When lubricated correctly, standard transmission chain should last for many years on most applications, but inadequate lubrication will cause it to wear rapidly.
It might seem obvious to state that correctly lubricated chain will last longer and perform better, but poor lubrication remains the single most common cause of premature failure and shortened working life.
When installing new chain it's important to remember that the lubricant on the chain when it comes out of the box is only there to prevent corrosion during transit and to act as an initial lubricant whilst bedding in. New chain should always be appropriately lubricated after installation.
The choice of lubricant is important too. Generally speaking heavy oils and greases are not recommended as they're too stiff to penetrate into the chain to reach the working surfaces. Applying grease to the outside of a chain will only act as a sealant and result in premature wear.
Oil is the most common effective lubricant and for the majority of applications a non-detergent, petroleum based, multigrade SAE 20/50 oil would be suitable. For applications where lubrication is difficult or undesirable, have a look at Syno, Renold's lubrication free chain.