Categories: Case StudiesLaura

The Situation at Swift


The story of Swift.

The Swift School is a non-profit school in Roswell Georgia that teaches students in 1st thru 6th grades with dyslexia and other language-based learning differences.

The school was founded in 1998 by Gail Swift a long-time teacher at The Schenck School in Atlanta. When Gail wanted to retire from Schenck parents urged the beloved teacher to continue teaching privately. She accepted and in one room in her church Gail began teaching five students.

In 2000, a two room modular building was leased and the schools enrollment was up to twenty-two students. The school continued to thrive and expand and by 2005 was up to seventy students.


Clearly a larger and more permanent home was needed for the Swift School. So in 2006, after a board of trustees had been established, the school purchased a 20,500 square-foot office building conveniently located on 5 acres in Roswell, Georgia.

Unfortunately due to medical concerns, Gail Swift announced her retirement in 2006 and the board began a national search for a new Executive Director.


Swift found Elizabeth Strowd from the prestigious Fletcher School in North Carolina and wooed her to the Swift School. The Fletcher School also specializes in dyslexia as well as other learning disabilities and attention deficit disorders.


In 2008, the Swift School celebrated its 10th anniversary. With a new building, an energized new Executive Director and 120 succeeding students, the Swift School was ready to take things to the next level.



Winning the $100,000 On the House marketing make-over is just what Swift needs to get there.



The Challenge.

Nobody knows about the Swift School. Public awareness of the brand is extremely low even in the learning disability community.

The logo, materials and website need to be updated. But before any materials can be improved by the other On the House volunteers, the brand strategy needs to be clearly defined. No brand will get in the mind with a three paragraph brand mission. Brands get into the mind by owning a word.


Swift needs to narrow its focus to own a word in the mind. For example, BMW owns driving, Volvo owns safety. Or in business schools, Kellogg owns marketing and Harvard owns management. It is interesting to note that both Kellogg and Harvard offer a wide variety of business majors; it is not about limiting what you do, it is about focusing your message to perhaps not include everything you do.


We live in an over-communicated society today. With too many brands, too many media outlets, too much advertising. The only solution to these problems is the over-simplified message. An over-simplified message allows you to cut through the clutter and get into the mind.

What word should the Swift School own? How can Swift verbalize that position in a memorable and meaningful way? What can Swift do to increase brand awareness?


These are the brand questions we will address and answer. Each consulting assignment is different, we don’t have a formula. We dive in and figure out what is going on, what is needed and what can be done. We had a meeting with the Swift team on May 4th. I'm first am outlining the problem, opportunity and challenges. Then I'll give you my strategy in tomorrow's post.



What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia not seeing words backwards. Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin and is characterized by difficulty with accurate and/or fluent word recognition. It is typically the result of a deficit in the phonological component of language and often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities.


In other words, Dyslexia is a difficulty with reading in otherwise bright people.


Students with dyslexia typically have poor spelling and decoding abilities, problems with reading comprehension and a reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.


In other words, students with dyslexia find school extremely challenging.


Undiagnosed dyslexics are often assumed by parents and teachers alike to be lazy and lacking in intelligence. They struggle in school and frequently experience failure which often leads to low self-esteem and behavioral problems.


Who is Dyslexic?

The numbers are astounding. 15-20% of the population has a language-based learning disability. Dyslexia is the most common cause of language disability which includes reading, writing and spelling difficulties.


Dyslexia doesn’t discriminate, it affects males and females nearly equally, and people from all ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds.

In the greater Atlanta area of 5.5 million people it is likely that at least 40,000 elementary school children suffer from some degree of dyslexia.

Obviously, the market for Swift and other specialized schools is huge. There are thousands of students in need of help.


Despite the challenges, many dyslexics have gone on to great success. Some famous dyslexics include: Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Charles Schwab, Richard Branson, Ted Turner, David Needleman, Wendy Wasserstein, Pablo Picasso, John Irving, Hans Christian Andersen, George Patton, Magic Johnson, John Lennon, Harry Belafonte, Jay Leno and Tom Cruise.


No kid or adult should be ashamed of being dyslexic. It is a common disorder affecting millions of people.  And being dyslexic doesn’t mean a life of struggling with reading, there are now proven techniques and strategies that enable success and offer great hope.



Up next: I'll share my strategy for Swift. Until then, think about it, how would you position Swift?

Laura Ries :

View Comments (7)

  • Much of what you wrote is valuable. But two of your points are arguable. One is that 15-20% of the population is dyslexic. As the cliché goes, “define it.” Different definitions produce far different figures. The neurological figure is probably much lower than 15%, which raises the second error. Little if any evidence shows that most children’s reading disabilities or reading problems are caused by neurological deficits or insults. In most instances, the assumption is made by exclusion. The fact that some struggling readers have problems segmenting words into phonemes and associating sounds with letters doesn’t mean that their problems are caused by neurological deficits or insults. (Of course, one can argue that all learning is ultimately neurological.) Simple brain scan studies do not define causation. And even if they did, they have yet to tell us how to treat reading disabilities.

  • Numbers and percentages can always be disputed. But what is clear is that many millions of kids are finding learning the fundamentals of reading extremely difficult and that teaching phonetics and orton-gillingham works wonders. I think dyslexia is becoming a term that covers many different reading issues, which is OK. It means more attention will be brought to the problem.
    Thanks for reading.

  • Howard, I've talked to parents at the Swift School and it's amazing to hear their stories of how the school gave their kids hope and different ways in which they can adapt to learning.
    I'm sure there are different philosophies out there, but there is no doubt that the Swift School is changing lives.

  • Thanks for such inspiring post. In my opinion they can move their identity from dyslexia-school to life-success-despite-dyslexia-school. I believe that from parents’ point of view its much more interesting. Another interesting path is in my opinion building image on the legend about Gail Swift and her specific methods/ care etc. I am waiting for your solution and I hope to learn sth:)

  • Spell checker for dyslexics by dyslexics:
    Ghotit super spell checker assistive technology was developed by people that have dyslexia and who are coping with their dyslexia every day. For over a decade, the founder of Ghotit had a vision of the "ideal" writing assistant tool for people with dyslexia that if made available, will dramatically improve their writing abilities.
    The benefits of regular spell checkers are limited for people with dyslexia. Your spelling has to be very, very close in order to get corrected spelling. Ghotit super spellchecker is aimed at dyslectics and includes the following unique capabilities:
    1. "Outrageous" spelling mistakes are captured and corrected
    2. Advanced context-sensitive spelling algorithms are applied, pointing to out out-of-context (but correctly spelled) words.
    3. Definitions and sentences are offered to help choose the correct word
    4. Integrated text to speech service is included so that you can confirm that what is written is the exact text you intended to communicate.
    Ghotit offers a high performance super spell checker, enabling people with dyslexia to dramatically improve and gain confidence in their writing.
    Ghotit offers its services FREE to educational institutions.
    Ghotit website at http://www.ghotit.com.
    A new Ghotit review http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2009/03/word-accessible-wordtalk-and-ghotit.html

  • I agree that one of the most important things in the positioning era is what you name your company. Swift is great for a trucking company but not for a school.
    Good luck with the makeover.
    Enjoy Nigeria!