyone on our campus, and our teams are on television more than at any other time in our history. This supports the notion that athletics is often referred to as "the front porch of the university." We are, in many ways, providing marketing support for our university. We are "out there" in a way that can promote the block M and drive the awareness of the brand in a significant way.

You can measure that impact with the amount of followers we have on social media. We have these "fanatical fans" who follow our teams and are passionate about our programs.

We also have to constantly remind ourselves how these opportunities create risks. We need to do a great job of representing the university in a positive way -- in the way we conduct ourselves and the way we compete and the way we handle both in victory and defeat. If we screw up and we don't handle ourselves in a way that brings honor and positive value to our institution, we can have the same powerful impact on the brand in a negative way. We emphasize this to our coaches and student-athletes on a regular basis.

Our U-M Athletic Department team understands that we are important representatives of our university. We know what the block M stands for and how important it is to so many people around the world. Rest assured, the block M will continue to stand for the "Leaders and Best in every way."

To all of our teams in postseason competition, good luck and Go Blue!

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