There are many case studies to point when figuring out what makes a great brand leader, but the auto industry comes to mind. For 50 years or more Detroit autos and their brand marketing dominated the United States and world markets. They held this leadership position for decades.

Fast forward to the 1970’s and through the 1980’s those pesky Japanese low-cost cars started to invade the U.S. market. People thought maybe I’ll get one for my second car or kid’s car. Detroit sniffed and said, not really our competition.

Then something quite unexpected started to happen. Japanese and other international automakers started building very high quality brands, such as Lexus. Slowly but surely their branding pushed an alternative to U.S. made autos and won over a slice of their perceived protected market.

It took importers a decade to be taken seriously and another to be purchased over U.S. imports. But then, all of a sudden, the U.S. auto was looked at in a diminished capacity because its “Brand Quality” had been overcome and imports were now outselling even their most popular brands.

Fast-forward to 2000 and Detroit woke up to these facts, too late of course, and started building excellent quality automobiles. But did the market jump back? No!

It turns out that it takes a long time to build a brand and once you do you can only continue to offer the same brands for a certain period of time. And just as importantly, doing so won’t guarantee you a leadership position forever.

Today, Detroit is building automobiles of equal or greater value than the imports but the market is not rushing back to purchase them as they once did. Evidently it’s tough to change brand perceptions, and that leads us to our main point.

It’s critical to never take your brand leadership position for granted. Consider Borders, Books and Music, or Kodak, or the many other great brands that are no longer with us. It simply takes a long time to build a brand into a leader because customers and prospects want to see the brand’s true value – proven over time – before they fully commit.