Building the C.O.P.S. Brand
March 25, 2019
In this article I will guide you through my process for developing the brand for C.O.P.S. GunShop, giving my thoughts into my decisions and what I think makes an effective logo.
C.O.P.S. GunShop is a premier Oklahoma City gun store that specializes not only in new and used weapons, but parts and accessories. Owner Austin Warfield is a retired police officer and detective of over 27 years.
To me, there's nothing more vital than the interview in establishing a brand. I've developed a series of questions that are designed to evoke thought and get the client talking about their company and how they conduct business. Since branding is about perception, then it's important to understand what the company is trying to communicate to their community and customers.
With Austin, it was clear that they were communicating that they were a gun shop that provided firearms to Law Enforcement Officers (LEO). Their website was uninviting and screamed "police" (see flashing beacons) and his logo was hard and masculine.
Austin wanted to be more approachable and communicate that all are welcome at C.O.P.S.. Since it was impossible to change the name from C.O.P.S., we needed a brand that honored law enforcement, was inviting to both men and women, and communicated "Open to the Public" without having to broadcast it. We learned that the C.O.P.S. name itself was a barrier to bringing in the general consumer and how it didn't communicate the friendly, approachable nature of Austin.
The benefit of the interview is that - in the end - it gives you clear direction in which to move forward. After meeting with Austin it was clear that he needed a brand that was contemporary, cool, and clean.
We like to see what's happening in our customer's industry - most notably with their competition, how they're handling their business, and how they're doing with their branding. Often there's a culture to a business that needs to be honored, so it's important to know what to amplify and what to avoid.
In the gun industry, there is a variety of styles in the way they treat branding: traditional gun manufacturers will be more text driven, while gun accessory providers and gun clubs will lean towards contemporary, illustrative designs. Whichever way we went, we knew we wanted to be able to stand toe-to-toe with these brands. We wanted C.O.P.S. to be able to be seen at gun shows as a peer in the industry, not merely as a local gun shop.
With the information learned from research and from the interview we could now move on to exploring what C.O.P.S. represented - figuratively and visually.
Branding is about your customer's story. Without this story everything falls apart because it fails to provide a direction in which to go and customer perception of your business can be confusing and your message muddied.
We've learned a lot about branding through Donald Miller's book "Building a Story Brand". He stresses how the proper narrative can influence how you speak about your business, how it can influence your visual identity, and how it can influence your culture. If you're interested in how the proper narrative can build a brand, we encourage you to read his book or participate in his workshops.
So before we even put pencil to paper we made sure we knew the C.O.P.S. story and what Austin wanted to communicate to his customers. Once we were able to understand his narrative, we knew we wanted to position Austin not only as a firearm provider, but a firearm expert. We saw how he interacted with his customers and how he spoke with such authority and knowledge. Therefore we felt the best way to sum up C.O.P.S was to communicate that he was:
YOUR TRUSTED PROVIDER OF QUALITY FIREARMS, ACCESSORIES, AND KNOWLEDGE FOR THE SAFER, SMARTER GUN OWNER.
And along with the elevator pitch, we set out to give Austin a tagline that not only established C.O.P.S. as place to buy firearms, but also a place where responsible gun owners could go to learn about guns and gun safety. We also wanted to establish that those who shopped there were smart consumers.
We came up with multiple tag lines, but in the end it was clear to us that when a customer shopped at C.O.P.S. he could...
This instilled confidence and pride with the customer and created a banner in which responsible gun owners could stand behind.
Now that we have Austin's story, we can begin to explore what this means visually in a logo. This is the fun part for us because this is our sandbox - a place to explore and create ideas. We accomplish this by creating thumbnails of anything that pops into our head. Personally I've learned that the best way to clear out the clutter and to find a visual consensus is to draw for as long as you can. The more you draw, the more your creative, subconscious mind has an opportunity to kick in.
The idea here is to avoid the temptation to "complete" an idea. The goal here is to put on paper any promising leads that speak to the research and what the client has said about his company. Once we're satisfied that we've found a good direction, the best thing to do is pin them up to your wall and let them breathe. Pausing is one of the most important elements in brand creation as it gives you time to process, critique, and make decisions on what works and what doesn't work.
Below are just a few examples of my early C.O.P.S. sketches.
At this stage I like to bring in co-workers and friends and ask them to give their impressions of the wall. This is brainstorming at its best, and getting opinions from those not necessarily close to the project will provide you with great insight and direction.
Once you've decided on direction, it's time to finalize any ideas you'll want to present to your client. As a designer you'll have to decide on the amount of options you show, but for me I prefer to attack this exercise in the same manner as the interview. The goal is to get the client in a creative mindset and to get them talking, so I will provide multiple versions. I will tape these sketches to a wall, tell them why I chose each design, and then ask them "What do you think?" This will usually spark a creative discussion that will provide a treasure trove of valuable information.
Here are some samples I provided Austin and the ones that appealed to him:
When designing, I like creating logos that offer rewards for those who see the deeper nuances embedding in the design. This is done through the use of positive and negative space, and so I was happy that Austin responded well to the abstract CGS idea as it wasn't immediately recognizable. The abstract CGS was meant to reflect spinning such as with a spinning bullet, or the spiraling that's found on the inside of gun barrels. The design also utilizes negative space used in the C and G to create the S.
Austin also liked the use of a shield as it was a nod toward law enforcement since he is a major supplier of firearms and accessories to police officers in the state. What came out was a very stylish icon that at first glance looked like a shield, but also had elements embedded into the design that would draw the viewer in.
At this point we had enough positive feedback to explore this concept further, so we set out to create this idea digitally so we could explore colors and fonts.
Since we've agreed to a basic design on paper, going to Illustrator allows us to give the client a clearer, cleaner look that they can understand and will give us the flexibility to alter shape and color. Now that we have an established icon we can explore what kind of font best represents C.O.P.S..
Because blue is a conservative color that's more representative of Austin's customer and could be seen as a nod to the primary colors used by law enforcement, we branded the logo a deep pastel blue with a supporting gray that could be used in supplemental designs. The font used is SUI Generi because it is a bold font that is more forward-leaning and contemporary. The supporting font is ArtegrasSansExtended.
Because we've gone through all of these steps we're confident we have a brand that speaks to everything Austin wanted in a logo: contemporary style, a design that speaks to his industry and cultural peers, and an inviting look that will attract the public as well as law enforcement.
One sign that tells us a brand is successful is how customers are buying into it. Austin had the C.O.P.S. icon engraved on an AR-15 receiver and a customer bought it, built his weapon with it, and posted it to his social media account. When customers attach themselves to a brand like that, it's a good indication that they are buying into the C.O.P.S. story and are proud to be a loyal C.O.P.S. GunShop customer.
We're not happy unless our customers are happy. Austin has been one of our best client-partners and his is one of the most successful brands we've created as business is steadily increasing and customer awareness is growing. We are grateful that Austin agreed to say a few words about his brand, his experience working with Elicio, and how his business is taking off since working with us.
If you're interested in branding your business be sure to contact us anytime. We'd love to work with you in enhancing your visual footprint and to help increase awareness of your business.