Impact by the Numbers

The U.S. Consumer Healthcare business unit at Sanofi (Sanofi CHC) prides itself on innovation and introducing new, game-changing products that help people manage pain and pursue the activities they enjoy. Consumers seem to agree, elevating the company to record U.S. sales for Icy Hot and Aspercreme that place them among the best-selling topical pain relievers. Celebrity endorsements from popular athletes contribute to greater public awareness.


Worldwide, the over-the-counter analgesics category is expected to account for almost $32 billion in 2023 sales, and compound annual growth is expected to exceed 6.6% over the next five years. Sanofi CHC leads the segment with regular updates to its pain portfolio to keep pace with changing consumer preferences for how the medications are applied, the ingredients they use, the conditions they treat and the relief they provide.


“While we have a proven history of success in meeting our consumers’ needs with our products, we are committed to constantly better understanding those needs as the consumer healthcare market evolves, competition changes and preferences shift,” said Sarah Bunger, Director of Science Innovation in Sanofi CHC’s North America pain and sleep products. “Our industry is fast-moving and consumer-driven, so relevant innovation and meaningful differentiation is crucial for the continued, long-term health of our brands.” 

The challenge

For Sanofi CHC’s Icy Hot and Aspercreme product development teams, brainstorming ideas comes easy. They follow market trends and look ahead to unexplored opportunities, realizing that more active and aging populations require new solutions to old problems. But historical success is no guarantee of future performance. How to qualify and quantify shifts in consumer requirements—and anticipate solutions for them—remains a persistent challenge.

Sanofi CHC deeply understands the current pain management category. At the same time, it recognizes the necessity of moving from an anecdotal sense of current trends to an evidence-based methodology that closes the gap between market-segment potential and bottom-line results. 

The solution

ZS advised Sanofi CHC to implement jobs theory as the heart of its innovation planning. Jobs theory holds that consumers don’t “buy” products. They “hire” them to achieve specific goals. Deeply understanding both the consumers and their needs in different occasions is the key: A consumer training for a marathon might choose to wrap an injured knee in tape before a run, while another consumer with arthritis might choose a topical cream to relieve chronic pain at the start of the day. Both consumers are seeking pain relief, but they hire different products because their jobs are different.

Identifying those jobs traditionally requires extensive market research, but ZS has developed Atlas Intelligence, which is powered by AI and data-driven insights, to help brands address the core questions they face.

  • Where do we go with innovation? How do we expand into other pain management opportunities and position our products to succeed?
  • What are consumers looking for, and how do we continue to win with topicals?
  • How well do incumbent brands meet consumer needs, and what are the untapped opportunities we should explore?

With ZS Atlas Intelligence, Sanofi CHC has a broader view of the competitive landscape in a faster, more cost-effective way than it could obtain in the past. ZS Atlas Intelligence is certified by AWS and is fully built and hosted on AWS’s highly secure, scalable architecture that allows for client specific customizations. ZS Atlas Intelligence enabled Sanofi CHC to analyze text from millions of consumer product reviews across 14 corollary pain management categories such as hot and cold packs, systemics, braces and splints, kinesiology tapes, manual massagers, foam rollers and resistance bands. Natural language processing allows ZS to mine this readily available data to yield unique insights on the specific product benefits that drive consumer satisfaction. Using ZS Atlas Intelligence, brand and innovation executives can now look beyond category sales trends to uncover deep insights into how consumers use specific products, how well those products deliver against consumer expectations and what new and unmet needs no brand has yet claimed.

“ZS took the time upfront to understand our business, innovation challenges and opportunities and key stakeholders’ knowledge and expectations. This enabled the ZS team to design a best-in-class, jobs-to-be-done solution leveraging ratings and reviews and the power of AI,” said John Curran, Consumer Insights Lead with Sanofi CHC’s pain and sleep products. “ZS deployed a strategic ‘Where to play’ and ‘How to win’ framework. The focus on jobs shifted our focus from possible solutions to ensuring we were first grounded in the consumer jobs. The ZS team then overlayed sizing estimates from ratings, reviews and sales data to size the jobs and gauge growth rates. The data also revealed what consumers actually used, the context for the experience and their overall satisfaction levels. This allowed us to effectively prioritize the jobs and provided a clear path on where to focus our innovation ideation.”


ZS divided the pain management category into 12 distinct jobs consumers have. For some jobs, comfort is paramount, while others might require immediate pain relief, relaxation or athletic performance. ZS then quantified the revenue potential for each of those jobs based on each product category’s share of that job. For the three jobs ZS helped Sanofi CHC prioritize—including jobs with growing demand and unmet or poor-performing solutions—the top-line potential adds up to $2.2 billion.

The impact

Working with ZS equipped Sanofi CHC with a structure to begin charting product roadmaps for the next three to five years. In a matter of weeks, ZS Atlas Intelligence allowed the Sanofi CHC and ZS teams to mine more than 1.8 million reviews across approximately 14,000 offerings to develop new pain relief concepts grounded in unmet and untapped consumer needs.


“Innovation that is grounded in science and consumer insight is absolutely critical to strengthening Icy Hot’s No. 1 position in the U.S. topical pain market. The category shows fairly low loyalty, so if Icy Hot can deliver greater efficacy or a superior user experience vs. the competition, we can switch consumers over to our brand,” said Vince Balagat, Icy Hot Brand Lead. “The jobs-to-be-done work from ZS was a very useful way to map the different consumer needs that exist across the pain category. We were able to see which ones we were adequately addressing with our current Icy Hot portfolio and where we might have gaps. The deeper level of insight within each ‘job’ allowed us to determine which ones to go after and provided rich stimuli for further ideation and concept development.”